Thursday, December 23, 2010

Last Minute Gifts…Peppermint Bark Cups

I always prefer to make something for friends and family rather than shop for them. I find it difficult to shop for such a large group of people…how can you possibly know what they all want without asking (I’m big on surprises)? When I make things, I get to do what I love, from the heart, and the gifts usually can’t be bought in stores. Also, I think people appreciate the effort. This year, I made peppermint bark cups. They are super easy and super cute! I was able to watch a 1.5 hour movie on my laptop in the kitchen and make them at the same time. And, I was able to finish making them before the movie was over! This recipe is so easy, I’m not even going to write down a formal recipe because I didn’t really follow a recipe. I just eyeballed everything. Happy holidays!
First, line a mini cupcake pan with mini cupcake liners
Next, melt some chocolate chips (I used nestle Toll House Semi-Sweet) in 15 second intervals in the microwave. Make sure to slightly shake the chips in between the intervals at first, and then, stir them in between intervals after the first 45 seconds. Once the chocolate is nicely melted, scoop some into the pre-lined cups, filling about 1/5 of the cup, to create a nice base layer. IMG_1815
Find some peppermint flavored white chocolate and repeat as above. I originally wanted to find peppermint kisses, which a co-worker had purchased, but I couldn’t find them in the stores, so I opted for the next best thing – Andes peppermint crunch.
Top with crushed candy canes. IMG_1829
Allow the chocolate to set for a few hours. The slower you allow it to cool and set, the better. Enjoy!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Sweet Potato Cupcakes

One of my desserts this Thanksgiving were these sweet potato cupcakes. Once I saw it in my inbox, I bookmarked it immediately and knew that it would be on the menu. This recipe will not disappoint you. It is very aromatic and one bite will say, “the holidays are here!”
Sweet Potato Cupcakes and Cream Cheese Frosting adapted from Better Homes and Garden

Note: I used fresh pre-cut sweet potatoes and just microwaved them in 30 second increments until they were soft enough to blend.

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup butter, softened
1-1/2 cups sugar
3 eggs
1 17.2-oz. can vacuum-packed sweet potatoes (unsweetened), mashed
1/2 tsp. vanilla

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line twenty four 2-1/2-inch muffin cups with paper bake cups; set cups aside.
2. In medium bowl stir together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt; set aside.
3. In large mixing bowl beat butter with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add sugar and beat on high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating on low speed after each addition until combined. Add sweet potatoes and vanilla, beating until combined. Add flour mixture; beat until combined (batter will be thick).
4. Divide batter evenly among prepared muffin cups. Bake about 20 minutes or until tops spring back when lightly touched. Cool in pan on wire rack for 1 minute. Remove from pan and cool completely.
5. Frost or pipe with cream cheese frosting (below) as desired.

Cream Cheese Frosting


Note: Instead of milk or bourbon, I used vanilla extract.

8 oz. package cream cheese, softened
2/3 cup butter, softened
2 tablespoons bourbon or milk
powdered sugar until desired consistency

In large mixing bowl beat cream cheese and 2/3 cup butter with electric mixer on medium speed for 30 seconds. Add bourbon or milk and beat until combined. Beat in powdered sugar, about 1/2 cup at a time, until smooth and of a good piping consistency.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Mediterranean Eggplant and Barley Salad

