July 11, 2011

summer cakes

I got lucky. I did not know what to do with our strawberries and I did not know what to do while L was nursing so I just mindlessly clicked online while she was nursing. I saw a Strawberry Summer Cake recipe posted not too long ago on Smitten Kitchen (yes, the one you want to live in), and I thought, "Wow, this looks easy and pretty and scrumptious! I think I am going to have to make this!"

Strawberry Summer Cake
And so I made the cake. So simple and easy, with glorious results. I would agree with Deb, the sugar in the batter can easily be scaled back by 2 tablespoons without hurting the flavor of the cake at all. It is such a moist, lovely cake with depth in flavor, and the juicy berries in every bite just adds to its decadence. The bright yellow color of the cake makes you think you are biting into lovely sunshine. We served it with whipped cream (but of course! A German afternoon tea/coffee is never without a bowl of freshly whipped cream, either to go with cakes, scones or into the coffee, and I will always follow my mother-in-law's good example!) and devoured the cake with three lusty groans per bite. It took every ounce of discipline to not eat the entire cake at one go.

And as we enjoyed the cake, I told R, "I am sure this cake will be as wonderful with sour cherries." He agreed. In fact, I think it will go well with all summer berries and could not wait to go berry-picking. (And finally, after having read Jamberry with all my children so many million times, I could finally appreciate the exuberant joy of picking your own berries!) I can imagine making a blueberry summer cake with this, adding some lemon zest into the batter, and maybe even making some lemon sugar to sprinkle over the blueberries.  In the mean time, I got a jar of sour cherries from Trader Joe's and baked a sour cherry summer cake.

I did not get the cherries lined up real neat but it does not matter, as some sunk and some not during baking. Nobody will really care!
I brought the cake for the local moms group potluck picnic and saw a 5-year-old little girl gobble up three pieces of the cake. She was a sight to behold, and I just enjoyed watching her eat the cake with such relish: she cupped her little hands around the piece of cake then sunk her face into it, aiming first at the cherries. Then, when she had lifted her face from the cake and saw that all the cherries were gone, she pressed her palms together and squished the remaining cake crumbs and inhaled the rest of the cake. I wish I had taken a video. It was so fun and I think nothing warms a cook's heart than to watch someone enjoy the results of her labor.

I doubled the original recipe to make this in an 8 by 12 pan, and will highly recommend you do the same. This cake is worth a second, even third helping and you would love being able to share the joy of it.

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen, who adapted from Martha Stewart
Makes one 8 by 12 cake

  • 12 Tbsp (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar, plus 3 Tbsp for sprinkling
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 24-oz jar pitted sour cherries, drained
  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Butter an 8 by 12 cake pan.
  2. Whisk flour together with baking powder and salt in a medium bowl.
  3. In a stand mixer beat butter with sugar until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs, milk and vanilla and mix until just combined (start low so you won't have everything splattering into your face). Add flour mixture gradually, mixing until just smooth.
  4. Pour batter into cake pan. Arrange sour cherries whichever way you like on top of the batter. Sprinkle the 3 Tbsp of sugar over the cherries.
  5. Bake cake for 10 minutes then reduce oven temperature to 325F and bake for another 45-55 minutes until golden brown, delicious wafts of sunshine fill the kitchen and a tester comes out of the cake dry.
  6. Cool on a rack. Serve with lightly whipped cream. 
  7. Due to the high moisture content, I will not recommend keeping it for more than a day (eat more or invite people over for tea).

July 1, 2011

got rosemary? got scones?

I think it's time to get back on track! The recipes are piling up and every day for the past two weeks I had started my day thinking, "Today I am going to get on my recipe blog and start updating the recipes."

And then someone pushed "fast forward" on my day and the day is gone and I went to bed, belly full, but my poor recipe blog neglected yet again. Today this shall change. It is July first. Half of the year officially gone by and milestones like this lights a match under my butt. After the strawberry harvest two weeks ago I had made two batches of strawberry sauce that went really well with a golden vanilla cake (our summer solstice dessert), strawberry-banana muffins, strawberry cream scones and a strawberry summer cake that had also been adapted into a sour cherry yummy cake. Yesterday I made a batch of scones that totally embarrassed me later (hang on for that story, it comes with a recipe!), chocolate coconut scones and gluten-free brownies from a box (review to come later). In-between I found a new salmon recipe that we loved, and also the rosemary-rubbed pork chops that were simply divine. All recipes shall be posted within this month.

I said it. I said it!! Now I am going to do it.

So I have been making scones. I don't even know why. I do not own a scone pan, and scones are not my favorite recipe. But I had rosemary. They looked so good at the local co-op I bought more than I intended to (for the pork chop recipe, which will be posted later) so I was left with extra rosemary. I think some mysterious divine energy wanted me to make these most scrumptious rosemary-carrot scones in the world, because my mouse clicked on this recipe over at Patent and the Pantry. And while a recipe search often ends up with me sending myself a dozen or more recipes to pick from, that fateful day I picked this one, and this one only.

And it embarrassed me.

I made them yesterday, and realized they only made a dozen. I took them to the local moms group annual potluck picnic anyways. I was the newbie and I wasn't going to show up empty-handed. 

Minutes into the picnic one mom walked to the middle of the ramada with my container raised high and asked loudly, "Who made these?!"

