Hot Chocolate Frosting

2014’s Holiday Bake-A-Thon wasn’t as busy as previous years have been.  I didn’t have time to do a lot of research and test runs of new recipes, so I ended up making some crowd pleasers from past holiday seasons, including Earl Grey Shortbread Cookies, Green Tea Sugar Cookies, Chai-Spiced Snickerdoodles, and Furikake Chex Mix.  I did try out one new recipe for a chocolate cupcake with hot chocolate frosting – the perfect cold-weather themed treat!  I keep reposting my favorite Guiness Chocolate Cupcake recipe that is truly my go-to recipe, so I’ll spare you from that. Here’s the recipe for the frosting portion as adapted from Cookies and Cups!
Chocolate Cupcakes with Peppermint Hot Chocolate Frosting
Chocolate Cupcakes with Peppermint Hot Chocolate Frosting
I made this for a two different parties, one with and one without the peppermint and I did find some people just don’t like mint and chocolate together, while others just do.  If I made this again, I’d make half the batch with the mint and half plain.  I found the Cookies and Cups’ version to be a little too sweet, so the second time around, I added a wee bit of salt to mellow it out a little.
INGREDIENTS
  • 1/2 C butter, room temperature
  • 4 C powdered sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 C dry hot chocolate mix (about 2 packets; without mini marshmallows)
  • 1/3 C + 1 TBSP heavy whipping cream
INSTRUCTIONS
  1. In a small saucepan combine hot chocolate mix and cream. Heat over medium until hot and steaming…not quite boiling, stirring consistently. You want the sugar in the hot chocolate to dissolve. Set aside to cool.

    Hot Chocolate Mix and Heavy Cream
    Hot Chocolate Mix and Heavy Cream
  2. In large mixing bowl cream butter until smooth.
  3. Add in powdered sugar and salt, and mix until combined. It will be very dry.

    Add Hot Chocolate Mixture
    Add Hot Chocolate Mixture
  4. Turn mixer to low and slowly pour in your hot chocolate mixture (I learned the second time around that it’s easier than throwing it all in and then mixing it together). Once all is added turn mixer up to medium and beat for about a minute until light and fluffy, scarping down sides of bowl when necessary.

    Ready for Spreading
    Ready for Spreading
  5. Spread or pipe on cupcakes.

    Hot Chocolate Cupcakes
    Hot Chocolate Cupcakes
  6. (OPTIONAL): If you want to make mint hot chocolate frosting, just pulverize some of your leftover candy canes in a food processor and sprinkle over the top.  I saw these pink mint-flavored marshmallows at Target and thought it sounded good but it didn’t look that appealing (see gallery).

It made for a great winter-y holiday treat!

Molten Mocha Cakes for Two

I finally just watched Chef, written and directed by Jon Favreau, which I was super excited to watch when I found out it would premiere and screen at South by Southwest last year.  I didn’t get a chance to watch it there, and then I somehow just forgot about it during it’s actual release a few months later.  For anyone that hasn’t seen it that loves Jon Favreau’s overall writing/directing/humor, chef Roy Choi, great editing, or just good ol’ fashioned food porn, do yourself a favor and see this movie as soon as you can.  For those that have seen it, yes, this post is about the “dreaded” molten lava cake.  You can find the trailer here, aaaand then I’m done shamelessly promoting. Sort of.  With this movie top of mind and Valentine’s Day being less than a month away, it’s the perfect time to share this recipe.

And yes, this post is from last year’s Valentine’s Day.  It’s always dangerous baking for two because most recipes will make at least 12-15 servings, and when you have the snacking discipline that we do, that doesn’t last very long for two people.  When thinking about a Valentine’s Day dessert, what is more stereotypical than a rich and chocolate-y lava cake?  Fortunately, Kevin loves chocolate too, and since I was charged with making V-Day dinner last year, trying out Martha Stewart’s Molten Mocha Cakes for Two recipe was a no brainer.  There is something so delicious about chocolate and coffee paired together, and these mini cakes were no exception.