We celebrated a friend's birthday a few weeks ago at La Jolla Cove in San Diego. There were about 20 guests and it was potluck style. I was in charge of bringing the salad. My friend expected me to purchase the pre-made salads at Costco and to pick up some bulk dressing.
To tell you the truth, that was my first thought too because I wasn't sure I was going to have enough time to get more creative. In the end though, I decided to suck it up and just do it! I thought of making a Mediterranean salad the cucumbers and feta cheese and the other fixins, but I've already done that in the past. I saw this as an opportunity to try something different.
After consulting my trusty recipe blog, I decided that this Mediterranean eggplant and barley salad would be just the right fit. It had the Mediterranean flavors that I was craving, yet it allowed me to learn new skills, like roasting eggplant and zucchini. This was truly a multi-component and multi-technique (roasting and sauteeing) salad - just what I needed to satisfy my tastebuds and hone more skills in the kitchen.
The salad was greeted with open arms (we arrived a little late =)...) and was a hit!
After the beach, a few of us went to a dessert place called Extraordinary Desserts. I'm sure you've heard of it if you live in Southern California. I've always wanted to go there whenever I was in San Diego, but just never made it. There was a little bit of a line when we got there, but not too bad. We ordered the strawberry shortcake for dine-in and I ordered a lemon napoleon for take-out. It was a cozy place with relatively small tables and lit with candles. To tell you the truth, the desserts were tasty, but I think over half of the appeal comes from the impressive way they present each dessert. They sold a variety of teas and allowed us to sample the aroma.

Mediterranean Eggplant and Barley Salad from Smitten Kitchen

1 1/2 lb eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
3/4 lb zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
10 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup chopped scallion (from 1 bunch)
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon cayenne (note: I used 1/8 tsp. and it was plenty spicy; adjust to taste)
1 1/4 cups pearl barley (8 oz)
1 (14-oz) can reduced-sodium vegetable or chicken broth (1 3/4 cups)
3/4 cup water
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/2 lb cherry tomatoes, quartered
1/3 cup Kalamata or other brine-cured black olives, pitted and halved
1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion, rinsed and drained if desired
1 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup chopped fresh mint

1. Roast eggplant and zucchini: Put oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat oven to 425°F.

2. Toss eggplant and zucchini with 5 tablespoons oil, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and 3/4 teaspoon pepper in a bowl, then spread in 2 oiled large shallow (1-inch-deep) baking pans. Roast vegetables in oven, stirring occasionally and switching position of pans halfway through baking, until vegetables are golden brown and tender, 20 to 25 minutes total. Combine vegetables in 1 pan and cool, reserving other pan for cooling barley.

3. Cook barley: Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a 3- to 4-quart heavy pot over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then cook scallion, cumin, coriander, and cayenne, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add barley and cook, stirring until well coated with oil, 2 minutes more. Add broth and water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, until all of liquid is absorbed and barley is tender, 30 to 40 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, 5 minutes. Transfer to reserved shallow baking pan and spread to quickly cool, uncovered, to room temperature, about 20 minutes.

4. Make dressing and assemble salad: Whisk together lemon juice, garlic, sugar, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and 3 tablespoons oil in a large bowl. Add barley, roasted vegetables, and remaining ingredients to bowl with dressing and toss until combined well. Serve with cheese slices.

Do ahead: Salad can be made 1 day ahead and chilled, covered. Return to room temperature before serving.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

I ♥ Faces: Beach Fun

Join in on the fun at

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Butterfly Cookie Lollies + Bridal Shower

