Friday, February 26, 2010

Monkey Cupcakes


These were requested by my son today. 

He would never actually eat them, but thinks they're cute enough to take along to a friends' place. I've made these a couple of times before; for parties at his school and a bake sale. Kids always find these super moist cupcakes irresistible. 

Me? I love the cinnamon cream cheese frosting. It's completely delicious.

I got both the recipe and the idea for decorating these cupcakes out of the 'Cupcakes from the Cake Doctor' book. This book has so many ideas for cupcakes but I've only managed to try very few. All of that will change, of course, and I might stop browsing through the book and actually try out more fantastic ideas at some point this year. 

Ok, back to the recipe.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Nutella + Fudge Brownie Ice cream

 

I can't seem to leave ice cream alone. 

But this ice cream is the best thing to have ever come out of my kitchen. I kid you not - it is no less than amazing. And I've made it many times over and devoured it all by myself. All credit for this supremely delicious invention goes to Clotilde of Chocolate & Zucchini

Do yourself a favor and make this today. 
It's full of Nutella. You know you can't fight it. So don't.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Spinach Mushroom Tortilla Pizza

 

I needed to make something simple and fast for the after-school snack/lunch today. 

It's been a busy day & I'd been out all morning. Once I was home, I hadn't the time or the desire to fix anything that required much effort or several dirty dishes. 

Pizza always fits the bill - especially if you have prepared pizza dough on hand. 

Which I didn't, but I saw the recipe for Spinach Mushroom Pizza on Bread + Butter yesterday and adapted it to suit my own needs. 

My version is a cross between a pizza and an enchilada. My son loves button mushrooms and I had all the other fixings so I got going as soon as we got home and had it ready in 15 mins. 


My son is going through a picky phase and is averse to anything green - so I improvised: I placed one jalapeno & cilantro tortilla (those are the ones I had) on a lightly sprayed foil-lined cookie sheet. Sprinkled about 1/4 cup of mozzarella, dotted with a little marinara sauce and layered torn, fresh spinach leaves all over. 

Covered with another tortilla. Sprinkled around 1/4 cup of mozzarella evenly, covered with a thin layer of marinara sauce .. added canned sliced button mushrooms . . a few spinach leaves ... a handful of parmesan cheese and another 1/4 cup mozzarella. 

Baked at 400F for 12 minutes. 
 
The cheese between the layers of tortillas melted and helped stick them together  which is all good, since it made the spinach invisible to my fussy child. On the surface it looked like a regular pizza with very crispy edges. 

And it was so good, I made one for myself (sans extra tortilla and button mushrooms)  with lots of spinach and a lot more parmesan. Yum.  








Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Strawberry Crisp

 

I guess that Tres Leches French Toast wasn't enough.

I want dessert for breakfast every day! 

This one is simple, and it makes two servings. Perfect, don't you agree? 

And yeah - I'm selfish: I won't make breakfast for anyone else without a fight, but I'll happily labor over guilty treats for myself.

This morning I was a selfish & hungry person with intense carbohydrate cravings. And no, I'm not pregnant. Although my son said to me on the way back home from school yesterday, "Mama, I want 3 more babies. You can get me one right now & get two more when we move to the new house next month because we'll have more space there to play" . . . uh, yeah!

Who doesn't need a little soothing carbohydrate love after a demand like that?

I was down to my last box of strawberries and adapted this from a recipe on Recipezaar. The only change I made was adding an additional tbsp of butter. 

Assembling and baking takes all of 20 minutes, so I treated myself to warm strawberry crisp for breakfast today. I just told myself I was eating Granola ;-)

Strawberry Crisp
2 tbsp butter
1/2 cup quick cooking oatmeal
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 cup sliced strawberries

Melt the butter in a small saucepan. Add the oatmeal, sugar and cinnamon. Mix well. Remove from heat.
Divide the strawberries between two ramekins and sprinkle the oatmeal mixture over both. 
Bake at 375F for 15 mins. 
Remove from oven and let stand for 5 minutes before serving.






