Sunday, December 26, 2010

Kiddy Snack of the Week: Candy Christmas Trees

I forgot to post a snack last Friday. In the spirit of Christmas, this wasn't really a snack, but it was a food that was created at school... and eaten at home.

Candy Christmas Trees

These were my co-teacher's idea. Each child got a plate with their name on it, and an ice cream cone turned upside down and stuck into place with some "snow" (vanilla frosting). I got a big bowl and mixed some green food coloring in with some separate vanilla frosting, and gave each child some green frosting to spread on their tree. Then they had little candies and sprinkles to choose from to decorate it. We put the different candies on separate plates and I scooped up whichever kinds they wanted with a spoon and put it in a corner of their own plate so they could put them on with their fingers. Good practice in fine motor coordination :).

This all occurred while we were watching Polar Express; we'd just have 3 children come to the table at a time to do their tree, then they could sit back down to watch the movie. It was lots of fun, I even decorated my own tree while finishing up with the last couple girls. The trees were so pretty sitting on the table like a little forest, waiting to be taken home at the end of the day.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Holiday Fun

So, here's a look at my most recent holiday fun...

Last night was my winter solstice celebration. I had a couple friends over for goodies and wassail, a warm spiced wine drink from England. We lit candles, sat in my sunroom and listened to the rain, and watched fun youtube videos of these British guys who are funny and have a band.

From left to right: chocolate peanut + peanut butter crunch bark, amaretto cookies, my mom's fudge she makes every year, more cookies, and amaretto cake in the middle.

Today, I baked some brown sugar & spice cookies. I got the recipe from Lovin' From the Oven, one of the several blogs I frequent. I made the animal shapes with the adorable cookie cutters my internship boss mailed me. He got them from Ikea, along with some other lovely baking things on my wish list... a flour sifter, a frosting piping set, a quiche pan, a little juicer, and more cookie/cake cutters. I'll definitely be mailing him at least a couple batches of cookies in gratitude :)

All this fun and it's not even Christmas yet... but I guess Christmas lasts the whole month :)

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Christmas Baking: Day 1

It's 5 days before Christmas, and my family and I have started our holiday baking. The first thing I baked was a recipe from my grandma called Absolutely Heavenly Amaretto Cake. She liked it so much that she hand-wrote the whole thing from its original source-- maybe a cookbook of hers, maybe a magazine-- and my mom saved it so that we could make it in her memory.

Absolutely Heavenly Amaretto Cake
Serves 10-12

Cake Ingredients:
1 cup butter
2 1/2 cups sugar
6 large eggs
3 cups sifted cake flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 ozs sour cream
2 teaspoons almond extract
1 teaspoon lemon extract
1 teaspoon orange extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup amaretto

1/4 cup plus 2 teaspoons apricot preserves
3/4 cup orange marmalade
1/4 cup amaretto

Cake Instructions: 
1. Beat butter at medium speed in an electric mixer about 2 minutes or until soft and creamy.
2. Gradually add sugar, beating at medium speed 5-7 minutes.
3. Add eggs one at a time, beating just until yellow disappears.
4. Combine flour, baking soda and salt in another bowl; add to butter mixture alternately with sour cream, making sure you begin and end with flour mixture. Mix at low speed just until blended after each addition.
5. Stir in extracts and 1/2 cup amaretto with a spatula.
6. Pour batter into a greased and floured bundt pan and bake at 325 for 1 hour 15 minutes, at which time a toothpick inserted should come out clean.
7. Cool in pan 10-15 minutes. 
8. Remove from pan and let cool completely.

Glaze Instructions: 
1. Combine apricot preserves, orange marmalade and 1/4 cup amaretto in a saucepan and cook over medium heat until melted, stirring frequently.
2. Drizzle over cooled cake.

What a lovely cake: the tang of the orange and apricot complements the light, sweet amaretto taste perfectly. A delightful treat for dessert or even breakfast.

Stay tuned for amaretto cookies :)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

For Hanukkah: Latkes

Tonight is the last night of Hanukkah, so it's not too late for me to post at least one Hanukkah recipe: latkes, or potato pancakes. This is based off my family's recipe we've been using every year, and it's the kind I made two batches of last night for the preschoolers and kindergarteners at the school where I work. They are traditionally served with apple sauce or sour cream. Fun to make, and fun to eat :).

