Looking for an ordinary day...

After this past week, I am looking for some ordinary days.  Bring me back some calm, quiet, boring days.  I've had enough excitement and it's totally overrated in my book.  To recap, first there was the earthquake in Virginia that we felt here at home in New Jersey that took us completely by surprise and not four days later, Hurricane Irene rolled into the East Coast.  I mean, a hurricane - practically unheard of here on the East Coast, meaning we were unprepared and had a steep learning curve going into it.  Well...we scrambled, we worried, we strategized, and mostly, we hoped for the best.  The evening of August 27th was one long night but I'm thankful to report that we were very lucky and came out of it safe and without any damage.  I think the general consensus is things could've been a lot worse and while we're dealing with flooding and power outages in many places nearby, I have to think we were lucky.

It's not everyday that you live through an earthquake and a hurricane within the course of one week.  And I sure hope never to have to say that again.  I keep reliving the images of Hurricane Katrina in my head this past week (and every so often, frankly, because those images are difficult to forget once you've seen them) and I am just grateful that we didn't have to face the full force of Mother Nature because you just can't fight her. 

Unlike some of my neighbors in the area, we were lucky to maintain power during and after the storm.  And in times of stress and when we're stuck in the house, I headed into the kitchen (a lot) to bake something chocolaty.  I went for this "everyday chocolate loaf cake" because it's simple and I like the thought of an "everyday" cake right now - nothing fussy, nothing dramatic, just comforting, ordinary, and a bit plain.  That's what I'm craving at this moment.
I was a little off my game when I was making this new recipe.  Putting it into the loaf pan, it didn't look much like the beautiful cake batter I saw on smitten kitchen, where this recipe comes from.  Suffice it to say I was a little distracted by all the broken tree limbs I see outside the kitchen window and by the latest updates from our water company.  I wasn't sure how this cake would turn out but it tasted better than it looked going into the oven.  It has a nice flavor, not very sweet, and is great under a scoop of ice cream and with some chocolate sauce if you have it (unfortunately, I didn't). 
This chocolate loaf cake is simple and comforting, just what I was looking for.  It's not rich or decadent so if you're looking for a cake to wow the in-laws, this is probably not it.  But if you want a nice simple chocolate fix with your family after a storm, I think it's perfect.

Here's to calm days ahead...



Lighter chocolate pudding pie

Today I'm serving up this nice, light, chocolate pudding pie.  I've made this simple chocolate pudding pie a handful of times and it's a hit with my son and husband and I also like it since it's not too heavy and you don't feel weighed down or guilty after eating it. 
This is a recipe from Ellie Krieger via a show that used to air on the Food Network.  Reruns of the show, Healthy Appetite, airs on the Cooking Channel now.  I really like her healthy recipes and I always thought she was the picture of health so she must know what she's talking about (being a nutritionist).  Seriously, the woman's skin just glows.  Then I read somewhere recently that she used to be a model...so maybe it's a combination of good genes and a healthy lifestyle that's working here but I really like her recipes and tips.

This pie is made with a simple and lighter cornstarch-cocoa powder pudding (no egg yolks) using 1% milk, along with a graham cracker crust that uses a minimal amount of butter and some water.  You add a bit of plain gelatin to set the chocolate pudding and the pie comes together and slices easily and makes a nice snack that satisfies your chocolate craving.
I made this a few days ago and going forward, I might have to think of it as "earthquake pie" because I'd just finished taking a snapshot of it when my house shook.  At first, I thought I better eat something because I'm getting light-headed!  But when my little guy, who was in the kitchen having a snack, asked me why it's shaking, I knew it wasn't just me.  I asked my son to come over and we held hands but frankly, I had no idea what to do other than to stay put and wait it out.  Luckily, the shaking stopped within a minute but it was unnerving to see the little fire extinguisher we have hanging on a nearby wall waver back and forth.  We came to find out that we were feeling the effects of a 5.8 earthquake that had taken place in Virginia.  Well...suffice it to say that we live in an unpredictable world.  In fact, we're currently preparing for a hurricane on the East Coast, which is practically unheard of.  There seems to be so much going on lately, a lot of stress and distress.  I hope we can all think positive thoughts and do good deeds to bring forth more peace and calmness.