I was afraid she found some dead flies in there but I raised my hand, because honesty was the best policy. She looked at me and then announced, "These were AMAZING! They were FANTASTIC!! You need to give us the recipe!" And then she turned to the rest and said, "There is only one left." and then with that one scone in hand she marched to her seat, unapologetic that she had chosen not to share. This morning she emailed me and asked for the recipe again. These are good signs, calling the very following day and I hope you agree.

Gosh I was glad she enjoyed those scones! But I also did not expect that reaction and I felt my ears burning. People turned and smiled and I heard my name repeated a few times but I just lowered my head and focused on tearing apart the chicken drumstick for my girls. Inside though, my heart was grinning itself silly, and I already made plans to get more rosemary and make more scones.

Ready to take a bite into a most delicious rosemary-carrot scone? I hope so!
As I said, I found this recipe on Patent and the Pantry, who adapted this recipe from Chocolate and Zucchini. I prefer the former's version, her no-fuss approach to cooking is what I love. I modified a tiny bit, adding a tad more garlic, which I feel marries with the aroma of the rosemary most beautifully, and I also decided to add 3/4 cup finely grated pecorino which I had found at a local Italian bakery called Perreca's. Fine-grated is the key, to keep the texture of the scones tender and fluffy. Your kitchen will smell heavenly (and deliciously garlicky, laced with the aroma of rosemary) while these scones bake. Prepare napkins to wipe your drool. I did not have any cutters whatsoever with me and used a drinking glass as Gwendolyn did and I think that worked well, but pull out your fancy cutters if you wish! Rosemary is the herb that represents remembrance. If you make these and bring them to a potluck, you will be remembered.

Coarse-grated carrots, and rosemary also coarsely chopped

Makes 12 scones. I made a small one from the scraps, so I could sample
Rosemary-carrot Scones
Recipe adapted from Patent and the Pantry
 Makes about 12 scones (depending on size), doubling recipe recommended
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 9 tbsp. chilled, unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1 1/2 cups grated carrots (about 2 medium carrots)
  • 2 tbsp. fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced (I did add one more clove, I could not resist!)
  • 2 tbsp. Dijon mustard
  • 3/4 cup cream
  • 3/4 cup fine-grated pecorino 
  1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Place rack in middle of oven. In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Add the butter and rub it into the flour mixture with your fingers or using a pastry blender. It should resemble coarse crumbs when it’s blended enough. Add the carrots, rosemary and cheese.
  2. Mix together the mustard, cream and garlic and then add to the dry ingredients. Mix together gently until the dough comes together and then empty out onto floured counter. Pat together into a ball and then roll out until the dough is about a half-inch thick. Cut out using biscuit cutter or whatever is handy. 
  3. Place on parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes until nice and golden. Cool on a rack.


June 11, 2011

home-cooked is the best

This evening I cooked again in a long time... I cannot really remember when was the last time I cooked before we moved across the country. All I remember was a lot of optimism and over-estimation of my capabilities, and then, faced with a fridge and pantry full of food, asking myself in exasperation: What in the world was I thinking?!

I did not even have time to heat up the oven to throw in a frozen pizza. It was that insane. Actually, it is still pretty insane and at times I am beginning to suspect I am supposed to be insane and life must be crazy all the time or it must not be life.

So tonight I cooked up some salmon, some broccoli and served it with rice sprinkled with furikake. Everyone licked their plates and V kept batting her eyelids, moaning and saying, "Mmmmmm, food. Ooooooh, foooood. oh, salmon, Oh, furikake! Mom, this is food!!"

Which is a bit funny. We have been eating all these last crazy weeks. Sometimes better than others. We've had big burritos, pizza (cannot look at another one till next year), Pan.da Express, similar versions of Pan.da Express, delicious home-cooked meals from friends; we've eaten in better restaurants and we've grabbed whatever's on the run.

But truly, nothing compares to home-cooked. Even if just simple food. It just sits in your belly better, and it feels good to finally sit down at our own dining table (surrounded by opened boxes and relying on one standing lamp that is moved wherever it is needed) and just eat at leisure. No need to worry about the glasses of water being knocked over or poured down your lap (as L has done a few times), and no need to wave aside concerns about what went into that incredibly good ranch dressing. I know I used but butter, good olive oil from that Italian bakery, wild-caught salmon (on sale for crazy $4.99/lb at the local grocery store, I plan to go back and clear out their stock tomorrow), broccoli, and rice that I bought in Lee Lee's a month ago. I used sea salt, some seasoning I made up months ago, and not very much more. Tonight Lyra was not making a "piano" with packs of Splenda and Sweet-N-Low, and she was not stacking up tiny containers of ultra-pasteurized half-and-half and pretending to blow them out like candles (yes, we have eaten out so often the last two weeks she has found ways to entertain herself while waiting for food to arrive, in-between pouring water onto the floor).

It feels like in spite of the million things we still need to deal with, and despite the months before we will feel settled in, everything will be ok. Because finally, I am able to cook again. I will be grumbling about the cabinets and the sink that faces the corner of the walls and a ton of other things, and I will complain about having to clean and wash up after meals. but thank goodness, I can cook again. I thought I would forget how to cook after these weeks, but I think  still remember.

Thank goodness, because nothing beats home-made.

May 14, 2011

Best(& easiest) chocolate pudding ever

First, the news. Personal news. My family is moving cross-country to upstate New York. Very exciting. Very crazy. It also means time to cook -- whether from scratch or not -- is getting less, and less, and less, and less. I am still doing it though, but I am not sure how often I am going to post here. I already have a backlog of recipes, but my moving-related to-do list is also growing by the mile every second. My insanity-cum-stress level is shooting through the roofs and I am stopping every other second to pick up my eyeballs from the floor and popping them back into their sockets.