Apple Latkes

Makes at least 3 dozen small latkes.

6 large baking potatoes
1/2 cup matzo meal
1-2 apples
2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
2 eggs
Olive oil or corn oil for frying

1. Peel potatoes and cut into fourths, setting pieces in a medium bowl of water as you go.
2. Grate potatoes or shred them through a food processor.
3. Peel and chop apples into small pieces, and put them in a small bowl.
4. In another bowl, combine matzo meal, salt, pepper, and eggs. 
5. Add shredded potatoes and diced apple into the bowl with the other ingredients and mix all together until thoroughly combined.
6. Preheat some oil in a frying pan over the stove.
7. Fry ice cream scoop size amounts of latke batter in the pan, flattening out a bit with a spoon.
8. Let the latke fry on one side for at least 2-3 minutes, then flip it over for the same amount of time.
9. As each latke is finished frying, place it in a pan lined with paper towels for each layer to soak up the oil. You can fit at least 6 latkes in one layer.

The story behind latkes is that they were a quick meal for the Maccabees (Jewish soldiers) to fry up and take with them before they went out to battle Antiochus's army, their cruel ruler who would not let them practice their religion. The oil is significant in that the miracle of Hanukkah was a limited amount of oil lasting for eight whole days, enough time for the Jewish people to rebuild their temple destroyed in wartime.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Persimmon Cookies: A New Tradition

 My dad is really into persimmons right now. For him, they symbolize the bounty of the harvest. He has this friend who has a persimmon tree and lets him take all the persimmons he wants, so we have a whole bunch of persimmons at our house... some ripe, some still ripening. From off the tree, it takes a persimmon about 4-5 days to completely ripen. I'm still getting used to it.

One way we've been using them is to make persimmon cookies. I would liken them to ginger cookies, with a nice bit of spice to them and a soft yet not overly doughy texture. We've already made two batches, and tonight is the third batch. :)

Persimmon Cookies
Makes about 4 dozen

2 ripe persimmons
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter
1 egg
2 cups flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp salt

1. Cut and peel 2 persimmons, enough to produce a cup pureed.
2. Puree in blender until smooth.
3. Microwave butter about 15-20 seconds, until it is very soft and melting a bit.
4. Beat persimmon puree, baking soda, sugar and butter until combined and smooth.
5. In a separate bowl, sift together flour and spices.
6. Crack egg and drop into liquid mixture.
7. Mix powdered ingredients into liquid mixture little by little on low setting.
8. Bake at 375 for 12 minutes.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


My weekend in San Francisco was fun! As it turns out, it was really more a visit just to the bay area in general, because I also spent some time in Oakland and Berkeley. There are two particular places I visited that I wanted to share.

1. Rudy's Can't Fail Cafe, Oakland
This is a funky little diner that a couple friends of mine like to go to all the time. They took my other friend and I there and we ordered different things... all of which were amazing. The guys ordered burgers, and us two girls ordered breakfast-- for dinner. My friend had the challah french toast-- always excellent.

This is what I had.

It's a chicken pesto omelette with provolone. Hidden behind that delectable egg covering lies pure magic, I assure you. I never would have thought of such a combination, but it's one of their weekend specials. It was the perfect mix of breakfast and dinnery. Add the english muffin and generous hash browns, and it's a perfect meal!


2. Almare, Berkeley

Because who can resist gelato, right? It's the perfect dessert between ice cream and frozen yogurt-- brilliant flavor packed in every delectable bite, and so smooth and creamy.

I got the tiramisu flavor. Tiramisu gelato-- how amazing is that? It tasted just like tiramisu in non-cake form. Other awesome flavors they had: lemon, oreo, melon, strawberry, vanilla, rum, and multiple varieties of chocolate. No wonder my friends frequent this place as a special treat :)

Needless to say, this one night was my favorite part of the whole vacation. At the end of the night, we went home and I made tasty spiced cider for everyone, too. Happy times, indeed.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Great Foods I've Enjoyed

Ok, so I don't have a second recipe for this month... but I am posting to share some pictures of food I've had at restaurants that I enjoyed, or stuff I've made that just doesn't have a particularly important recipe.