Bubble tea "DIY" project

Have you had bubble tea?  I really love to drink them.  You might know it as boba tea or pearl tea.  It's basically a cold (could be hot but generally cold) milk tea served with large black tapioca pearls.  I've always been curious about what it would take to make my own at home so I gave it a shot.
An import out of Taiwan, I remember when this drink began bubbling up (pun intended) here in the U.S. around the mid-90's...at least that's when I started drinking them.  You can get boba (the tapioca pearls) with many kinds of flavored drinks or coffee but the black milk tea is the classic and my favorite.  Maybe it's my love of carbs but I simply cannot resist that slightly springy chewiness of well-cooked tapioca pearls mixed with a nice cold milk tea.  I wish I could cut down on my consumption of these drinks because let's face it, there's too much sugar and other questionable ingredients in these beverages we buy but I just can't resist having one whenever I get a chance.

I remember falling in love with this drink and buying these large 20-oz. cups of bubble tea back in the 90's and wondering if it was just a fad.  Fast forward all these years later, bubble or boba tea is a mainstay that can be found all over Chinatowns and Asian restaurants and I'm still drinking them.  Before we got married, my husband and I used to go to one particular Chinese cafe in Brooklyn (I've talked about my love of Chinese cafes or tea shops before) all the time to drink bubble tea and eat snacks or lunch and chat.  I just loved doing that.  My husband liked it too but no where near as much as I do but since he likes to indulge me, we went often for afternoon tea and sometimes even right after lunch.  The place is no longer there now so I'm glad we took advantage of it when we had the chance.  

Living in New Jersey now, I can still get my bubble tea "fix" in a couple of places nearby and I do.  But I always wonder what it'd take to make the drink myself and figured it'd be cool to be able to control what I put in it (some places use powdered mixes for the tea).  I remember reading this post about making your own bubble tea from thekitch.com but it sounded too good to be true.   From what I hear, the homemade version usually falls short of expectations and getting those tapioca pearls just right can be a challenge.  Plus, I don't know anyone personally who's made it at home.  I had a lingering suspicion that making a cup of bubble tea requires more work and technique than we realize but I'd never know unless I try. 

So after having actually done it, I have tell you that it is indeed a lot more work than I'm willing to invest in regularly!  Surprisingly, getting the right texture of tapioca pearls wasn't the biggest issue (though it was very time consuming).  Turns out, getting the tea just right is a tricky thing that takes practice.  So all in all, while it is very gratifying to successfully make something with your own two hands, it is quite a commitment to brew your own tea in advance, watch a pot of boiling tapioca pearls for 2 hours, and make your own sugar syrup before you can assemble this drink.  It came out quite good and tasting similar to the tea from one of my favorite places to get it but given the amount of time and effort, I think I'll just gladly hand over my $3.50 and let someone else do the work. 

Check out what it takes to "do-it-yourself" after the jump...


Blueberry and raspberry tart

This berry tart falls into the "did I make that?" category.  For me, this is totally out of the box.  First of all, if I'm ordering dessert, I always go with chocolate if it's an option even though I may admire the other pretty selections that feature colorful fruits and things.  Chocolate is the non-human thing I love the most.  Secondly, I am not a fan of fruit tarts (wasn't, anyway).  How can that be possible?  I don't know.  I am a serious creature of habit and not very adventurous, to tell you the truth. 
But I want to like pretty things and with this blog, I want to learn how to create things I haven't made before even if it's just baking a tart or a pie.  And I had a great time making and assembling this blueberry and raspberry tart.  After making the tart shell and pastry cream, this tart comes together in a snap.  It is really awesome to make something tasty and "aesthetically pleasing" (I used to have a boss who would call my spreadsheets "aesthetically pleasing") from nothing.  
Maybe I'm like a child who helps in the kitchen to prepare a meal and is then more willing to eat the food.  I made and vigorously ate this fruit tart and found it surprisingly delicious.  I'd still go with chocolate when it comes time to order dessert but now I know why so many people like my sister love fruit desserts so much.  And my sister, the fruit tart expert in the family, sampled my tart and loved it.  I felt so proud of myself!
And this is kind of my farewell to the season.  Summer is slipping away.  I wanted to make this berry tart for July 4th but didn't get around to it.  Here we are near the end of August and I'm glad to have gotten it done and learned something new in the process.  I hope you have been having a great summer.  When I was a kid, I loved winter best among all the seasons.  As I get older, I enjoy the warm weather more and more (and I'm constantly feeling cold).  I love being able to get ready to go out with my son in less than 2 minutes.  Pretty soon, there will be jackets, hats, gloves and boots to contend with.  At the same time, I love the change in seasons when Fall comes and it gives us a chance to catch our breath from the hectic social schedule of the summer.  I'm already looking forward to the holidays but that's just me. 