Monday, February 22, 2010

Baking with Dorie Greenspan



I've been feeling completely bummed.

Imagine my disappointment when I found out, right after ordering Baking: From my home to yours by Dorie Greenspan, that the original Tuesdays with Dorie baking group is now a closed group and no longer accepting new members.

While I support Laurie's decision to close the group and understand how challenging it has become to handle a group with so many members, I needed to get past my disappointment and find a way to bake along with the group any way. Especially since I ordered the book & know that I would end up not using it enough otherwise. 

So, Susi from Susi's Kochen und Backen and I got talking and decided that we would get together and start making recipes from the book & blogging about them. We decided to call our baking challenge 'Baking with Dorie'.

We won't be following what the TWD group is doing since they are already halfway through the book & Susi and I are just starting out. We will be posting our recipes only twice a month. Anyone who couldn't make it on the TWD group is welcome to join us as we start our baking adventure.

There aren't many rules: 

- Participants would have to own the book 'Baking from my home to yours' by Dorie Greenspan
- We'll be posting on alternate Mondays of the month so that gives everyone time to bake, document and take photos. 
- Participants would have to have a blog to share their baking experiences and photos on
- We're starting with the Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins on Page 10 & 11 of the book on March 1st. 

Please email me if you would like to join the challenge. 

See you there! 





Sunday, February 21, 2010

Tres Leches French Toast


I am not a breakfast loving gal. 

Or in other words, I'm lazy and the thought doing of anything more complicated than drinking a glass of water as soon as I wake up leaves me winded. 

It has been the bone of contention between DH and myself. He loves a good breakfast ... and I don't love making it.

I'm just not a morning person. So I can't get more creative than setting down a bowl of cereal in front of him and, if I'm feeling very generous, once in a while I'll butter toast.

I know what you're thinking. But sometimes I do make a special effort and get creative. Lately I've had Tres Leches cake on the brain. Constantly and all-consummately.

I saw another blogger's Caramel Pancakes ...and the idea of combining milk & caramel was all the inspiration I needed to go ahead and create a breakfast version of my favorite cake .

French Toast is always a delicious treat, no matter how you make it. It makes you happy just to wake up, get out of bed in the morning and smile deep down in your heart. 

This recipe started out as an experiment because I wanted to see if I could make baked and stuffed French Toast with a Tres Leches twist. And it had to be overnight-french toast because Tres Leches cake requires overnight or at least 5 hr soaking. Quite convenient for me - as I have already established how lazy and unproductive I am in the morning.

It worked so well. And the addition of strawberries made it smell wonderful. 

This french toast doesn't need the embellishment of maple syrup, because it is so rich and has just the right amount of sweetness. 

But I couldn't leave well enough alone and drizzled it with my homemade Dulce de Leche anyway. 

Oh my. Doesn't that make you want to dig in already? In that case: follow me . .

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Carrot & Hummus sandwich


What can be easier? 

Smooth Hummus on soft, whole wheat bread, with the added crunch of shredded carrots. 

Divine. 








Friday, February 19, 2010

David Lebovitz's Strawberry Frozen Yogurt



Summer is almost around the corner.

And that should be excuse enough to start making ice cream. 

The one thing I don't own is an ice cream maker (not for long) even though I am quite a bit of a kitchen appliance/gadget junkie.

I compulsively and impulsively buy things for my kitchen the way other people buy clothes or shoes.

I'm hopeless, really. 

The lack of an appliance doesn't stop me from making ice cream. Sure: making it without one is more labor intensive and a serious time commitment but worth each minute of effort & all the hours spent whisking, freezing, whisking, freezing and waiting . . 

I have several pounds of strawberries to get through and have been on the lookout for simple strawberry recipes that involve ingredients I already have on hand so that there is no mad rush to the grocery store. 

Today is a lazy day, so anything I made today couldn't possibly require me to do anything but spend most of my time with the hubby & kids all morning.