Chocolate crepe with strawberries and chocolate syrup :). Just made this for fun. 

Boba Thai tea from a Vietnamese restaurant in San Jose. Very refreshing.

 Seasoned Belgian fries from Bel Frites in San Luis Obispo. Fancy and fun :)

I'm going to San Francisco this weekend... surely more delicious food awaits me. I'll take pictures, hopefully I'll get to enjoy some dim sum. :)

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Fancy Skewers

I was up late one night a few nights ago unable to sleep, and an idea for skewers came to me.... take some of the fanciest non-exotic things you can think of and arrange them in a skewer. Prosciutto wrapped asparagus. That's pretty fancy, isn't it? What else goes with asparagus? Shrimp. Squash. Drizzle some raspberry vinaigrette dressing ontop and sprinkle them with some cinnamon, and you've got yourself some pretty fancy skewers. Serve with some focaccia bread, and you've got yourself a nice little meal.

Fancy Skewers
Serves 3 (two skewers each).

One medium sized yellow squash, cut up into slices and fourths
Seven stalks of asparagus, sliced up into moderately small pieces.
~Three slices thinly sliced prosciutto
One third of a bag frozen medium sized shrimp, thawed
Raspberry vinaigrette dressing, to taste
~One tablespoon cinnamon 

1. Preheat the oven to 350.
2. Thread the squash, asparagus (wrapped and unwrapped with prosciutto pieces for variation), shrimp and squash pieces onto six wooden skewers in any order/pattern you wish.
3. Place skewers onto a large foil-lined baking sheet and drizzle raspberry vinaigrette dressing ontop.
4. Sprinkle cinnamon on top.
5. Cook for about 15 minutes, so vegetables will be tender yet still crisp.

Even my grandpa said these were a "nice treat," so I'm pretty happy with myself :)

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Party Time Cupcakes

I made some cupcakes a couple weeks ago or so, because I was craving something sweet and chocolatey and I hadn't baked for about a week since that's how long I'd been on vacation and didn't have access to an oven. Chocolate cake, vanilla frosting and... this is a surprise... pixy stick powder ontop of the frosting. Might sound a little crazy, but it was actually really good. It gave the cupcakes a wild burst of color and a flavor that really wakes up your taste buds. Top it off with a cherry and you've got cupcakes pretty enough to bring to a party, or even just to enjoy by yourself on a night in.

Party Time Cupcakes
  Makes at least 20 cupcakes

Cake Recipe: courtesy of Une-deux Senses : Black Magic Cake
Frosting: any basic buttercream will do, or even storebought vanilla frosting if you want to save time and don't have a lot of butter/etc.
Several pixy stix- variety
Small jar of cherries.

1. Bake the cupcakes as per the instructions.
2. Wait about 15 minutes for them to cool.
3. Frost them thickly with the frosting, making a well in the center for the cherry.
4. Pour different flavored pixy stick powder around the frosting in a circle- one stick per cupcake, or mix and match colors.
5. Sprinkle on the sprinkles.
6. Enjoy, and refrigerate covered the ones you don't finish.

So this is kind of a lazy post, the cake mix was fantastic but you could really use any kind of cake mix you want-- even a box mix. The main thing for me was the fun, luxuriously thick, tart, sweet frosting.... and I hadn't made cupcakes in a while.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Jen's Favorite Breakfast Burrito

I used to work at a gourmet bistro here in my hometown called Coffee Diem. I loved the food there, especially the breakfast burritos. Of course, I learned how to make these breakfast burritos and enjoyed them at home, too. Here is a variation on the kind of breakfast burritos I used to make there-- hearty, yet simple.