Whatever it is, I will come back here. If I am true to my word about posting recipes we have liked here, and if my bad habit of having to try yet another new recipe never dies, I could be posting until the cows come home. You just wait.

Does it look like the butterfly wants chocolate pudding too?
Second, more news, and exciting too: easy to make dessert that your kid(s) will love to help, can easily help, and they don't even have to wait to eat it (if you choose to eat it warm). This is totally delicious to me, and every time I think of this chocolate pudding recipe I rub my hands with glee for all its goodness. This recipe came from the no longer existing Organic Style magazine, and they called it "The Best Chocolate Pudding Ever" and I whole-heartedly agree with all my chocolate mustache. They also say if you want it less intense and more kid-friendly, to reduce the chocolate from 4 ounces to three instead. Well, that I respectfully disagree. I make it with four ounces of chocolate (maybe even a tiny bit more, to compensate for all that brown stuff that gets left behind on hard-to-reach places like the whisk and the pot) and have never received complaints. But of course, it is up to you to decide how much chocolate will be too intense for you and your family. Proceed with responsibility.

Best-ever Chocolate Pudding
The Best Chocolate Pudding Ever
Recipe from Organic Style magazine (Feb 2005)
Serves 4

  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1/4 cup packed dark-brown sugar
  • 3 Tbsp sugar
  • 3 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa
  •  3 Tbsp cornstarch
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 4 ounces fine-quality semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup lightly sweetened whipped cream (optional, but highly recommended)
  1. Combine 1/2 cup milk with sugars, cocoa, cornstarch, and salt in a 1-pint jar. Screw lid on tightly and shake vigorously until blended (a few lumps are OK, and this is something kids will love to help with).
  2. Heat remaining 1 1/2 cups milk in a medium heavy saucepan over medium heat. When small bubbles appear on side of pan (kids love the assignment of watching out for bubbles!), pour cocoa mixture into saucepan and whisk to combine. Cook, whisking, until pudding thickens, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in chopped chocolate and  vanilla extract.
  3. Spoon pudding into 4 heatproof cups. Serve hot, warm or chilled with whipped cream, if desired. (I just pour into a large glass bowl, cover and chill. And portion out accordingly into small bowls.)
Got chocolate pudding?

May 10, 2011

Delicious Gluten-free Banana Bread

Delightful gluten-free banana bread
 Banana Bread. Yum. Whoever invented banana bread deserves a medal, I am sure you agree. I love bananas. I eat them straight, or with peanut butter, or chocolate spread, or in a bread. It's an easy solution when one is low on sugar and is plenty good for you.

Don't be afraid to let your bananas develop those brown spots before you use them in baking! That is when their flavor is ripe and high. And making a double batch? -- always a very smart idea.

This loaf rises respectably high for a gluten-free quick bread.
This recipe comes from Elizabeth Barbone's Easy Gluten-Free Baking. It is simple and straight-forward, and very good. Some gluten-free banana bread tends to be sticky and dense, but not this one. Great flavor, wonderful texture, delectable crumb. No wonder Barbone calls this the "Blue Ribbon Banana Bread" (she adapted it from her mother's recipe, which won several blue ribbons in bake-off contests.) The only thing I did to this recipe was to add a handful of chocolate chips. And by a handful, I mean about 1/2 to 3/4 a cup, as desired. If I am using chocolate chips, I normally reduce the sugar by about 1/4 cup. It's your choice!

Blue Ribbon Banana Bread
Recipe from Easy Gluten-Free Baking

Wet ingredients:
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 1/3 cups very ripe mashed bananas
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
  • 2 large eggs
Dry ingredients:
  • 1 2/3 cups white rice flour
  • 1/3 cup cornstarch
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp xanthan gum
  • 1/2 - 3/4 cup chocolate chips (if desired)
  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Grease and rice flour a 9 by 5 inch loaf pan. in a small bowl, mix together sugar and mashed bananas. Allow to sit for 15 minutes.
  2. In a separate small bowl, whisk together dry ingredients.
  3. In a large bowl, cream butter until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well between additions. Add half of the dry ingredients. Blend until smooth on medium-low speed. Add banana-sugar mixture. Stir until well incorporated. Add remaining dry ingredients. Blend batter until smooth.
  4. Pour batter into prepared loaf pan. Bake for 50-60 minutes, until tester inserted in center of cake comes out clean.
  5. Place pan on wire rack to cool for 5 minutes (I tend to let it cool longer when the weather is warm). Remove loaf from pan and place on rack to cool completely.
Take time for yourself, and enjoy!

    May 8, 2011

    Oriental Style Salmon (aka Salmon-in-a-hurry)

    Salmon is good for you, but it is even better if you do not need to toil in order to enjoy it. I love dishes that can be made up in a hurry, and even more if I can just stick it in the oven, turn on the rice cooker and have some minutes to spare until the timer on the oven goes off.

    This salmon dish is welcomed with smiles in my household, and I do not mind serving it since it is relatively painless and easy, plus each mouthful is moist and flavorful. I took this recipe from Sally Fallon's Nourishing Traditions and made a few small tweaks. While it is suggested that you serve this with buckwheat, brown rice pasta or brown rice, I think it will also make an awesome salmon salad, even eaten cold on a summer's day. I also sometimes break it up and add it to my scrambled eggs for breakfast.