I finally found just what I was looking for.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Super Easy Strawberry Jam


Love Strawberries? I do. 

In my part of the world, we get fresh, locally grown strawberries only between November and February. Right about now, strawberries start going on sale all over the place and I buy large amounts with the best of intentions.

The possibilities are endless. 

But most of the time, I never get to the ice creams and sorbets I was planning to make. We just simply end up eating through them all - with breakfast, or as snacks. But one thing I never fail to make each year is strawberry jam.  

I make jam just as the strawberry season is ending each year, so that we can savor the last of the berries for the next several weeks to come. 



Love Strawberry Jam? 

Want to try making your own? It's easy. 

Here's how :

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Hummus


Show me one person who doesn't like Hummus. 

It's perfect for dipping bread and veggies. And I love mine chilled, with extra olive oil drizzled on top. 

I've never tried making it myself before today. It's very simple to do it yourself, of course, and tastes far superior to anything you buy in a can. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Changes

I'm trying to improve the look of this blog so am playing around with the layout settings. 
I'm still not sure I like the new stretchy look. 
So bear with me please, while I change things around the next couple of days.





Coffee + Dulce de Leche = Bliss


I woke up this morning to my kids' conspiratorial laughter as they walked along the back of my legs and then used my back as a launching pad to dive on to the mattress, loud yells and all. 

"what are you doing?" (Duh. Wasn't it obvious? But I'm kind of dull in the morning)

"I giving you a'ssage" (I'm giving you a massage) replied the toddler. 

Oh yeah, I love those. Thoughtful kids, huh? 

"Wake up! It's morning! Wake up! We're huuuuuungry"

Children are so cruel. They always wake up earlier than usual when every particle of your being needs that extra hour of sleep; when you feel like a lump of dough as soon as you open your eyes and nothing, not even a superhuman force can will you to move out of the bed and start your day. 

Those are the mornings when you need a crutch. And a little comfort.

I got both via Pioneer Woman's Dulce de Leche Coffee. Pure genius. Now why hadn't I ever thought of using up my dulce de leche this way before? I've made David Lebovitz's coffee popsicles so many times and this is essentially the same thing.

I had everything on hand:

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Brownie Love


I know I said just earlier today that I don't do the valentine thing. 

And I don't. 
I guess I've been bitten by the bug. Or maybe I simply needed an excuse to whip up some fudgy, chocolate  goodness. 

Either way, it's all good. 

Like my 5 yr old said this morning, "I know why you're always making stuff Mama - because it makes your hands happy". He's right. It makes my hands happy.
  

Love is All Around


I'm not into valentines day. Really.

I was just trying to recall the number of times in my life when I've celebrated it, and I guess if I have to think about it that hard - it's most likely not to have happened more than one time. 

Don't get me wrong: I'm not being Dr.Killjoy here -  I'm deeply romantic; I love hearts and candies and flowers as much as anyone does . . . but I just think that when you love someone expressing your love isn't an isolated act... it is a lifetime of expressions, some subtle; almost invisible . .and some large and audible.

When I think about things that went into forming my younger-self impressions of what 'love' is, only one memory stands out. 

One evening, the year I turned 20, I was at an open-air concert by a French Pianist. It was part of my job, as one of the organizers of the event, to walk around and make sure everyone was seated and to take care of all the other details. I caught a break some time after the concert began and found myself seated close to a woman I had met through work, and her husband. 

I had never met anyone quite like this woman. She must have been in her late-50's. She was a poet who was in a cross-cultural marriage, and had lived away from her home country for over three decades; residing in small rural towns where it was rare to find other women who spoke English. And this is where she raised six children and buried one child; suffered immense loneliness and heartache - relying on her poetry to convey the intensity of her experiences. I found her fascinating & took up any and all opportunities to have conversations with her.

Anyhow - let's go back to that evening. 


She had briefly nodded off to sleep at some point during the concert. My own mind was adrift. I don't recall what I might have been thinking, but I remember the heady fragrance of Jasmines filling up the night air, and that I  was staring at the full moon. 