Jen's Favorite Breakfast Burrito
Makes 3 burritos

3 average size tortillas
4 eggs
~1/2 cup salsa
18 tater tots
About 1 cup chopped leftover tri-tip or other meat on hand
~3/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1. Preheat oven at 450; when it's done preheating, put tater tots in the oven in a pan/tray lined with foil and set timer for 18 minutes.
2. After tater tots have been cooking for about 10 minutes, scramble and cook eggs over stovetop.
3. When eggs and tater tots are done, heat up three tortillas in a microwave for 30 seconds.
4. Lay tortillas out on 3 plates, and on each tortilla, divide up evenly the eggs, salsa, tater tots (6 each), tri tip/meat, and cheese. 
5. Fold up tortillas into burritos.
6. If serving immediately, reheat the burritos in the microwave for 30 more seconds. Then cut in half, separate halves at an angle, and enjoy.
7. If not serving some of them or finishing them later, wrap them up in foil and refrigerate.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Cream Cheese Pound Cake with Strawberry Coulis

Another fantastic cake from Deb at Smitten Kitchen... cream cheese pound cake with strawberry coulis. This cake was everything I hoped and knew it would be, and it was perfect for my tea party I had with three of my closest lady friends and my sister. The coulis, which is a sort of fresh strawberry sauce, was the perfect addition of tang and sweetness to the rich, creamy pound cake... I love frosting, but this coulis was more magical than layers and layers of the most amazing frosting. All in all a very delightful cake!

Cream Cheese Pound Cake with Strawberry Coulis

 Serves at least 10 (depending on the size of the slices)
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 package (8 ozs) Philadelphia brand cream cheese, room temperature
3 cups sugar
6 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt

1. Preheat the oven to 325. Butter and flour a 12 cup bundt pan; set aside.
2. Place the butter and cream cheese in a large bowl or kitchen aid mixer and beat on medium speed until smooth-- about 5-7 minutes.
3. Add the sugar, increase speed to high and beat at least 5 minutes to make it airy and light.
4. Add each egg in one at a time, beating after each addition. 
5. Add the vanilla, flour and salt. Mix until just thoroughly combined.
6. Pour the prepared batter into the bundt pan and smooth the top over with a spatula.
7. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, at which point the cake should be golden brown at the top and a toothpick inserted into the cake will come out clean.
8. Let cake cool in pan for 20 minutes, then remove from pan and serve (or refrigerate if you're eating it later.)

Strawberry Coulis

2 cups quartered, hulled fresh strawberries
1/4 cup water
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1. Put all ingredients in a blender.
2. Puree until very smooth, then strain (with a medium size bowl underneath) through a fine mesh strainer to remove the seeds.
3. Cover and refrigerate until cold. 
The coulis can be made a day ahead and refrigerated until you're ready to serve the cake.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Egg and Grilled Tomato Open Face English Muffin Sandwich

Ok, so this isn't a sweet like my other posts, but it's still a very nice "treat" I make myself when I have the luxury of sleeping in and want to spend a little extra time on my first meal of the day. Not a huge sandwich, but just filling enough :)

Egg and Tomato Open Face English Muffin Sandwich

Serves 1 or 2, depending on how hungry you are.

Two eggs
One English muffin
5-6 small chunks of cheddar cheese
One small tomato, sliced into round slices

1. Scramble the eggs in a small pan with a little butter.
2. While the eggs are scrambling, lightly toast the English muffin in the toaster.
3. Divide the scrambled eggs evenly amongst the two slices of the English muffin.
4. In the same pan where you scrambled the eggs, grill the tomato slices on each side.
5. Arrange tomato slices evenly ontop of the eggs.
6. Arrange the cheese chunks throughout the top of the eggs and the tomato.
7. Microwave for ~60 seconds or until cheese is just melted.

It's simple, but amazing. I just love the contrast of the tangy cheese and the slightly sourdough flavor of the English muffin, mixed with the slightly smoky, yet sweet juiciness of the grilled tomato slices. This goes great with a fruit smoothie, for a filling and refreshing brunch!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

From smitten kitchen: bittersweet chocolate and pear cake

This is one of my favorite cakes. I've made it twice now, and a good friend of mine told me after trying this cake that while he likes almost no cakes, he loved this one. It was a welcome challenge to my baking skills, as it's a bit complicated at times, but well worth the effort. Smitten kitchen features some amazing cakes, I can't wait to make even more of them.

Bittersweet Chocolate and Pear Cake

Serves 9 or 10.