This recipe is perfect for two people, or for a small dinner party.  If you double or triple the recipe, just add a couple minutes to the baking time.  Be sure to keep an eye on the cakes in the oven, and make sure not to overbake or you won’t get that amazing gooey center.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 TBSP unsalted butter, plus more for ramekins (I don’t have ramekins so I used two 6-oz glass Pyrex containers)
  • 1/3 C confectioners’ sugar, plus more for ramekins and serving
  • 2 oz semisweet chocolate, broken into pieces
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 tsp espresso powder
  • Pinch salt
  • 3 TBSP all-purpose flour

    Ingredients
    Ingredients

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Butter two 6-ounce ramekins, then dust with sugar. Place butter and chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high in 20-second increments, stirring after each, until melted. Let cool slightly.

    Whisk the Espresso Powder
    Whisk the Espresso Powder
  2. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together egg, egg yolk, sugar, espresso powder, and salt. Add chocolate mixture; whisk to combine. Add flour, and whisk just until combined (do not overmix). Pour batter into prepared ramekins. (Recipe can be made ahead up to this point.)

    Don't Over-Baked the Batter
    Don’t Over-Baked the Batter
  3. Bake until a toothpick inserted 1/2 inch from edge of ramekins comes out clean, and a toothpick inserted in center comes out wet, 10 to 12 minutes (Do not overbake – I can’t emphasize that enough!). Cool 10 minutes on a wire rack. Run a knife around inside of ramekins to loosen the cakes. Invert cakes onto serving plates. Dust with powdered sugar; serve immediately….preferably with ice cream!

    Molten Mocha Cakes a la Mode
    Molten Mocha Cakes a la Mode

I made a graduation dinner for one of my cousins a few months later and doubled the recipe to make 4 total (for three of us).  I didn’t have vanilla ice cream at the time, so I paired the cakes with some delicious matcha green tea ice cream that we had just bought.

Asian Version
Asian Version

Are molten lava cakes adventurous?  No.  But they were damned good.

A Pumpkin Pie for Grandma Yaya

November was a really weird month. I turned 30. My grandma passed away, and the next day, I went to a funeral for another relative and then rushed over to a funeral home to help plan my grandmother’s funeral and pick out her casket – all in the same day. I got the flu for the first time since high school. I hosted my first family Thanksgiving and it ended with a bang – and not the good kind.

My paternal grandmother passed away a few weeks ago from pneumonia complications at the age of 90, and I honestly didn’t think it would be as difficult as it was to accept it.  She started to show early signs of dementia about 5 years ago, and it really progressed.  She wasn’t really herself in her last couple of years. I somewhat felt like I had been slowly saying goodbye to her bit by bit when I visited her on weekends at her nursing home.  Watching her and my other grandparents slowly deteriorate has been one of the hardest things to deal with – it’s truly a slow burn that you never really get used to no matter how many times you see them.

We had a family viewing a couple of weeks ago to say goodbye before closing my grandma’s casket, so I tucked a letter and some family photos inside with her.  Writing it made me realize how much of the content in this blog (sass included) really all started with her.

Hi Yaya,

I honestly never expected that saying goodbye to you would be so hard.  It was heartbreaking to see you slowly lose the feistiness and spunk (that I am pretty sure I inherited from you) in your last years.  Selfishly, it wasn’t the way I wanted to remember you.  You always remembered who I was even if you weren’t completely sure where you were or what year it was, and I’m so thankful for that.

Thank you for all of the lessons you have taught me directly and indirectly.  A lot of who I am today is due largely in part to you.  “Use your head” and “that’s what you get” were two of your most simply stated but effective life lessons – ones I frequently find myself saying internally today.  Teaching me to be accountable for my actions was a big thing that dad instilled in me, and he definitely got that from you.

Thank you for inspiring me to learn to cook and bake because we all know I wasn’t going to learn from either of my parents.  When I was in middle school, we went out for a big family dinner at Benihana and you made a comment to me about how bland the food was (and you were right). You said you could make that shrimp the chef flipped into his pocket much tastier at home.  Sure enough, the next time I came over you invented what would become my favorite dish to eat at your house.  I miss that shoyu garlic shrimp and rice – it rivaled the shrimp trucks from Oahu.  Then it became a thing – if ever we ate somewhere, you just made it better next time I came over.  Some of my favorite memories with you are of the two of us making and decorating sugar cookies when I was in kindergarten and grade school.  I watched you make so many of my favorite things – I should have learned the recipes from you while I had the chance… especially the Yaya pumpkin or apple pie with the from-scratch crust my dad covets so much (sorry Dad).