I was broken out of my reverie when I heard the woman's husband gently nudging her awake, whispering, "look". And she woke up and looked directly down at the reflection of the moon in the pool, although he hadn't pointed or explained what he wanted her to see.

They both smiled at each other. "It's beautiful", they whispered, and continued looking at the reflection in the pool.

And in that moment I knew that is what love was: a lifelong conversation. 

And that it meant not always having to explain yourself . . understanding instinctively what the other needs . .knowing that you will care about each other years after all the dreams and heartaches are over... that life isn't perfect and there will be many trials and your heart might break but it will heal itself again . . but  you have to be willing to move past that and forgive each other . . or forgive yourself . . love also means accepting that feelings are not always noisy and so you aren't loved any less just because someone doesn't always tell you that they love you in the exact way that you want or when you want . . that love isn't easy. Period. 

But it's worth it.

Love dearly; show love daily. Not only because you are supposed to show it today.

All my loved ones: you have a unique and special spot right here in my heart, dedicated to you every day of the year.
Happy Valentines Day. 





Friday, February 12, 2010

Cake Balls/Pops - Tips & Tricks


The tutorial by Pioneer Woman doesn't leave any gaps and is an excellent guide for making cake balls/cake pops. 
However, here are some things that I learned along the way which helped me: 

- If you use a recipe for a very moist cake, you don't need the equivalent of a can of frosting like Bakerella suggests. She uses a cake mix + 1 can of frosting. I didn't use either a mix or ready made frosting so all I needed was a couple of tablespoons of frosting per 9"x13" cake. 
Start by adding 2 tbsp of frosting at a time. Stop when it feels right: the cake should just come together in a moist (but not wet) dough-like ball. There shouldn't be any loose crumbs and it shouldn't fall apart. It should hold well together. 
- Use a melon-baller to get bite-sized cake pops. (I thought of this after I was done hand-rolling all of my not-quite-identically-sized 400 cake balls :P )
- It helps to refrigerate the cake balls overnight.Or at least a couple of hours.
- If you can't get candy melts or, quite simply, don't like the taste - use either ganache or melted chocolate for dipping. Both will work fine. Candy melts might give a smoother look, though.
- I am not as patient as Bakerella and so, even though she recommends dipping one cake ball at a time into a small bowl of melted, warm candy melts, I had to make 400 and needed to work faster. So I dipped 4-5 at a time in a large metal bowl. 
- I kept boiling up some water in a saucepan, taking it off the heat and placing my metal bowl on top of it while I worked. The steam from the hot water ensured that the chocolate wouldn't cool or thicken quickly while I worked. Therefore decreasing the number of times I had to heat it up between uses.
- Bakerella's technique of tapping the spoon against the side of the bowl is excellent - you get rid of any extra chocolate; ensuring a smoother cake ball. I started out doing it her way but then what I found easier was to use a tablespoon to take the cake ball out after dipping using my left hand, swirling it back and forth in the tablespoon (drips all the extra chocolate off) and then dropping it into a teaspoon (held in my right hand). I would then tap the teaspoon on the back of the tablespoon several times and plop the ball onto waxed paper. 
Does that sound confusing? I wish I could have taken photos to do a tutorial but seeing that both my hands were occupied, it wasn't really possible. 

I hope that helped. 
Now go ahead, give it a try and indulge yourself! 






Thursday, February 11, 2010

Drowning in Cake Balls


Once in a while I get orders for cupcakes (for small parties). Last week, someone called me up and said she wanted 200 cake balls for her party.

Then she called back late on Monday night and said she wanted 400. 

400? By Thursday evening? No sweat. 

The last time I made these cake balls for her, it was a year ago for a Valentines Day party so I went all Bakerella in a rare burst of creativity and presented them in a heart-shaped, fondant-covered cake 'gift box' exactly like Bakerella. Ok, it wasn't as perfect as Bakerella's, but that is beside the point: who can compete with The Bakerella? 

