Saturday, December 26, 2015

Macaron Madness: A Berry Merry Christmas

It wasn't all that long ago when I had no idea what a French macaron was. My friend Lisa brought me what looked like a chocolate cookie sandwich, but one bite of that decadent goodness changed my world. Crunchy on the outside, yet soft and chewy on the inside and filled with a chocolate raspberry ganache, that was one cookie (based on a David Lebovitz recipe) I would never forget. It left me dying for another and another, haunting my thoughts about how such a perfect cookie could come to be. The baker in me decided to take up the challenge to recreate that unforgettably delicious cookie and to create the perfect macaron, a journey that has left me wanting to pull out my hair on more occasions than I would like to admit. There is so much technique and perfection that goes into making these cookies--a few strokes too many and you lose those perfect little "feet," but too few and you will end up with cracked shells; temperatures too high and they will crack, but too low and they will not cook through, leaving you with hollow shells. After years of practice and fiddling with different temperatures, flavorings, and fillings, I am getting closer to my end goal, but still have a few tweaks to make here or there to create "the perfect macaron." It has become somewhat of an addiction: batch after batch, one trial after another, playing with endless flavor combinations. 

Swiss Meringue Buttercream

Buttercream is so incredibly versatile, one of the reasons why I love it so much. It can be used to frost cakes or cupcakes or to fill macarons. It is also very easy to mix different flavors into the buttercream to create a whole new frosting. Buttercream is my go-to stop for macaron filling. I specifically like using swiss meringue buttercream rather than regular buttercream. By using egg whites, you can decrease the amount of sugar you use, thereby enhancing the structure and the butter flavor and decreasing the sweetness compared to regular buttercream. 

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Cranberry Brie Cups

Fresh cranberries scream out "Holidays" whenever I see them, bringing me back to memories of Thanksgiving and Christmas. Wonderful as a jam, a sauce, or even in sangria, this versatile berry adds a tarty touch to every recipe and a colorful pop to every dish. This appetizer is a miniature version of a holiday favorite - baked brie wrapped in pastry dough. Savory, yet tart, these bite-sized pieces are wonderful as a pass-around party appetizer. 

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

S'more laughs, s'more hugs, s'more fun!

Who says s'mores are a campfire treat you can enjoy only in the Summer? Why not bring them indoors to have them year-round? For our annual ugly sweater party last weekend, I put together a s'more's bar to bring some warmth and fire to the table and some yummy marshmallow goodness to all our bellies. It was the perfect warm snack for a cold winter night, and especially festive with the twinkle lights to accompany--yes I am a sucker for twinkle lights. It also provided a great excuse to use a few of my dozen or so cake stands :)

Saturday, December 5, 2015

It's About to Get Nutty

As soon as Halloween ended this year, LA's KOST 103.5 started early on their glorious 2 month stint of Christmas songs on the radio--something I look forward to every year. Prancing around the hospital with Christmas jingles in my head gives me a major itch for holiday baking. To me, turning on the oven is like a cozy blanket filling the house with warm aromas of baked goods and sprinkling a bit of holiday cheer on everybody. While russian tea cakes are one of the classic Christmas go-to cookies I make, banana nut bread probably ties for first in the baked goods category. My aunt, without fail, will ask me for this recipe in addition to her own loaf every single year at our family Christmas gathering (I have no idea what she does with the recipe). Fluffy yet moist, and loaded with chocolate chips and walnuts galore, this banana bread is definitely a family favorite.  Now the only thing left is to decorate the house!

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Butternut Squash Ravioli

With the year coming to an end, the season for pumpkin and squash is finally here. I have to say I was practically jumping for joy when I saw the first cardboard box filled with butternut squash at Trader Joe's. With Halloween past and Thanksgiving just around the corner, I can't help but think of all the delicious food to be made and eaten during this holiday season. My first stop? Butternut squash ravioli -- creamy yet sweet filling, with a savory and crunchy sauce to accompany. Using fresh pasta sheets is what truly puts this recipe on the map. 