Pastry cream

Who knew pastry cream tasted so good and was so easy to make.  Well, I know it now.  I'm building my way to making a berry tart and after the tart shell, next up is a luscious pastry cream that acts as the filling. 
Contrary to what you might think (or what I thought anyway), there is no cream in pastry cream or what the French call "creme patissiere".  It is rich and creamy, custard-like, in texture but made with milk and egg yolks and thickened with flour.  I think one of the most common use for pastry cream is as the filling for a fruit tart.  Additionally, it could be used as a filling for eclairs, cream puffs or profiteroles, and as part of a napoleon dessert.  I also learned recently that pastry cream is also often used as a base for different types of souffles.


The easiest tart shell

I think this must be the easiest tart shell recipe and I'm devoting a separate post to it so I can refer to it in the future; I know I'll be using this recipe again and again.  You don't have to roll out the dough and there's no need to use pie weights.  Does it sound too good to be true?  I thought so too but sure enough, it worked just like it should and the result is a delicious, crunchy, shortbread cookie-like tart crust. 
I love the fluted edges around a tart shell.  The crust releases beautifully using a tart pan with a removeable bottom.
I've raved about David Lebovitz's book, Ready for Dessert; My Best Recipes, in the past and this is another recipe from the book.  I think this cookbook might be my best investment yet. 

The dough for the tart literally comes together in about three minutes.  The tart dough may also be referred to as pate sucree for sweet dough in French because that's just what it is, a sweet and buttery dough.  Because you can simply press the dough into the tart pan with your hands, there's no mess with a rolling pin and flour on your countertop.  The dough gets frozen for at least an hour and because it's frozen, you do not need to weigh it down with pie weights when baking.  Genius! 
Baked for about 20-25 minutes until it turns a dark golden brown color, the crust did not shrink (a common problem I've read about) and is crisp and sweet with a shortbread cookie taste.  This tart shell can be used as the foundation for many desserts.

Chocolate chocolate-chip muffins

For several recent summers, we would take a trip to the Bahamas (I am such a creature of habit).  The beaches are great but one of the things I actually looked forward to a lot was eating one of the hotel's chocolate muffins for breakfast most mornings.  They were oversize cakes in essence - moist and chocolaty, with a crisp top crust and just enough bits of actual chocolate running through the center.  So to pay homage to that lovely muffin, I decided to try a batch of chocolate chocolate-chip muffins at home.
I wish I'd thought to take a picture of those muffins from the Bahamas to show you.  Better yet, I wish I'd had the courage to ask someone for the recipe.  I actually thought about it but I'm pretty sure any such request would've been turned down.  I really wish I could get my hands on that recipe because to be honest, these muffins I made at home were quite nice shortly out of the oven with the warm chocolate chips being particularly tasty but they dried out rather quickly and the chocolate chips hardened when cooled. 
If I venture to make these muffins again in the future, I'd try doing a few things differently.  I'd add a bit more moisture by increasing the amount of buttermilk in the recipe and chop up some chocolate instead of using chocolate chips, which resist melting and sort of re-solidifies (I was trying to make life a little easier by using the chocolate chips).  I'd also like to try substituting canola oil for the butter, which should make them moister. 


Mango sago dessert

This cold mango sago dessert is another example of Asian dessert "soup".  If you like mangos like I do, this is a great, refreshing summertime dessert. 
I wanted to learn how to make this for my husband, who loves this dessert very much.  Eating this takes us right back to road trips to Toronto, Canada.  We went there just last summer with my sister and her family and together, we visited landmarks and children-friendly places like the zoo but most importantly, we consumed an enormous amount of delicious Chinese food.  There is a strong Chinese/Asian population in Toronto and going there feels a bit like visiting Hong Kong.  The food is so good there!