    Oriental-style Salmon
    Oriental style Salmon (aka Salmon-in-a-hurry)
    Recipe adapted from Nourishing Traditions
    Serves 6
    • 2 pounds wild salmon filet
    • 4 Tbsp sesame seeds (crush them a little in a mortar if you have time, it helps release the aroma much better)
    • 1.5 Tbsp rice vinegar
    • 3 Tbsp soy sauce
    • 1 Tbsp fish sauce (optional, but recommended)
    • 2 Tbsp toasted sesame oil
    • 1 Tbsp grated ginger (I've been lazy before and simply chopped roughly!)
    • 1 bunch finely chopped green onions (optional, but recommended)
    • 3 cloves garlic, minced
    • grated zest from one lemon
    1. Pre-heat oven to 350F. Oil or butter a glass baking dish large enough to hold the salmon.
    2. Place salmon filets skin side down in the dish. Combine all other ingredients and pour over the salmon. Use back of spoon to spread out the ingredients evenly over the salmon. 
    3. Cover the dish with aluminum foil, and bake for 15 minutes. Remove foil and bake for another 3-5 minutes, until salmon is just cooked through. (I usually already turn off the oven after removing the foil.)
    4. Slice salmon into servings, transfer to individual plates and spoon the sauce over each slice. Sprinkle with more thinly sliced green onions if you wish. Enjoy!

    May 4, 2011

    The Triple-C Cookie

    Actually, since "chocolate chips" is technically two words, this cookie recipe should be called the quadruple-C cookie. It is: Coconut Cranberry Chocolate Chip Cookie. It is an alliteration cookie. It contains lots of good stuff, it tastes heavenly and it is addictive. And, it is a straight-forward, easy recipe. I love it!

    This is bite-sized heaven.
    I adapted this from a Martha Stewart recipe (originally named "Coconut-Cranberry Cookies" and appeared in the December 2003 issue, I was not able to find it online). When I saw that the recipe required grated orange zest, I knew it would not fly with me. For some reason, I do not mind zesting lemons, but I just do not like zesting oranges. It also called for sweetened shredded coconut, which I did not have on hand and did not wish to buy. So I made a few changes, including reducing the amount of sugar, using orange-flavored cranberries (from Trader Joe's), and adding orange extract, coconut extract and chocolate chips. However, I think this recipe will still be plenty wonderful with regular dried cranberries and sans orange extract. It should still bring you to your knees and have your friends and family begging for more.

    Don't ask me why but I just felt like taking a picture of the cookie dough. I thought the dotted jewels of red amongst the pale dough was rather alluring.
    Oh, and I forgot one more thing: I made the balls smaller, simply because I like bite-sized indulgences. (And it's easier to pop an entire one into your mouth whilst alone in the kitchen, with no one realizing what you have done, ha!) This cookie leans towards the "crunchy" category. Very crispy, but the center has a tad of chew provided by the coconut and cranberries. It's quite a perfect balance, I have to say.

    Coconut Cranberry Chocolate Chip Cookies
    Adapted from a Martha Stewart recipe
    Makes about 60 cookies
    • 3 cups all-purpose flour
    • 1 tsp baking powder
    • 1/4 tsp salt
    • 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
    • 1 1/4 cups sugar (I would even reduce it to one cup next time, the chocolate chips added plenty of sweet to this recipe)
    •  2 tsps vanilla extract
    • 1/2 tsp orange extract (optional)
    • 1/4 tsp coconut extract 
    • 1 1/2 cups dried orange-flavored cranberries (or use plain ones if you prefer) 
    • 3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
    • 1 1/2 cups shredded coconut
    1.  Preheat oven to 350F. Line two baking  sheets with parchment paper and set aside. 
    2. In a medium bowl whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
    3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Beat in the extracts. Add flour mixture, beat on medium-low until mixture comes together. Beat in cranberries, shredded coconut and chocolate chips.
    4. Form dough into 1-inch balls and place them 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets. Bake, rotating sheets halfway through, until edges begin to brown, about 15 to 17 minutes total.
    5. Let cool on baking sheets 5 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

    May 2, 2011

    Julia's Best-ever Brownies

    So I have written about my personal quest for the perfect brownies recipe. Or rather, I am seeking out that same taste, that same sensation, that re-enaction of a care-free, breezy summer on a patio. As the wise ones had said, you never cross the same bridge twice, I guess I just may never experience that perfect brownie moment ever again.

    But that is not to say I am giving up.

    I came across an archetypal brownie recipe as I was culling through my recipe collection. It came from the much revered Baking with Julia. Really, can one ever go wrong there? I made the recipe once again (after it having been buried at the bottom of a box for the last several years) and truly, it is the best-ever. Well, unless you belong to the "I like my brownie cakey" camp, then that is a whole other story, because this brownie is the fudgy type. It is very, very rich, satisfying and groan-inducing.

    Best-ever fudgy brownie
    I did make a couple of small changes to the recipe, instead of using two different types of chocolate I used semi-sweet only, and added a teaspoon of espresso powder (having this in my pantry makes me feel safe).It's not an easy-peasy one-bowl recipe, requiring a couple more steps, but I think you'll agree it's worth the extra effort.

    And this is not the end of the happily-ever-after story. My quest is still on. Call me silly or crazy, I don't care. The thing is, in that same pile of recipes I spied a few intriguing ones involving brownies, and I know I will just have to try them one of these days. And I may just finally hit upon that dream brownie. But in the meantime, this one sits on the top of the pile, no two words about it!