Thank you for teaching me how to thread a sewing machine in high school. My friends loved those soft throw pillows that you taught me how to make my sophomore year. I think I must have made more than 20 and gave them out as Christmas gifts.  Leslie kept hers til college. It was pretty gross by then. That year was when I first went into a Jo-Ann Fabric and Crafts store – it was the start of an expensive relationship.  That simple throw pillow lesson lit the fuse on what would become a slew of sewing and crafting projects over the years, including the puppets that inspired me to start chronicling all of my culinary and sewing adventures.  I am now just realizing as I write this that my blog should really have been dedicated to you for planting the seeds for so many of my creative outlets.  I wished I had learned to cook and bake sooner, so that I could have done it for you before you went to Keiro and helped you out more during holiday gatherings and weekends. Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners would have been no match for the two of us… not that you weren’t already owning that area on your own.  It’s amazing how much I’ve learned to appreciate now what I so thoughtlessly took for granted at a younger age.

I can only hope that I can love Kevin throughout our upcoming marriage even half as deeply and devotedly as you loved Grandpa George.  I never got the chance to meet grandpa, and you didn’t talk about him much.  But seeing you honor him with food, tea, and flowers from your garden every single day, and annually at a formal service, for 30+ years after he passed showed that he was the one and only true love of your life.  I’m glad you will be together again both in spirit and in reality. We are burying you tomorrow with his ashes like you asked.

I am hosting my first family Thanksgiving this year, and I’m going to make sure to make a full pie (crust from scratch!) for the first time. It’s something I know won’t live up to yours, but I am going to try it anyway for you.

If Kevin and I decide to have kids, I promise to make sure they know who their great grandma was and to do my best to show and teach them as much as you’ve done for me.  I’m indelibly grateful for the three decades I had with you and will cherish those memories for the rest of my years.  You will always have a special place in my heart.

I miss you.  I love you. Rest in peace.

Her last wishes were “to be put in the ground as soon as possible with grandpa’s ashes, no cremation, no public viewing, and no cold storage”.  We were somehow able to turn everything around in seven days, having the funeral exactly a week from when she passed.  I also managed to catch Kevin’s flu in the process.  Listening to the reverend read the eulogy I wrote for my grandmother with the THICKEST of Japanese accents (my uncle Wallace was repeatedly called “Walrus”, “feisty” was “frizzafriz”, and “plethora” was “pridder”, etc.) while fighting off flu-ridden chills and aches was not exactly the perfect funeral I had romanticized in my head for her, but I think it ultimately was the intimate service she wanted.

I felt better after the funeral for about a day.  Then my flu turned into a full blown head cold with sinuses a’flowing.  I had 4 days to get rid of it because I was already signed up to host family Thanksgiving for my mom’s side of the family this year (my first time doing it), and there was no way I was going to cancel.  After all, I had just written to my grandma the week prior that I was going to do it and make that pie.  I wasn’t operating at 100% (still not there as of the writing of this post), but I SARS-masked up and cooked like it was nobody’s business.

Mask Up!
Mask Up!

I opted out of making the bird, but I think I came in pretty strong with almost everything else.  I made the same chicken apple sausage cornbread stuffing that I made last year, lots of various roasted vegetables, mashed potatoes, my favorite kale salad, and more.  LOTS of recipes to follow in the coming weeks.  Add a dash of Thanksgiving Day family drama on top of the congestion and mourning, and viola – not the ideal first holiday meal I thought I’d be hosting. I did make that first pie. I’ve done miniature pie cookies in the past and cobbled together pre-made parts for an easy pie, but never made a full one from scratch.  I’d always found pies intimidating, but after my grandma’s passing, I decided I really needed to try it.  Her pies were infamous within the family and beyond.

I found a Martha Stewart recipe that sounded good with instructions for a supposedly “fool-proof” pâte brisée pie crust to go with it.  This “fool” (yours truly) managed to over-process the dough a wee bit, despite trying to do so less than what the recipe said, so the crust ended up being a little crumbly when I tried to roll it out.  The next time I make a pie, I’m not going to use a food processor.  It’s way too easy to over process the dough and end up with a crumbly crust that isn’t great for rolling out or creating that beautiful fluted thin crust that my grandma used to make.  Mark my words, the next time I make a pie, I’ll stick with my go-to “old faithful” pie crust recipe from Smitten Kitchen that I’ve used for the pie cookies.  The pastry blender is more work and time, but you’ll have way more control over the texture of your dough. Worth it. Here’s the recipe as I followed it.  I look forward to posting a new improved version soon!