My friend May, of 10 years, has gotten married! The wonderful ceremony and reception took place last week, on August 7, 2010. She had informed me of her engagement approximately three months before the date and asked me to be her bridesmaid. I was thrilled! I had never been a bridesmaid and I almost feel like it's every girl's right of passage into womanhood - to be there to support the bride and to make sure she's happy. I was honored to be considered for that kind of responsibility, let alone actually chosen.
I wasn't sure what a bridesmaid's responsibilities were, apart from the maid of honor. Once I asked former bridesmaids, I decided to throw May a bridal shower. I imagined the shower to be elegant for the future bride and simple to create for me. When choosing a venue I wanted the space to already have everything - beautiful linens, decorations, silverware, china, food, gift table, lighting, location - so all I had to create were the favors and the photographs.
I ended up choosing Chado Tea Room in Old Town Pasadena. I had dined there a few times before and I adored it every single time. It's a great "girl's day out" location and you get to enjoy a variety of finger sandwiches, scones, cakes, and of course, tea!
Did I ever mention that May is obsessed with butterflies? For the 10+ years that I've known her, she has always been obsessed with them. Consequently, almost every gift I have ever given her has had the butterfly theme. You would think the girl would get tired of them, but no. Even her wedding had the butterfly theme (in addition to pastel colors theme).
Naturally, I needed to somehow incorporate butterflies into the shower. I hand made her invitation to the shower and closed it with a butterfly. I decided on something simple - cookies - for the favors. I remembered reading a tutorial from Cake Journal on making cookie lollies and decided that it would be perfect. I had butterfly cookie cutters from an Easter set and just needed to pick up some lollipop sticks. Michael's actually has cookie lolly sticks, which are longer and thicker than candy lollipop sticks, but I imagine that regular lolly sticks would work fine as well.
The cookies came out perfectly! The cookie recipe held itself well on the stick and was delicious. I wanted to keep the decoration simple yet planned, so I made a lavender icing outline to complement her pastel theme. As luck would have it, I found sprinkles with butterfly cutouts at Michael's as well. Score!
My gift to May was one I have used before - a homemade cookie mix that creates perfect cookies every time. The cookies aren't too crispy or too soft. They also don't spread very much so you can place them closer together (1-inch apart rather than 2).
All in all, I think the shower was a success. I got compliments on the venue, and all the details. I would definitely enjoy being a bridesmaid again (in fact, I was just asked to be one from another excited!).

Vanilla Sugar Cookie adapted from Cake Journal

200 grams of sugar OR 100 grams sugar and 100 grams of confectioners sugar (I used the latter)
2 large egg
1 tsp of vanilla
450 grams of all-purpose flour, sifted
200 grams of unsalted butter, diced
Extra flour for kneading and rolling

1. In a bowl or in the kitchen mixer with paddle attachment, mix the two types of sugar, vanilla and the egg. Add the flour and the butter and keep mixing just until the dough comes together.

2. Knead the dough lightly by hand on your flour dusted kitchen counter and wrap it well in cling film and put it in a plastic bag. Chill the dough for 2 hours.

3. Bake in a 325F preheated oven for 15-20 minutes or until light golden brown.

To make the cookie lollies, follow the step-by-step instructions from Cake Journal

Template for the invitation can be found here

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Strawberry and Banana Muffin

Have you ever had a hankering for a sweet muffin in the middle of the night? Well, not so much middle of the night, but pretty late into the evening, say around 9pm? When it's a tiny bit too early to hit the sack, but too late to drag yourself off the couch, into the car, and to the store for just one market leftover muffin? That was the kind of evening I experienced when I made these.
I was perusing this recipe on one of my most frequented blogs at around 9pm. I saw the ingredients and realized I, for once, had all the ingredients (no substitutions)! Upon further analysis, I even noticed how little of each ingredient I needed. That is, instead of making a whole dozen muffins or more (let's face it, I did just want ONE), I would only be making six! That's enough for possibly a second helping tonight and another one for breakfast in the morning and for any sticky fingers that may make their way to the cake pedestal.
The recipe was so condensed, it wasn't even worth taking out a mixer! I put it all together in an individual soup bowl. Can you believe it? Minimal clean up can be added to the list. You gotta love it. Once out of the oven, my craving was satisfied with the sweet flavor and aroma of strawberry and banana and the fluffiness of a wonderful muffin.

Strawberry Banana Muffins adapted from une-deuxsenses

3/4 cup chopped strawberries

2 tbsn. agave

3/4 cup whole wheat flour

1/4 tsp. baking soda

1/4 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. vanilla

1 egg

1 banana, mashed

2 tbsn. applesauce

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Line 6 muffin tins with paper liners, spray the paper liners with non stick spray (this MUST be done or else they stick to the liners like crazy), set aside.

2. In a small bowl combine the chopped strawberries and agave, let sit.

3. In the meantime, combine the flour, baking soda and salt. In another bowl combine the mashed banana, egg, applesauce and vanilla.

4. Add the dry mixture to the banana mixture. Mix with a fork until just combined. Fold in the strawberry mixture then spoon into the muffin tin, filling to the top as they don't rise much.

5. Bake for 25 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Cool completely.Enjoy!