Introduction to Fresh Pasta: a tribute to Philadelphia

Living in Philadelphia for four years brought out the foodie in me. Although many know the city of brotherly love for it's Philly cheese steak, Philly is a true foodie paradise with so much more to offer than a meat hoagie with cheese whiz. It is a compact walkable city with anything and everything you could think of from food carts to hole-in-the-wall restaurants to gastropubs to affordable fine dining. Philadelphia was my introduction to real Italian food, to Di Bruno Bros and Capogiro gelato, to fresh pasta, and not to mention, to the love of my life. But we will save that story for another time. Today we talk of pasta, not those bow-ties that come in a box, but REAL pasta -- fresh handmade pasta. Silky smooth in texture, with a delicate bite, fresh pasta is much lighter than dried box pasta. It is a compilation of different types of flours, egg, and water. I've made different pasta recipes before, but when my friend Brian introduced me to this recipe by Marc Vetri, there was no going back. Vetri is one of the most renowned Italian chefs in Philly and has opened 6 restaurants, of which Vetri is the most well known. Unfortunately I have not had the pleasure of dining at Vetri, but it is most definitely on my must try list. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Classic French Onion Soup

Leaving for work at 5AM means getting a nice crisp wake up call by the 40 degree November weather -- cold but much preferred to the 90 F temperatures we had last month. This new chilly Fall weather makes me think of yellow leaves, reading books under a cozy blanket, hot chocolate by the fire place, and endless SOUP. Soup for lunch, soup for dinner, a different soup for every day of the week! My most recent soup craving was french onion soup, something rather hard to come by here in the Inland Empire. So I figured I would just have to make it myself. 

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Sweet Potato Spice Muffin Tops

The Beginning of Fall 

One of the greatest things about living in Southern California is the weather - summed up by sunny warm weather year round. Yet with daily doses of sunshine, it is hard to imagine that Fall is already here with Winter coming up fast. 90 degree weather hardly makes me want to turn on my oven for some Fall baking and I feel rather silly ordering a hot pumpkin spice latte when it is sweltering outside. So you can imagine how excited I was when the temperature dropped from 90s this weekend down to 50s yesterday. Hallelujah it's finally starting to feel like Autumn - the season to pull out the boots and sweaters, and start thinking about the holidays coming up. After 6 years of snowy winters on the east coast, I can hardly call christmas lights strung up around palm trees around here "festive." Yet at the end of the day, even though I am missing the seasons, I am thankful for not having to wake up an extra half hour earlier to defrost my car or shovel my driveway. 

What better way to celebrate the beginning of Fall than to start some Fall baking. My friend recently asked me to make a candied yam cookie that she had tried from a bakery in New York. Having never tried the cookie before, I could only go off of the description she gave me: soft, cake-like, filled with spice. So after some research, I came up with my own rendition of the candied yam cookie: Sweet Potato Spice Muffin Tops. I like to call them muffin tops rather than cookies since the texture is much more cake or muffin like. And in all honesty, it was kind of an excuse to try out my mini blow torch - so fun!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Russian (or not so Russian) Tea Cakes

The start of my baking hobby began over a decade ago in elementary school. One of my most memorable experiences was baking endless batches of Christmas cookies with my lovely friend Sarah: anywhere from sugar cookies, to peanut butter surprises, to Russian tea cakes, and harlequin dippers, but the crowd favorite was by far the Russian tea cakes. As to how they got their name, it truly beats me, since I don't think they are even from Russia. Also known as Mexican wedding cakes and snowball cookies, these powdered sugar covered melt-in-your-mouth delights are a wonderful accompaniment to a cup of tea and are the perfect holiday cookies to share. But beware, these butter laden babies are not for the faint of heart. 

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Got Mint?

Mint Chocolate Chip Cookies

My favorite ice cream flavor is mint chocolate chip and therefore everything mint-chocolate has me drooling for more. Fads may come and go, as do other flavor combos, but mint chip has always been here to stay in my book. If it's good as an ice cream, why not make a cookie out of it?

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Bo Bia Spring Roll Recipe

When it comes to Vietnamese food, I usually let Nhan do the cooking. Although I have tried to make a few classic Vietnamese dishes, they never turn out quite as good as Mom's cooking despite all those years spent as her "sous chef" in Mom's kitchen.  And like many hand-me-down recipes, Mom's instructions usually consist of "a pinch" of this, or "a spoon" of that.  I really need to start convincing her to measure everything and write it all down so these recipes can truly be preserved. Nevertheless, I was able to pick up a thing or two. 
Spring rolls are one of my favorite Vietnamese appetizers. There are so many different types of spring rolls. What's so great about them is how light and refreshing they usually are and that you can eat a ton of them without feeling bloated and heavy afterwards. One of my favorite spring rolls is bo bia: stir fried jicama root with fresh mint leaves, eggs, and Chinese sausage wrapped in rice paper and accompanied by a peanut dipping sauce.