Pâte Brisée for Traditional Pumpkin Pie

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for surface
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 8 ounces (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons ice water, plus more if needed

DIRECTIONS

  1. Pulse flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor until combined. Add butter, and process until mixture resembles coarse meal, about 10 seconds. With machine running, add ice water in a slow, steady stream until mixture just begins to hold together.

    Flour, Sugar, Salt, COLD Butter
    Flour, Sugar, Salt, COLD Butter
  2. Shape dough into 2 disks. Wrap each in plastic, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 3 days (or freeze for up to 1 month; thaw in refrigerator before using).

Martha Stewart’s Traditional Pumpkin Pie with a Fluted Crust 

INGREDIENTS

  • All-purpose flour, for surface
  • 1 half recipe for Pate Brisee for Traditional Pumpkin Pie
  • 1 can (15 ounces) solid-pack pumpkin
  • 3/4 cup packed light-brown sugar
  • 1 TBSP cornstarch
  • 1/2 tsp coarse salt
  • 3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 can (12 ounces) evaporated milk
  • Ground cloves

DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. On a lightly floured surface, roll pate brisee disk 1/8 inch thick, then cut into a 16-inch circle. Fit circle into a 9-inch deep-dish pie dish (or in my case, a regular 9.5-inch dish), leaving a 1-inch overhang. Fold edges under.
    Cut Out Your Pie Circle
    Cut Out Your Pie Circle

    NOTE FROM ME:  The easiest way to transfer your fragile rolled out pie dough from your rolling area to the pie dish is to flour your rolling pin and the surface of the dough, roll the dough onto your pin, and then unroll it onto your dish.

    Transfer to Pie Dish
    Transfer to Pie Dish
  2. Shape large, loose half circles at edge of dough, then fold into a wavelike pattern to create a fluted edge (I couldn’t flute the crust as it was too crumbly – I just folded it under to make it a little thicker). Prick bottom of dough all over with a fork. Freeze for 15 minutes.

    Ready for First Round in the Oven
    Ready for First Round in the Oven
  3. Cut a circle of parchment, at least 16 inches wide, and fit into pie shell. Fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake until edges of crust begin to turn gold, about 15 minutes. Remove pie weights and parchment. Bake until golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes more. Transfer to a wire rack, and let cool.

    Pinto Beans - Cheap Pie Weights
    Pinto Beans – Cheap Pie Weights
  4. Meanwhile, whisk pumpkin, sugar, cornstarch, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, vanilla, eggs, milk, and a pinch of cloves in a large bowl.  Whisk it really really really well – makes a huge difference.

    Ready for the Oven
    Ready for the Ov
  5. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees. Transfer pie dish to a rimmed baking sheet, and pour pumpkin mixture into cooled crust. Bake until center is set but still a bit wobbly, 50 to 55 minutes. (If crust browns too quickly, tent edges with a strip of foil folded in half lengthwise.) Let cool in pie dish on a wire rack. Refrigerate until well chilled, at least 6 hours (preferably overnight).

    Hot Out of the Oven - Wobbly Middle
    Hot Out of the Oven – Wobbly Middle

In the end, the crust was still flaky, though I wasn’t able to get it to roll to less than 1/8” the way my grandma did because the dough would crack.  It was a decent crust, but it wasn’t quite the perfectly thin and flaky crust that my grandma’s was.  I did really like the filling recipe and will definitely use it again next time.  It was silky smooth and didn’t have that typical almost-grainy pumpkin texture that pumpkin pie sometimes does.

Grandma Aya (a.k.a. "Yaya") and Grandpa George
Grandma Aya (a.k.a. “Yaya”) and Grandpa George

I will get better at this, grandma – promise!

Mario Batali’s Porcini-Rubbed Rib-Eye

For Valentine’s Day (YES…still backlogged!), I was charged with making dinner for Kevin and I, and wanted to make something a  little out of the ordinary.  I remember really being wowed by the porcini-rubbed delmonico that I had at a work dinner at The Capital Grille a couple of years ago.  After some googling, I found a video tutorial on how to make the porcini rub Mario Batali uses at his amazing restauraunt, Osteria Mozza.  The sugar in the rub helps develop the char and “steakhouse” crust you want while cooking, and the porcini powder adds a divine earthy flavor.