    Julia Child's Best-ever Brownies
    Recipe from Baking with Julia

  1. 1 1/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour

  2. 1 teaspoon salt

  3. 8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter

  4. 4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped

  5. 2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped(I used 6 oz semi-sweet chocolate)

  6. 2 cups sugar (I reduced by 1/4 cup)

  7. 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

  8. 4 large eggs

  9. 1 tsp espresso powder (optional)

    1. Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350°. Sift the flour and salt together and set aside. 
    2. Melt the butter and chocolate together in a medium saucepan over low heat, stirring frequently and keeping a watchful eye on the pot to make certain the chocolate doesn't scorch (Alternatively, you can melt the ingredients in the top of a double boiler over, not touching, simmering water.) Add 1 cup of the sugar to the mixture and stir for half a minute, then remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla.
    3. Pour the mixture into a large bowl.
    4. Put the remaining 1 cup sugar and the eggs into a bowl and mix or whisk by hand just to combine.
    5. Little by little, pour half of the sugar and eggs into the chocolate mixture, stirring gently but constantly with a rubber spatula so that the eggs don't set from the heat.
    6. Fit the whisk attachment to the mixer and whip the remaining sugar and eggs until they are thick, pale, and doubled in volume, about 3 minutes.
    7. Using the rubber spatula, delicately fold the whipped eggs into the chocolate mixture.
    8. When the eggs are almost completely incorporated, gently fold in the dry ingredients.
    9. Pour and scrape the batter in to an unbuttered 9-inch square pan.
    10. Bake the brownies for 25-28 minutes, during which time they will rise a little and the top will turn dark and dry.
    11. Cut into the center at about the 23-minute mark to see how the brownies are progressing: They'll be perfect if they're just barely set and still pretty gooey.
    12. Cool the brownies completely in the pan on a rack.

    May 1, 2011

    got spreading cookies?

    A couple of weeks ago my friend K told me sadly that she made the gluten-free egg-free ugly-but-good chocolate cookies, but they did not turn out! -- they spread too much and were very flat, and therefore baked up to be more crispy and chewy, and K belongs to that category of cookie-lover who much, much prefer her cookies chewy. I went back to the recipe and looked it over to see if there could be anything problematic with the recipe and did not find any.

    Determined to have those yummy cookies once again, K braved the recipe once more, even chilling the dough in the refrigerator before baking-- only to yield the same spread-out, flat and crispy cookies. How frustrating! I decided to make those cookies and see what happens.

    Oh, guess what?! I had the same problem! My instinct was that the butter was too warm. With the weather warming up, the butter came to "room temperature" much faster than before and I must admit the butter seemed a tad too warm when I used it. Room-temperature butter means you should be able to make an impression in the butter with your finger, but the impression should not stay. This, and more tips for successful baking can be found here, a very useful resource!

    I also looked into Shirley O. Corriher's BakeWise and these are her suggestions for less spread in cookies:
    • decrease the amount of fat
    • use an egg for liquid
    • use cake flour (which is higher in moisture) 
    • increase the amount of flour
    • cut the sugar by a few tablespoons
    • switch from baking powder to baking soda
    • use unsweetened chocolate
    • use regular cocoa
    • use cold ingredients or chill dough before going into the oven (the cookies, not you!)
    I recall there was a time when I did not bring butter to room temperature but always used them direct from the refrigerator. I read somewhere (can't remember where now, it's years ago!) that it is hard to ascertain "room temperature" and so the best thing to do is cut up the butter into small pieces, and then cream them till they are creamy. I think with the mercury rising, I am going back to this method!

    I hope this information proves useful! It makes me really unhappy when a recipe does not turn out, especially when you are salivating after a cookie you knew you would enjoy. I hope these tips can avert many disappointments.

    April 28, 2011

    GF Crustless Quiche

    OK, for a while over here, it's going to be fast, delish and simple. No styling of food, just a photo (or three) to show you that I really did test out the recipe and did not die eating it, and that my family allowed me to post it.

    Fair deal? I hope so.

    Up today is a gluten-free Crustless Quiche recipe from Incredible Edible Gluten-Free Food for Kids: 150 Family-Tested Recipes. I love that it is fast and easy, and the possibilities are pretty endless. I used crumbled bacon in mine but you can use anything you fancy, including leftovers: roasted peppers, blanched broccoli, roasted asparagus, leeks and caramelized onions. Indeed if you vary the "filling" your family will not suspect that it is the same ol' recipe!

    The last piece, up for grabs.
    Gluten-free Crustless Quiche
     Serves 4-6, depending on appetite
    • 4 eggs
    • 1 1/2 cups milk or substitute
    • 3/4 cup sliced green onions (optional)
    • 1/4 tsp salt
    • 1/8 tsp ground pepper
    • 1/8 tsp grd nutmeg
    • 3/4 cup cooked, chopped meat (chicken, ham, crabmeat) OR 1/2 cup crumbled bacon OR anything you fancy!
    • 2 cups (about 6 oz) shredded cheese (Swiss, cheddar, Monterey Jack, Harvati)
    • 2 Tbsp sweet rice flour (I used almond meal)
    1. Preheat oven to 325F.
    2. Thoroughly grease a deep pie dish; set aside.
    3. In a bowl, combine the eggs, milk, green onions (if using), salt, pepper and nutmeg. Stir in the meat (or other filling of choice).
    4. Pull out the center rack of the preheated oven and place the prepared pie pan on it. Pour the mixture carefully into the pan. Carefully push the rack back into the oven and close.
    5. Bake for 40-45 minutes or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean.
    6. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.