Friday, September 11, 2015

It's Enchilada Time

Vegetarian Enchilada Shells

I picked up this recipe from my dear college friends Avni and Jinali. They graciously had me over for dinner one day and I fell in love with this dish. It is the perfect recipe for sharing, especially at potlucks, since the shells make for great individualized servings and you don't even need a knife! On busy call months, I like using this recipe since we end up with leftovers for days which means less cooking, more sleep. 

Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Sights of Seville

Sevilla: The Heart of Andalusia

While Barcelona impressed me with its gothic architecture and the spiritedness of its people; while Madrid dazzled me with its majestic buildings and never-ending nightlife; while Cordoba drew me into its deep history of Moorish Spain, it was Sevilla that took my breath away and made me fall in love with its food, culture, and traditions.

Plaza de Espana

Plaza de Espana, Sevilla

One of our favorite areas in Sevilla was the Plaza de Espana, a beautiful art-deco designed semi-circular plaza, bordered by a moat at its front. If it wasn't so hot out the day we were there, we would have loved to rent one of the row boats available to paddle down the moat. The great thing about this plaza besides the beauty of its architecture is the culture and nationality it stands for. Outside the front of the plaza, flamenco dancers and musicians line the streets, children play soccer across the expanse of the plaza, and just inside there is a free flag exhibit of all the flags of Andalusia across the years. 

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

One Night in Cordoba

Exploring Andalusia: Cordoba

On our way to Sevilla, we stopped in the historic city of Cordoba, the home of La Mezquita, a magnificent mosque and cathedral that draws myriads of tourists to its walls daily. The religious structure was initially a catholic church that was bought over by a Muslim leader in the early 700AD and converted into a mosque three times its initial size. During the Reconquista, Cordoba was conquered by King Ferdinand III who commissioned the building of a Renaissance cathedral in the center of the mosque. To this day, La Mezquita is a unique structure that represents Spanish history and the divide between two religions. Much like its famous cathedral, Cordoba also stands as a city of three religions: Catholicism, Islam, and Judaism. 

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Wanderers in Madrid

The Metropolis of Madrid

Leaving the gothic streets of Barcelona, we hopped onto the AVE, a high speed train, to Madrid and arrived in just two and a half hours. Now that's the kind of transportation we need here in the US. Madrid is the beautiful capital of Spain and the third largest city in the European Union (after London and Berlin). Its buildings and plazas stand the test of time in both majesty and power. Aside from the now populated streets of cars, the architecture looks like pictures out of my old history textbooks.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

I Mustache You a Question

A DIY Baby Shower: Little Man

I recently had the pleasure of helping my friends plan their first baby shower, and by plan I mean bake :]. Dulce and her cousins created out of this world decorations. I can truly say that Dulce is my crafty counterpart. As much as I love to bake and craft, this girl loves to design and decorate. Together we make the perfect party planning duo. From pom-poms, to streamers, and even down to the little cupcake liners and cupcake toppers, she thought of everything. Get your mustaches and bowties on because this little man is ready to party!

Links to a few of the recipes and Silhouette Cameo templates are posted below.

Spinach Puffs Recipe

One of my favorite things about dinner parties are the appetizers, more specifically mini appetizers. My mom and I both enjoy cooking and coming up with new dishes to impress and what makes them even better is when they come out looking cute! My ideal party would be a tasting party, where all the food comes in mini sizes or tapas style so you can try a little bit of everything. This recipe is one out of my mom's repertoire and fits all these categories: mini, cute, tasty, and simple to make! 

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Boy and the Baker Take on Spain

First Stop: Barcelona

It's been just about two months since the wedding and the honeymoon post is long overdue. This post will be the first of a series, detailing our travels through the beautiful country of SPAIN! We spent nine glorious days basking in the Spanish sunlight, immersing ourselves in the rich culture of the world around us. For a country so impressive in music, architecture, and dance, you would not expect any less of its food. To say the least, we were not disappointed. 