Anyway, the woman who placed the order said she wanted the same thing this year. 

Are you kidding me? How many heart-shaped cakes and mind-boggling amounts of red Fondant would I have to make to accommodate those 400 cake balls! I had to say no to the presentation part. Because the other alternative meant I would turn into Monster-Mom and bite off everyone's heads for the rest of the week while I worked day and night preparing for this order and give everyone around me a hard time while I worked on this order.


Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Kenyan Chocolate Tea



I was 16 when I first discovered a box of this loose tea in a store and bought it on a whim, imagining that when I'd make it, it would taste very chocolaty; like a cross between hot chocolate and tea.  

Wrong.

It's just plain black tea with a very mild but definite hint of chocolate. I had no idea back then, how to brew this tea. And I still don't - I just wing it. But it didn't stop me from brewing a pot now and then, buying it each time I saw it on a shelf in a store and even begging a Kenyan colleague, years later, to send me a tin through anyone coming back from Kenya! 
 
It isn't that addictive. Seriously. I don't even know why I like it so much. And I've never known anyone (other than my Kenyan friend) who has even heard of it, let alone anyone who buys it. [btw, it never occurred to me to ask this person how to make this tea :P ]

Monday, February 08, 2010

Pain au Chocolat


I love pain au chocolat. 

It reminds me of solitary walks on cold winter days.

I love just walking around on my own. I do it less for fitness and more because it makes me feel good. In my early 20's when I lived away from home for a year, I used to walk out of necessity. I had to get to places and so I did a lot of walking which invariably led to a lot of thinking and self-analysis. Walking always clears my head and helps me stay calm and focused. 

In the course of all that walking, I used to stop over at a small bakery not far from where I lived. If I got there early enough in the morning, I could get myself some still-warm-and-fresh-from-the-oven heavenly smelling pain au chocolat. Flaky and crispy on the outside, soft in the middle with a center of warm, gooey chocolate. Such a rich treat, but so light and airy, you are deceived into believing otherwise.

It was the best I have ever had. Maybe because it was freshly baked. Maybe it was the kind of chocolate filling they used. Maybe because I was 21 and every experience, culinary or otherwise, seems awesome or exaggerated in hindsight. 
 
Recently watching Meryl Streep making chocolate croissants in 'It's complicated' has had me thinking about that pain au chocolat all week. Then  this blog post I came across here finally compelled me to give it a try and make my own.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Kidney Bean Pulao, Chicken with Nigella Seeds and Eggplant Raita


Aside from the the very few times we had people over for dinner, everything I have cooked in the past 4 months has been hurriedly put together, often boring and completely uninspired. I have not heard a single complaint. Not one. Did I ever mention that DH is a *very* patient man?

Everyone expected I'd get my groove back eventually. Because they know I'm happiest when pottering around my kitchen. My only condition is that I be left alone.
I haven't put a lot of thought into planning this meal or worried about whether or not all the different flavors will compliment each other. 

It doesn't matter. It's special because it's the first time in a long time that I'm thinking about food with some renewed passion. Which is a good thing.

Thinking about food & making it for people I love makes me happy.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

I-scream




My toddler woke up this morning and the first thing she said was: "I want ice-cweam".

I told her I didn't have any and my suggestion "Let's have cereal first and then we'll go down to the store and buy ice cream, ok?" was met with a full-blown  interminably long mother-of-meltdowns (yeah, welcome to terrible 2's).

However, she managed to calm down long enough to make it through breakfast. I really didn't want to go to the store till later in the evening but I try not to say things to my kids that I don't mean or make promises I won't follow through on. I had figured, I would just get the kids in the kitchen after breakfast and we'd make our own ice cream. 

Think again: no cream, not enough milk, no oreos (for their favorite cookies & cream ice cream). There was still no way I was going to go to the store. We just had to make do with whatever we had on hand. Which was basically nothing. And then it hit me: I could make banana ice cream. 