    April 27, 2011

    about asparagus, l-asparagine and cancer

    I wanted to post this as a note on Facebook but it seems there is no such option for a non-personal page, so I am posting it here. I read this in a newsletter that I subscribe to, written by a pair of naturopaths based in Denver, CO. I find their newsletters very informative and well-researched. However, it seems this current newsletter is not updated on their website yet, but since I have been talking about asparagus and posted a couple of related recipes, I thought I would reproduce the information below, also useful for future reference. Original article written by Jacob Schor ND, FABNO.

    Excerpted from April 2011's newsletter:

    If you have cancer, you have probably already read that asparagus will cure your cancer.  A letter making this claim has gone viral on the internet.  I doubt that there are more than a handful of people with cancer who have not received a copy forwarded to them by some well meaning friend or relative.

    Let me start by saying there is little reason to believe the claim that asparagus will cure cancer.  Instead it may actually make a few specific cancers worse.

    Let me summarize what we do know about these claims in the hope that information may antidote this long, standing urban myth.

    The “Asparagus Cure for Cancer” first appeared in print in the February 1974 issue of Prevention magazine.      This article was followed by a similar article in the December 1979 issue of Cancer News Journal, a magazine once distributed in health food stores. Both articles claim that a dentist named Richard R. Vensal discovered that eating asparagus could cure cancer.

    According to the letter, a cure can be achieved by consuming 4 tablespoons of pureed cooked asparagus twice a day.  Improvement is supposedly seen in two to four weeks.

    Unfortunately there is little reason why we should believe this information.  The dentist Richard Vensal never published anything in either a scientific journal or book that can be found.

    It is certainly possible that some chemical found in asparagus might be beneficial against cancer.

    There is a single study suggesting this that was published in 2009.   Chinese researchers report that a chemical, which they named asparanen A, showed an anticancer effect when tested on liver cancer cells.    [1]

    There are no studies that describe the results of feeding asparagus to animals with cancer.  Nor are there any published clinical trials on giving asparagus to human cancer patients.  Nor are is there any epidemiological data that hints that asparagus farmers have less cancer.

    While there is a wealth of research that diets high in vegetables are anti-cancer, there is no evidence that singles out asparagus in particular suggesting it has an anti-cancer effect.  So while there may be some health benefits from eating asparagus because it is a vegetable, at this point, there is little reason to think that asparagus are exceptional.

    In contrast there is substantial published data on the anticancer effect of other specific vegetables.  For example, a current search of the National Institute of Health’s National Library of Medicine, lists 597 published articles in the medical and scientific literature related to the anticancer effect of broccoli.   [2]  A search for published papers on garlic and cancer yields 648 references.   [3]

    There are only two clinical trials involving asparagus in humans. One paper published in 2009, describes a study in which patients with high blood pressure were given a combination of parsley and asparagus extracts in the hope that their blood pressure would improve. Unfortunately, no benefit was seen.     [4]  An earlier study published in 2008, reported that a combination of asparagus and elderberry extracts helped patients lose weight.    [5]

    Losing weight is not the same as curing cancer.

    Thus at this point there is little reason to think that asparagus will cure cancer.

    Ironically though there is a long established link between asparagus and a particular form of cancer.  Unfortunately, asparagus may, instead of curing this cancer, make it worse. Let me explain:

    In 1953 a pathologist named John G. Kidd discovered that blood serum taken from healthy guinea pigs, when injected into mice, killed leukemia cancer cells.  [6] Ten years later John D. Broome MD explained why this happened.  Guinea pig blood contains an enzyme called l-asparaginase that breaks down an amino acid called l-asparagine.  Healthy cells make l-asparagine, but certain types of leukemia cells are not able to.  These leukemia cells rely on nearby healthy cells to supply them with l-asparagine.  The enzyme in the guinea pig blood breaks down the needed l-asparagine and so deprives the nearby cancer cells of this amino acid they require for their growth.  [7]

    L-asparaginase enzyme is now available as a drug (Elspar) and is part of the standard treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL).  The drug, by decreasing l-asparagine, starves the cancer cells.  Most types of cancer do make l-asparagine, so Elspar is useful in treating only a few specific types of cancer.

    As the names hints, asparagus contain large quantities of l-asparagine.  Eating asparagus would seem ill-advised for people who have cancers treated with Elspar or l-asparaginase.  Eating asparagus may stimulate growth in these cancers, most especially in ALL.  Eating a lot of asparagus may have an undesirable impact on other types of leukemia and possibly lymphomas as well.

    People diagnosed with cancer are often desperate to do everything in their power to fight the disease.  They grasp onto every story and rumor about anything that might possibly help them.  The myth that asparagus cures cancer is a good example of this.


    Broiling asparagus is so simple that one hardly needs a recipe.  This is how I do it.

    Line a cookie sheet with foil.  Wash the asparagus, break off the bottoms.  Oil them lightly with olive oil.  Sprinkle them lightly with Kosher or sea salt.  Broil them until they taste done.  Serve either warm of cold.


    1. Liu W, Huang XF, Qi Q, Dai QS, Yang L, Nie FF, Lu N, Gong DD, Kong LY, Guo QL. Asparanin A induces G(2)/M cell cycle arrest and apoptosis in human hepatocellular carcinoma HepG2 cells. Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 2009 Apr 17;381(4):700-5. Epub 2009 Feb 28.

