Wednesday, December 30, 2009

New Toys

I have been so blessed this season by friends, family and my sig-o! Their gifts to me this Christmas all coordinated and provided me with an entirely new kitchen! For the longest time my kitchen has been stocked with plastic cups and measuring spoons and teflon coated pots and pans. I can never bring myself to buy everything at once to upgrade my kitchen as it deserves, so I like to buy things one piece at a time and slowly upgrade, one piece at a time. Thanks to all of the people in my life, though, I have been able to upgrade all at once!

It started with a friend at a secret santa party. She got me stainless steel measuring cups and spoons! Yay, no more plastic. Say bye bye to paint peeling off and hello to ENGRAVED labels!

Then, on my way to my annual trip to Las Vegas, we stopped by the Williams-Sonoma Outlet and my mother surprised me with a Lagostina set, an Emeril Legasse pot, a pasta cooker/vegetable steamer and a Le Creuset! I've been wanting a Le Creuset for such a long time. Every time I believe I'm ready to purchase one, I get to the store, look at the price tag and reconsider. Thanks to mother, she made the decision very easy this time around. My kitchen is now stocked with bright and shiny pots and pans. No more scraped off non-stick coating!

On Christmas day, my sig-o handed me many little packages. From him, I received a heavy duty kitchen scale, a spoon rest, spoon clips, and a shootsac (another one of those things that I have dearly wanted, but can never bring myself to purchase).

In essence, I received a new kitchen for Christmas! All items to be replaced will be going in the donation pile. I feel truly blessed to have such wonderful people in my life. Happy Holidays!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Gifts for Friends

I usually try to give away gifts that have a homemade touch. It gives me a chance to challenge my creativity while spending as little time as possible stuck in traffic and trying to find parking at shopping centers. This year, to all friends whom I needed to ship gifts to, I decided to make cookie mixes. I originally got the idea from bakerella a few months ago. To add my own touch to the gifts, I used my recent interest in digital scrapbooking to my advantage. For the mixes, I layered my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe and substituted holiday m&m's for the chocolate chips in canisters purchased from The Container Store. I covered the canisters with tissue paper and adorned with ribbon. I used my digital scrapbooking supplies to add on a tag and directions. This gift is a great idea for gifts all year round. I suspect this will not be the last time I will be making this.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Turkey Day Countdown - Prep Day 2 - Fill Pies

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

I wish you all wonderful memories with your families and delicious phoods in your tummies.

The desserts on my table this year will be apple pie, pumpkin pie, and sweet potato pie.

Because I don't like to serve anything I haven't tested out myself, I made miniature versions of the pies with some set aside filling.

Apple Pie - Filling adapted from Williams-Sonoma
Crust recipe can be found here

Apple Filling

5 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1⁄2-inch chunks
3⁄4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1⁄4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. vanilla extract2 Tbs. unsalted butter, cut into small pieces


1. Stir together the apples, brown sugar, flour, lemon juice and vanilla.

2. Let stand, stirring once or twice, for 20 minutes.

3. Spoon the apples and all the juices from the bowl into the pie shell, mounding the fruit slightly.

4. Fill the pre-baked (15 minutes) pie shell and top the apples with slabs of butter.

5. Cover the pie with rolled out pie crust. Cut slits on the top crust for steam to exit.

6. Bake at 400 degrees for 35-45 minutes or until the crust gets golden brown.

Pumpkin Pie - filling adapted from The America's Test Kitchen Family Baking Book

1 (15-oz) can pumpkin puree
1 cup packed (7 oz) dark brown sugar
2 tsp. ground ginger
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
2/3 cup heavy cream
2/3 cup whole milk
4 large eggs


1. Combine the pumpkin puree, brown sugar, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, and cloves. Transfer to a medium saucepan and simmer over medium-high heat, stirring constatnly, until thick and shiny, about 5 minutes. Whisk in the cream and milk, return to a simmer briefly, then remove from the heat.

2. Whisk the eggs and slowly add the hot pumpkin mixutre.

3. Pour the filling into the pre-baked (15 minutes) crust. Bake at 400 degrees until the filling is puffed and lightly cracked around the edges and the center jiggles slightly when shaken, about 25 minutes.

4. Let the pie cool on a wire rack until the filling has set, about 2 hours. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.

Sweet Potato Buttermilk Pie adapted from Smitten Kitchen

1 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes (about 2 medium potatoes), peeled and chopped into a 1/2-inch dice
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (optional)
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3 large eggs, separated
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpoe flour
3/4 cup full- or lowfat buttermilk


1. Pour 1 1/2 inches of water into a 3-quart stock part with a strainer basket suspended over it and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the sweet potatoes, cover and steam until fork-tender, about 20 minutes. Place the steamed sweet potatoes in a large bowl and let cool to room temperature. Mash them into a smooth puree with a fork or potato masher. Add the butter, lemon juice if using, nutmeg, cinnamon and salt and mix thoroughly with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula after each addition.