All I need for that is bananas. And this is also something I have known forever but never bothered to try: after all, why make banana ice cream when there are far more exciting (and possibly more palatable) things to make. Such as Nutella ice cream, for e.g. I'm still sulking over my inability to make Nutella ice cream the day before  by the way :( 

Beggars can't be choosers. Banana ice cream it would have to be. 

Nutella: what's not to love?


The entire city is conspiring against me. Their mission is to keep me from getting my weekly Nutella fix. 

I'm all out. And I can't find it anywhere. Not in the small grocery stores, not the hyper-marts. Nowhere.

What makes it worse is that Nutella-related posts have been popping up all over the blogosphere because it is World Nutella Day on February 5. Just this past hour, I have read about at least 5 luscious Nutella desserts and then drooled over the photos in the Nutella day Flickr pool - all of which have sent my cravings completely over the edge. 

I was getting desperate enough to make my own 'Nutella spread' a la David Lebowitz. But that would have required looking for Hazelnut oil, which is just completely impossible slightly harder to find in these parts.


Sigh. 

I so badly wanted to make Nutella ice cream and be part of the 'chocolaty hazelnut wave across the blogosphere' today. 

But no Nutella, no ice cream. 
And no Nutella, no photos :( [Sorry, Sara & Michelle]



And this is hardly an original recipe contribution to World Nutella Day but this is how my kids and I love our Nutella (when we're not eating it straight from the jar): 


Grilled Nutella Sandwich

2 slices whole wheat bread
2 tablespoons Nutella
butter
cooking spray 

Heat griddle/pan. 

Lightly spread the outsides of two slices of bread with butter. 
Spread Nutella on the inside and sandwich together. 

Grill 2 mins per side. 

Slice in half and serve warm. 

Happy World Nutella Day!







Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Making Marshmallow Fondant


I took a few basic Wilton cake decorating classes last year and in one of our classes we had to learn how to drape our cakes with fondant and make fondant bows etc. 

"Fondant" is such an intimidating word. I used to think one would have to be an expert confectioner or baker to be able to make it. I hadn't the foggiest idea how to make it in the first place and so, like all the other women in my class, I bought a bag of fondant from our instructor (it's not available anywhere else locally where I live). 


It was one of the most vile things I have ever tasted. I couldn't imagine having to bite through it to get to the rest of my cake. Yuck. 


One of the women and I got talking about marshmallow fondant - she had read about it some place and soon we were looking up recipes online and making trial versions. 

Monday, February 01, 2010

Happy Anniversary


Ever since I came across the recipe for Cheesecake with salted butter caramel sauce on Tartelette's blog, I have been dreaming delicious dreams of this cake. And with an anniversary coming up, it seemed I had found the perfect moment to indulge my craving for what sounded and looked like a truly decadent dessert. 

But since I went and completely lost my sense of smell and taste (and no way was I going to make that cheesecake and not enjoy it), I had to settle for making something else. 

I didn't want to make anything too labor intensive since I'm not really up to it like I mentioned in my earlier post today. So, it had to be something simple ... and chocolaty - there's no such thing as too much chocolate, right? Maybe with a hint of orange in the frosting or otherwise... 

Homemade Butter


I've been too unwell since Friday night to actually either make it out of bed or get off the couch. Reason: extremely bad case of Rhinosinusitis & a throat infection. My sense of smell is completely gone, along with my sense of taste - can't even hear with my left ear. It's a wonder I'm functioning at all. 


It's rather disconcerting not to be able to smell or taste anything. I've even tried to jump-start my taste buds by dolloping heaped teaspoons of that Habanero sauce on top of everything I'm eating. But food still tastes like sawdust.


Since I'm unable to stay on my feet for too long & my children need entertainment, I've had to create activities I could either engage in or observe from my permanent position on the couch. 


Today we decided to make homemade butter. It's ridiculously easy. 


I read about how to make it a long time ago & couldn't believe it would actually work so I was just about as surprised as my 5 yr old when we sat around shaking a large Tupperware container half-filled with whipping cream and came up with actual butter in less than 10 minutes! 

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