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 eggs, at room-temperature
1 stick unsalted butter
3/4 cup sugar
3 pears, peeled, in a small dice
3/4 cup bittersweet chocolate chunks (or just bittersweet chocolate broken up into smallish pieces amounting to about 3/4 cup)

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 9-inch springform pan and dust with flour. Set aside.
Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together; set aside.
Break the eggs into a kitchen aid mixer (or in a bowl) and whip the eggs on high speed until pale and very thick. (In a professional Kitchen Aid, it takes at least five minutes; on a home machine, it will take nine minutes to get sufficient volume)
While the eggs are whipping, brown the butter. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan and cook until the butter browns and smells nutty (about 6 to 8 minutes).
Scrape the solids off the bottom of the pan in the last couple minutes to ensure even browning. Remove from the flame but keep in a warm spot.
Add the sugar to the eggs and whip a few minutes more.
After a few minutes, turn the mixture down to stir, and add the flour mixture and brown butter alternatingly (one third of the flour mixture, then half of the butter, a third of the flour, the remaining butter, and the rest of flour).
Whisk until just barely combined — no more than a minute from when the flour is first added — and then use a spatula to gently fold the batter just until the ingredients are combined, so the batter won't lose volume.
Pour into prepared pan. Sprinkle the pear and chocolate chunks over the top, and bake until the cake is golden brown and springs back to the touch, about 40 to 50 minutes or a tester comes out clean.

 To be honest, the first time I made this cake I slipped up a bit on the instructions-- I mixed the batter too much, I mixed the pear and chocolate into the batter rather than simply sprinkling it over the top and letting it nestle in on its own while baking (because it does), but it did not come out ruined. It was just a little denser than intended. This second time I followed the instructions perfectly, and I have to say I like it even better. Fresh out of the oven, the melty chocolate and warm pear tastes amazing... but it's also very good after being chilled, which gives the flavors even more time to mingle a bit.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Black Forest Brownies

I was thinking about brownies the other day, and what kinds of things I could add to them to make them even more amazing. Then I started thinking about the dark chocolate, cream and cherry deliciousness of black forest cake. So then it clicked--- black forest brownies :). I took a simple brownie base (courtesy of Melanie from My Kitchen Cafe) and added pieces of oreo cookies and some maraschino cherries, plus a little bit of peppermint extract for a little extra flavor. The end result: crunchy, sweet, creamy fudgy wonder-brownies. Here's the recipe :)

Black Forest Brownies

Makes one 9X13 pan (~16 brownies depending on size)
1 cup butter
2 cups granulated sugar
4 eggs
1 tsp peppermint extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cocoa
1/2 teaspoon salt
~6 broken up oreo cookies, plus 3 more for later
1 small jar maraschino cherries (~25 cherries)

1. Cover your 9X13 pan with foil and spray it with cooking spray. Set aside.
2. Break up 6 oreo cookies in a bowl. Set aside.
3. Slice the cherries in half and blot them with a paper towel, and put them in a bowl. Set aside.
4. Preheat oven to 350.
5. Mix flour, cocoa and salt in a medium sized bowl. Set aside.
6. Melt butter in a medium sized sauce pan.
7. When melted, pour it into a large bowl and mix in the sugar, eggs and peppermint extract.
8. Add flour, cocoa and salt mixture to buttery mixture, whisk together, then mix in cookie pieces and cherries. Pour and spread into pan with a spatula.
9. Break up 3 more cookies and sprinkle evenly over the top.
10. Put in oven and bake for 32-35 minutes, until brownies are set in the middle but not overbaked.
11. Let cool completely, slice into squares and serve.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Sweet Matzo Snack

There are so many things you can do with the Jewish unleavened bread called matzo. You can eat it by itself, you can make lasagna, you can top it with charoset.... or, you can follow my recipe and top it with peanut butter, strawberries and chocolate syrup. :)

Sweet Matzo Snack

Serves 6-12


1-2 sheets matzo, broken up into about 6 pieces each
3-6 strawberries
~1 cup peanut butter
Chocolate syrup for drizzling

1. Spread some peanut butter on the top of each piece of matzo
2. Cut up strawberries width-wise into about 4 slices each
3. Place 1-2 slices of strawberry on each piece of peanut butter matzo
4. Place all the pieces of matzo on a plate of appropriate size
5. Drizzle chocolate syrup on top (I was just having fun and made a spiral pattern, you can drizzle it however).

Simple yet delicious. This makes a great TV snack, or a cute finger food to serve at a party in a larger quantity.