2. In a small bowl, beat the egg yolks lightly with a whisk, about 30 seconds. Add the sugar and beat until they’re a creamy lemon-yellow color, about 1 1/2 minutes. Add the egg mixture to the sweet potato mixture and stir until the eggs are thoroughly incorporated and the filling is a consistent bright orange color. Add the flour a little at a time, stirring after each addition until thoroughly incorporated. Add the buttermilk and again stir until smooth and even.

3. With a cleaned whisk (or electric hand mixer), whisk the egg whites to soft peaks in a clean, dry bowl. With a wooden spoon or rubber spatula, gently fold the egg whites into the sweet potato-buttermilk mixture until thoroughly combined. Pour the mixture into the prebaked crust and bake at 400 degrees on the middle rack of the oven until the center is firm and set, 35 to 40 minutes.

4. Remove the pie from the oven and cool completely on a rack. Serve at room temperature.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Turkey Day Countdown - Prep Day 1 - Pie Crusts

I've been cooking Thanksgiving dinner for my family since I was about 10 years old. At that time, I cooked everything except for the the turkey. The big bird seeemed intimidating so I just had my parents buy it pre-cooked. Back then, I would get up early in the morning the day of and wouldn't stop cooking and cleaning until half an hour before dinner was to be served. Oh, how lovely it was to have so much energy.

I cooked my first turkey my first year in college. Everyone was saying how easy it was, so I decided to give it a go. It was a success and I have been cooking the complete meal ever since. I have tried many techniques and I believe that I found a keeper. My next endeavor, a while from now, will be a deep fried turkey, saved for when I have enough guts and gizzards.

I have a friend who cooked Thanksgiving dinner for her family as well and she gave me a tip that never crossed my mind - pre-plan and prep work. Oh yeah! Why didn't I think of that? She explained what she was going to do three days ahead, two days ahead, and one day ahead - again, why didn't I think of that? I tried it one year, beginning a few days before turkey day and it worked out so beautifully. There was no stress or shall I say very little stress and I actually was able to take my time and enjoy the process. I also found myself having spare time to take a breather here and there. On the day of, all I had to do was assemble, minus cooking the bird. What a tip to be THANKFUL for. This year will be no different. I am pre-prepping everything, beginning with today - the pie crusts. Tomorrow I will fill the crusts and bake the pies. Wednesday will be left for chopping and dicing and brining. Thursday will be left for everything else.

I believe I will be making three pies this year - apple, pumpkin, and sweet potato. I try to incorporate new items every year, while keeping some of the traditional items. This year's winner is sweet potato. I'll let you know how it goes.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Pumpkin Goat Cheese Cheesecake

As promised, I have tried another daring recipe where the star is none other than pumpkin! I wanted to make this since I saw it . I knew that my sissy would love it and the goat cheese aspect especially intrigued me.
The one time I tried goat cheese was about seven years ago. It did not suit my palate at the time so I figured it is about time I give it another chance. I was pleasantly surprised this time around. It definitely gave the ordinary pumpkin cheesecake another dimension.
The crust wasn't so bad either. I ran out of graham crackers, but I saw that I had sugar cones in my excuse for a pantry and I figured it would be a great substititue. I was right. It made the crust hold together stronger than usual and gave it an unexpected delicious flavor and texture. I loved how the recipients of my tasters tried to guess the ingredient (secret's out).
I apologize for the lack of finish product didn't last long enough for its own shoot. What I have though, at the end of the post, is a photo directly from the website, just to give an idea.

Pumpkin Goat Cheese Cheesecake adapted from

3-5 sugar cones
cup(s) dark brown sugar
1 1/4
teaspoon(s) ground cinnamon
1 1/4
teaspoon(s) ground ginger
teaspoon(s) fresh ground nutmeg
teaspoon(s) salt
cup(s) butter, melted
tablespoon(s) butter, melted, combine with above
ounce(s) goat cheese
1 1/2
cup(s) granulated sugar
package(s) (16 ounces) cream cheese
1 1/4
cup(s) pumpkin puree, solid pack
cup(s) sour cream
large eggs
1 1/2
teaspoon(s) vanilla extract


  1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Process the sugar cones, brown sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon each cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and salt together in a food processor. Stir in the butter and pat the mixture into the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan. Bake for 15 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.
  2. Beat the goat cheese and sugar together using an electric mixer set on low speed. Add the cream cheese and beat for one more minute. Add the remaining ingredients and continue to beat on low speed for 20 minutes or until the mixture is very smooth. Transfer the batter to the prepared springform pan and bake in the middle of the oven until set, about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 4 to 5 hours until cake is completely set. Bring cake to room temperature before serving.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Pumpkin and Cauliflower Casserole

It is my favorite time of year. Not necessarily because of the weather, but because of all the holidays coming up. I love all the food and crafts and the spirit of the season. Oh yes, this is also my favorite time of year to bake. If I could only bake for one quarter, it would be during the last quarter of the year. I am the most adventurous with baked goods during this time and am willing to try new things.
Usually, in preceding years, I cook for Thanksgiving and bake the rest of my time away. This year, in honor of this blog, I am going to do more than just bake. I am going to cook more and try new recipes related to the season. I'm so excited!
The first recipe I decided to try is a pumpkin cauliflower casserole. Talk about chock full of vitamins. I honestly have never eaten fresh pumpkin (unless you count pumpkin pie made from canned pumpkins), let alone cook with one. And I mean cook with one. That's peel, seed, slice, and chop the pumpkin until it's good and ready. For this recipe, I researched a little bit and found that using pie pumpkins are the best for recipes. Although I also found that jack-o-lantern pumpkins are fine for recipes as well, they are not as flavorful as pie pumpkins. Believe me, you will want to find pie pumpkins. They are smaller (about the size of a human head) and much more easier to manage.
Once I prepped the pumpkin chunks, the rest was a cake walk. The end result was very delicious. The goat cheese that I didn't think I would like, blended with the casserole very well. It was creamy, slightly sweet, and savory. All that in just one dish! This is definitely a recipe that you must try.