And on our trip to Toronto, after we'd had a day of sightseeing with the kids and eaten a huge dinner, we would also visit a Chinese dessert house, where there'd be a variety of these dessert soups (hot and cold) and other desserts like ices and puddings to choose from.  My husband adores this mango sago dessert.  He'd get this look of rapture on his face and after we're done and the bill has been paid, we're thinking about when we can go back again.  It takes us right back to a trip to Hong Kong we took when we first graduated from college.  We went with our fellow foodies (i.e., my sister and brother in law - no kids at the time) and it turned out to be an amazing food trip.  We ate non-stop and there were dessert houses featuring these kinds of fresh fruit desserts in almost every corner.  We ate there as often as we could.  We went to Japan and Hong Kong on that memorable trip; I swear I gained ten pounds in less than two weeks.
So I've been wanting to make this for a while.  Not only is it delicious but it also brings back good memories.  I was a little worried about how this would turn out.  In Hong Kong and Toronto, they seem to have the most amazing tasting mangoes all year round and I didn't even know where I'd find one of the ingredients - plain mango juice - around here.  Needless to say, I finally got it together and it came out terrific.  Might not be quite as tasty as the ones from the dessert houses we visited but it's a mighty good homemade version.  Happily, it was also quite easy to make once I got the ingredients together. 



Super soft buttermilk pancakes

I have a confession to make.  When I make pancakes, I always use a box mix.  The kind where you just add water.  What can I say...it's convenient and tastes fairly good (it's really about the maple syrup anyway, right?).  For a long time, I used a mix from William Sonoma that produced these nice crepe-like pancakes that we love but the downside is it's pricey and there's the obvious negatives with any packaged mix.  So the other day, I had some extra buttermilk in the fridge after making our favorite chocolate cake.  Do you ever wonder why buttermilk only comes in 1-quart containers when you usually only need about a cup?  I'm always looking for ways to use some of it up when I have it around and this time I thought I'd try making some buttermilk pancakes.
I think I might be just a little bit addicted to these pancakes.  They are oh so incredibly soft and tender.  It's definitely not all about the maple syrup after all though a little bit on top is very nice indeed.  These pancakes have quite a bit of tang because of the buttermilk so you have to like that and I find myself liking it more and more.  The texture is really lovely...super soft and just melts in your mouth.

French ladies' "secret" chocolate mousse

I had some extra heavy cream in the refrigerator and started thinking about how I could use it up.  So I was mulling it over and looking for ideas online.  I'm craving chocolate.  What else is new.  So I figured how about chocolate mousse - plenty of chocolate and it's eaten cold, which is very nice since it's been very hot around here lately, with some days hitting the 100 degree mark.  Oh, and I can put a nice big dollop of cold whipped cream on top.
I found a recipe from Dorie Greenspan that caught my eye.  It's dubbed "Top-Secret Chocolate Mousse" or what appears to be the French ladies' (I'm sure it could be French gentleman's too) "secret" chocolate mousse recipe.  Sounds interesting, right?  Do you remember when I made a French yogurt cake and mentioned I'd read that it's one of only a few sweets a French household will make since there are so many amazing patisseries to shop from?  Apparently, Dorie says the two other desserts they will make at home are mousse and rice pudding.  And it took her a while to finally get this "secret" recipe for their delicious chocolate mousse and as it turns out, it comes from the back of a NestlĂ© chocolate bar!  Well, it sounds very interesting but the thing that really grabbed my attention was that it takes less than five ingredients to whip this up.  I was game; let's try it!

The good news is the chocolate mousse turned out utterly delicious.  It is smooth, silky, and light, with a serious chocolate flavor that is balanced out by the whipped cream topping.  As my husband said, it's rich but light at the same time.  It turned out much better than I thought it would when I was making it.  In fact, I wasn't sure I was doing it right (did I mention I never made mousse before?).  I'll get into the details later but suffice it to say that when I was adding the egg yolks to the chocolate, the mixture became very thick.  I just kept plowing along and I'm glad I didn't give up because the final product tasted awesome. 

A word of warning though.  This mousse contains raw eggs.  In fact, the eggs and chocolate are the two essential ingredients.  In many other recipes, you'll see whipped cream (rather than egg whites) being used to lighten the mousse.  It's also a bit of an unusual recipe with no butter here at all.  I think this is part of the reason why the chocolate mixture became so thick when the egg yolks were added.  I'm not totally sure if that was supposed to happen and I have a couple of ideas to mitigate this next time but I'm very happy with the end result.


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