The first three days of our trip were spent in beautiful Barcelona, a city that has perfected the fusion between old and new, blending medieval architecture with modern shops and restaurants, leaving a surprise in every corner and down every street as you walk through the narrow alleys of the Gothic Quarter. Strolling along the cobblestone roads, every turn led to new sights, smells, and tastes, saturating the senses and painting a colorful picture of life and excitement. 

Placa Reial, Barcelona

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Holy Guacamole!

Chunky Guacamole Recipe

One of my favorite items to get when going to a Mexican restaurant, is chips and guac. When I say guac, I mean REAL guacamole. None of the "add water and mix" stuff. Being in southern California has raised my standards for Mexican food, and thereby guacamole. It makes me oh so sad when I order guac and what they serve me is a watery mush with barely recognizable avocado. Creamy, chunky, spicy, and FRESH are the words I am looking for to describe the perfect guacamole. So I set off to make my own restaurant style guacamole. 

Wedding Cornhole

Make Your Own Cornhole: a DIY Tutorial

What is a rustic barn wedding without a game of cornhole? Some may ask, "what is a cornhole?" Having grown up in southern California, I too would have asked that question not too long ago; but after spending a few years in rural Pennsylvania for college, I'd have to say that "cornhole" is no longer such a foreign term. I think my midwesterner friends would agree. Cornhole, aka "bean bag toss" or just "bags" is a popular carnival or tailgate game more often played in the midwest or east. The objective of the game is to toss a bean bag, or corn bag in this case, into a hole at the end of an elevated board. We decided to make our own cornhole game for our wedding cocktail hour along with giant Jenga for our wonderful guests to play. Now that the wedding is over, it serves as another piece of entertainment for our future backyard BBQs, picnics, and parties. 

Chevron Bean Bags

Make your own bean bags

These cute little chevron bean bags were made to go with our wedding cornhole. Of course we had to get baby blue buttons to match! I only wish we had a sewing machine. Nhan and I hand cut and sewed these bean bags for about 5 hours. I suspect if you have a sewing machine, these should take you 1.5-2 hours at max. Please bear with my hand drawn diagrams below to help you better understand the first few steps. 

Happy sewing!

Monday, June 22, 2015

It's going down, I'm yelling timber!

Giant Jenga Tutorial

Our flower girl playing Jenga at the wedding. 

What could be better than playing Jenga with friends? Playing GIANT Jenga with friends. This game brings me back to the days when we would go to the Barcade in Fishtown Philadelphia then stroll on over to Frankford Hall, a German-style beer garden, for a few drinks and a nice game of classic building blocks. Imagine my excitement when we found a giant jenga set at Ritual Brewing Co. right here in Redlands. We had so much fun with it and knew we had to make a set for our wedding cocktail hour. Now that the wedding is over, it serves as the perfect backyard prop for barbecues, parties, and all sorts of get-togethers. 

Fun Fact from good ole Wiki:
Jenga is derived from a Swahili word meaning "to build."

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Boy and the Baker Tie the Knot: A look into the DIY aspects of the wedding

I can't believe it's been almost a month since we got married! Although we are still waiting for our photographer to send us the professional wedding photos, we were able to gather some pictures from our guests. Here's a sneak peak into our DIY, very much so Pinterest inspired wedding. After one year of intense planning, two very talented and crafty parents, two dedicated siblings, and two busy residents were able to put together a picture perfect wedding ceremony and reception. Rustic vintage themed, the wedding took place at Strawberry Farms Golf Club in Irvine, CA. We could not have asked for a more beautiful sunny day, filled with love and happiness, and surrounded by our dearest family and friends. We can't thank our family enough for all the late nights and stressful days they put into making this day absolutely beautiful and perfect in every way.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Chip Chip Hooray!

The Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie

Chocolate Chip Cookie
There is nothing quite like an ooey gooey chocolate chip cookie as a midday pick-me-up, especially when that cookie is LOADED with chocolate chips. I have been searching for the perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe for the past decade. After years of making just-not-quite-right chocolate chip cookies, I can now confidently say that I have found "the one." This recipe produces melt in your mouth delights: crispy on the outside, soft and chewy through the middle. Simply one bite will have you falling in love and asking for another. What could make it better? A glass of milk.