Tips on prepping a pumpkin
*Note: this is only the way I did it and the way I think makes the most sense due to the denseness of the pumpkin.

1) Cut off the stem straight across
2) Slice the pumpkin in half from the top of the pumpkin, down
3) Seed the pumpkin
4) Cut each half of the pumpkin in half, lengthwise and repeat with each quarter slice
5) Cut each slice into chunks, about a 1 inch cube
6) Peel each cube by simply cutting off the peel

Pumpkin and Cauliflower Casserole adapted from Delish

1 cup(s) fresh, whole-wheat bread crumbs
cup(s) hulled and roasted pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
tablespoon(s) unsalted butter, melted
teaspoon(s) dried thyme leaves
cup(s) crumbled goat cheese
(2 1/2 to 3 pounds) pumpkin, peeled, seeded, and quartered
head(s) cauliflower, quartered
tablespoon(s) all-purpose flour
clove(s) garlic, minced
teaspoon(s) mustard seeds
1 1/2
teaspoon(s) kosher salt
teaspoon(s) cumin seeds
teaspoon(s) fresh-ground pepper
1 1/2
cup(s) half-and-half

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Butter a 1 1/2-quart casserole or baking dish and set aside.

Slice the pumpkin quarters into 1/8-inch-thick pieces and repeat with the cauliflower quarters.

3. Combine flour, garlic, mustard seeds, salt, cumin seeds, pepper, and remaining thyme in a small bowl.

4. Spread 1/3 of the pumpkin in the bottom of casserole and sprinkle with 2 teaspoons of the flour mixture.

5. Repeat with 1/2 of the cauliflower and 2 teaspoons of flour. Continue layering with the remaining pumpkin, cauliflower, and flour, finishing with pumpkin on top.

6. Pour the half-and-half over the entire casserole, place on a baking sheet, and bake in the center of the oven for 30 minutes.


1. Combine the bread crumbs, pumpkin seeds, butter, and half the thyme in a medium bowl, stir in the goat cheese, and set aside.

2. After initial 30 minutes of baking, sprinkle bread-crumb mixture over casserole. Return it to oven and bake until golden and bubbly, about 30 more minutes. Serve hot.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Pesto Potato Salad with Green Beans

Honestly, I am not a big fan of potato salad. I enjoy my mayo in very small portions, like thinly spread on a slice of bread for a sandwich, and...that's about it. Having spoonfuls of chunks of potato drenched in mayo is just not my cup of tea.
The only potato salad that I have ever enjoyed was an Armenian recipe, which I have yet to find. It was not drenched in mayo, but complemented nicely with a light lemon sauce and cilantro. Yummy!
Pesto, on the other hand, I love! I love it in sandwiches, in my pastas, on my pizza, and now, in my potato salad.
When I was going through my daily run through of blogs, I found this recipe on Smitten Kitchen. It was late in the afternoon and I was hungry. When this recipe came across the page, I knew that I had to make it and I had to make it fast. I confirmed with the sissy and she agreed that I had to make it. We left for the store in a matter of seconds.
After coming home and an hour later, voila!
This potato salad is unlike any I've ever tasted. The pesto was not salty like the ones on pizzas and pastas. The green beans were tender and added a very mild flavor. Best of all, it can be eaten hot or cold.
Pesto Potato Salad with Green Beans adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Note: To add a special alteration, I used hazelnuts instead of pine nuts. It was a fine choice, if I do say so myself.

4 pounds small Yukon gold or red-skinned potatoes, quartered
1 pound green beans, cut into one-inch segments
1 to 2 small garlic cloves, peeled
2 bunches of basil (about one ounce each)
1/4 to 1/2 cup olive oil
6 tablespoons (or more to taste) mild vinegar, such as champagne, white wine or a white balsamic
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
Parmesan cheese to taste
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Cook potatoes in large pot of boiling salted water until just tender, about 10 minutes. Add beans; cook for four minutes longer. Drain well and let cool, then transfer potatoes and beans to a large bowl.

2. Discard the stems from the basil and wash and dry the leaves. Puree them in a food processor with garlic, drizzling in enough olive oil that it gets saucy. Season the pesto with salt and pepper.

3. Toss the beans and potatoes with pesto.

4. Stir in vinegar, pine nuts and season with salt, pepper and/or additional vinegar to taste.

5. Finally, shave some wide flecks of parmesan over the salad with a vegetable peeler.