    2. To search yourself, go to: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?term=broccoli%20and%20cancer

    3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?term=garlic%20and%20cancer

    4. Chrubasik S, Droste C, Black A. Asparagus P(R) cannot compete with first-line diuretics in lowering the blood pressure in treatment-requiring antihypertensives. Phytother Res. 2009 Sep;23(9):1345-6.

    5. Chrubasik C, Maier T, Dawid C, Torda T, Schieber A, Hofmann T, Chrubasik S. An observational study and quantification of the actives in a supplement with Sambucus nigra and Asparagus officinalis used for weight reduction. Phytother Res. 2008 Jul;22(7):913-8.

    6. H. D. Moon Presentation of the Gold Headed Cane to John G. Kidd. February 24, 1973. Am J Pathol. 1973 October; 73(1): 1–6. PMCID: PMC1904051

    7.  BROOME JD. Evidence that the L-asparaginase of guinea pig serum is responsible for its antilymphoma effects. I. Properties of the L-asparaginase of guinea pig serum in relation to those of the antilymphoma substance.
    J Exp Med. 1963 Jul;118:99-120.

    Gluten-free Almond Flower Cookies

    I had planned to post a (very very good) brownie recipe but I am posting this recipe instead because I made these, brought it to park day and had other people tasted this (one boy, two other moms) and they wanted the recipe. I guess this means they are good! And yes, they are. They are very light, with a satisfying almond flavor to it, and if there is such a thing as a soft, comfy almond pillow, you are biting into one when you eat these. This recipe is low in sugar but big in flavor.

    This recipe comes from a new gluten-free cookbook I recently found at the library: The Ultimate Gluten-Free Cookie Book, and I am very excited about it. I love that she has a section just for egg-free cookies, and for you people out there who drool for Girl Scout cookies and the like, she has a section dedicated to "the fakes." Also, I love that you need not round up a variety of gluten-free flours to make her cookies-- basically, she uses either brown rice flour or sorghum flour.  And she has a nifty section right at the front explaining the science of how she arrived at this simplified way of gluten-free baking. And I love that. Simple is good. Actually, it is rather awesome. Ryberg has done all the research, studies and experiments, we just need to bake and enjoy, what's not to love?

    I do want to mention that this is the second recipe I have tried from her book, and because it turned out so wonderful and well-received I suspect there just may be a typo in the first recipe I tried, which is for the egg-free sugar cookies. I made those with the intention of gifting them to my friend K for her birthday, but they turned out rather salty, with a hint of bitterness to them. In fact, R asked if I had mistakenly used salt instead of sugar for those cookies (and I did not). I was rather disappointed, as the cookies looked so darn adorable and smelled mighty good while baking. If you attempt that particular recipe, you may want to reduce the baking powder to just 1 tsp instead of 1 Tbsp. I am really glad I decided to try another recipe in her book despite the first disappointment, can't wait to discover more yummy goods in this book!

    Gluten-free almond flower cookie

    Almond Flower Cookies (GF)
    Recipe from The Ultimate Gluten-Free Cookie Book 
    Makes about 25-28 cookies
    • 1/3 cup oil (I used expeller-pressed coconut oil)
    • 1/2 cup sugar
    • 1 cup brown rice flour
    • 2 eggs
    • 1/2 cup almond meal 
    • 1/4 tsp baking soda
    • 1 tsp baking powder
    • 1/2 tsp salt
    • 1 tsp xanthan gum
    • 1 tsp almond extract
    • 1/4 cup sliced almonds (optional, for decoration. I used slivered almonds instead)
    1. Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly grease a cookie sheet or line with parchment paper.
    2. In a medium-size bowl, combine the oil and sugar. Beat well. (I was able to do this in my stand-mixer. The trick is to not twist the paddle attachment to lock it in place. This way, when you raise the bowl up, the paddle drops down and reaches the bottom of the bowl.) Scrape down the sides of the mixing bowl at least once during mixing. Add remaining ingredients and mix well.
    3. Drop rounded spoonfuls of cookie dough onto the prepared pan. With moistened fingertips, press them to 1/4-inch thickness (I did this with a fork instead, moistening it with water each time). Arrange the almond slices (or slivers, if like me, you just want to use what you have on hand) on top into a flower or other nice pattern (or random pattern, like I did).
    4. Bake the cookies for 8-10 minutes, until there is the slightest hint of color; the tops will be dry. Let cool on wire racks before serving. 
    Er, I never said I am good at decorating!

    April 25, 2011

    garlicky shrimps with asparagus & lemon

    For some reason, I am coming across a lot of recipes with lemons in it, and I have been trying quite a few! I wouldn't call myself a big lemon fan but I must say some of these recipes are definitely keepers. This one I wanted to post while we can still enjoy asparagus. I found this recipe on Fine Cooking, where it was titled "Hot Garlicky Shrimp with Asparagus & Lemon" but it really is not that "hot" despite the use of crushed red pepper flakes, and I would say my pepper flakes are still pretty fresh. Well, I am not complaining as I can always sprinkle over some cayenne pepper if I wish to up the heat in my meal; I am only happy that I do not need to prepare a separate dish for the girls, so we can all enjoy this delicious dish! We find this one goes really well with rice, because the sauce is so drinkable-good, we pour them over the rice, dig in, and lick our plates squeaky clean.

    (And honestly, I did not weigh the asparagus, I just used a bunch of what they sold me as a "bundle" at the stores, and then a few more because I felt like it. Some days it just drives me a bit bananas if I have to always measure and weigh... ...)

    Green,orange and mellow yellow: so pleasing to the eyes!
    Garlicky Shrimps with  Asparagus & Lemon
    Recipe from Fine Cooking
    • 1 lb shrimp (21 to 25 per lb.), peeled, deveined, rinsed, and patted dry  
    • 3/4 tsp kosher salt; more as needed  
    • Freshly ground black pepper  
    • 1 lemon  
    • 6 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil (I used expeller-pressed coconut oil) 
    • 4 medium cloves garlic, thinly sliced (I minced them instead) 
    • 3/4 lb asparagus, bottoms snapped off, halved lengthwise if thick, and cut into 2-inch lengths (2 cups) 
    • 1/8 to 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (add more if you like it hot) 
    • 2/3 cup low-salt chicken broth  
    • 1/2 tsp cornstarch  
    1. Sprinkle the shrimp with a scant 1/4 tsp. salt and a few generous grinds of black pepper. Using a peeler, gently shave the zest in strips from the lemon, taking care not to get any of the bitter white pith. Squeeze the lemon to get 1 Tbs. juice.
    2. Put a 12-inch skillet (not nonstick) over medium-high heat for 1-1/2 minutes. Add 2 Tbsp of the oil and once it’s shimmering hot, add the shrimp in a single layer. Cook undisturbed until the shrimp browns nicely, about 2 minutes. Flip the shrimp and brown the second side, about 1-1/2 minutes. (I find tongs work really well when doing this.) Transfer to a large plate. The shrimp should be a little undercooked.
    3. Reduce the heat to medium, add the remaining 4 Tbsp oil and the garlic and cook, tossing, until the garlic starts to sizzle steadily, about 30 seconds. Add the asparagus, lemon zest, and red pepper flakes, sprinkle with 1/2 tsp salt and cook, tossing often, until the garlic is golden brown and the asparagus looks blistery in places, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the chicken broth, cover, with the lid ajar, and cook until the asparagus is just tender, 1 to 2 minutes.
    4. In a small dish, whisk together the cornstarch with 1 Tbsp water, stir into the asparagus mixture, and bring to a boil. Stir in the shrimp, reduce the heat to low, and cook, tossing, until the shrimp is opaque throughout (cut one in half to check), 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in the 1 Tbsp lemon juice and then add salt, pepper, and additional lemon juice to taste. Serve immediately.

    April 19, 2011

    simple, fast, yum

    I am all for the "fast to cook, good to eat" category of recipes. Sure, sometimes it is fun to make something more elaborate and complicated that makes you want to call a press conference about. But other times, you just want to be in and out of the kitchen, and have more time to do other things (like find more recipes).

    I love this Chocolate Chip Pecan Loaf Cake recipe from Melissa Clark's In the Kitchen with A Good Appetite. It is simple and fast to make (ok, you need to endure the 50 minutes it takes to bake, plus cooling time, but in the meantime you can take a relaxing bath, read the dictionary or  scrub the grout) and the result is pleasingly delicious. So you may not be too impressed that the loaf did not rise extremely high in its pan, but when you slice into this divine little loaf (which Clark described as "almost like a big, soft chocolate chip cookie in sliceable form"), you will regret that you did not double the recipe and made two loaves instead. The crust is incredibly crispy and addictive-- I had a good mind to remove the crusts and serve the rest of the cake- still very delicious- to my family, telling them I burned the crust, so sorry. And then, I would have to find a safe little corner and enjoy every crispy bit of the crust. It is that good. The rest of the cake contains chocolate chips and chopped pecans- what's not to love? And then you also use yogurt, healthy and good for you. I think this recipe deserves 100 points.

    Heaven looks like this
     When I was slicing this cake, preparing for our afternoon tea, L saw it and exclaimed "Birthday cake!! and ran to get a candle...

    and tried out different placements for the "birthday candle"...

    I only made small changes in quantities to this recipe to suit my taste (less sugar, MORE chocolate chips, MORE pecans), this truly is a perfect recipe, I encourage you to try it. I think you will be hooked. I will warn you: it is hard to stop eating after one slice. You will keep looking for crumbs and when the crumbs have been wiped clean from your plate (and your child's) and the table cloth, you will start to grab the knife and keep cutting off slivers of a slice until you have eaten yet another. Do not think to bring this to a potluck because when you arrive you will regret that decision and want to keep the cake for yourself, and then you will have to arrive at the potluck empty-handed, but with tell-tale crumbs on your face. By all means, enjoy this wonderful cake.

    Chocolate Chip Pecan Loaf Cake
    Recipe from In the Kitchen with A Good Appetite

    • 1 cup sugar (I reduced to 3/4 cup, and used Rapadura)
    • 2/3 cup plain yogurt
    • 3 large eggs
    • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
    • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
    • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
    • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
    • 2/3 cup unsalted butter, melted
    • 1/2 cup chocolate chips (I used 3/4 cup, maybe a few chips more)
    • 1/2 cup chopped toasted pecans (I used 3/4 cup)
    1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease a 9 X 5-inch loaf pan.
    2. In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar and yogurt. Add the eggs, one at a time, and whisk until completely combined.
    3. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the dry mixture into the wet and mix until just combined.
    4. Using a spatula, fold in the melted butter a little at a time. Fold in the chocolate chips and pecans.
    5. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 50 to 55 minutes, or until the cake is golden and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow the cake to cool in the pan for 5 minutes before turning it out onto a wire rack to cool to room temperature, right side up.