The original recipe calls for one 3 1/2 pound steak, but I decided to do two 1 pound steaks (which was still pretty aggressive). Here is a recipe as adapted from Mario Batali, Food & Wine magazine, and several gchat sessions with my dear friend Chef Seong.  I had always made steaks using a nonstick frying pan and had gotten by just fine, but for a rib-eye, I really wanted those steakhouse-style char marks. We don’t have room for a real grill, but after a number of persuasive conversations with Shirley and Spencer, I decided to buy a cast iron grill pan to try and cook these steaks with.  I also had been thinking of getting a kitchen scale for some time, and read that this compact Tanita one had great reviews. What better excuse to buy it than for weighing the porcini mushrooms for the rub!  Okay it ended up being a more expensive dinner than originally intended.

Brand New Scale
Brand New Scale

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 oz dried porcini
  • 1/2 T red pepper chili flakes
  • 1/4 C sugar
  • 2 T kosher salt
  • 2 T freshly ground black pepper, plus more for seasoning
  • good quality olive oil
  • Two 1 pound bone-in rib-eye steaks (about 1″ thick)

PORCINI RUB DIRECTIONS:

  1. Roughly chop the porcini, and then grind in a blender – slowly at first, and then gradually increase the speed.
  2. Add in red pepper flakes and blend to mix.  Mix salt, pepper, and sugar together and then add the porcini-chili flake mixture together.  You will have plenty of rub left over to make these steaks again – and you will want to!

RIB-EYE DIRECTIONS:

  1. Dust your rib-eye with the rub. Wrap a piece of kitchen twine around the steak, and drizzle on some olive oil and rub that in too.  The rub will turn into more of a thick paste with the consistency of wet sand.
  2. Flip the steak and repeat.  Tie a piece of kitchen twine tightly around the perimeter of the steak. Wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate 12 hours or overnight.
  3. About 1 hour prior to grilling, remove the steak from the refrigerator.  Brush off the excess marinade paste with a paper towel (THIS IS IMPORTANT). Place on a plate and let come to room temperature.  I forgot to do this and my steak ended up pretty spicy from the chili flakes.
  4. Pre-heat a gas grill or grill pan.  If you are going to use a charcoal grill, preheat that but use enough coals to keep the fire going for about 20 minutes.
  5. Put the steak on the hottest part of the grill, cover and cook, turning every 5 minutes, for about 12-13 minutes for medium-rare doneness.  The internal temperature should be 127-128°F (thanks Seong!).  Transfer to a carving board and let it rest for 30 minutes or more.  The steak will continue to cook another 5-7 degrees internally once it’s off the grill, and if you cut into it too soon, you’ll let all of those delicious juices out.

    Almost done!
    Almost done!

Steak newb’s note:  If you use a meat thermometer, make sure the end is smack dab in the middle of the steak.  I think I stuck the point in a little too deep so it measured the temperature closer to the grill pan than it should have. Our steaks were actually a bit undercooked when all was said and done, though still tasty.

I paired these with some “smashed potatoes”.  Quick recipe is as follows: Boil a pound of small potatoes (yukon gold in my case) for 8 minutes (until fork tender) in generously salted water. After draining and cooling the potatoes slightly, brush some oil onto a baking sheet lined with foil.  After lightly crushing each potato on sheet with your palm into 1/2″ thickness, brush potatoes with oil. Roast until golden and crisp about 25 minutes, rotating the baking sheet about halfway through the cooking time.

Mario Batali's Porcini-Rubbed Rib-Eye
Mario Batali’s Porcini-Rubbed Rib-Eye

For an appetizer, we had a DELICIOUS beet and burrata salad atop some prosciutto and arugula.  I found the easy recipe on The Organic Kitchen and admittedly this was more of a me dish than Kevin because it had all of my favorite things in it – roasted beets and burrata, prosciutto, and it even called for pistachios to be sprinkled on top!   And thank you Thomas for our lovely serving dish!

Beet and Burrata Salad with Prosciutto and Arugula!
Beet and Burrata Salad with Prosciutto and Arugula!

So… I probably bit off more than I could chew making everything in between work and dinner time.  I admittedly did not make the perfect steak (overspiced, undercooked), but with less ADD next time I’ll get it right.  In all it’s imperfect glory, the steak was still delicious and there were no leftovers.  Most importantly, we topped off the meal with mini molten chocolate lava cakes a la mode that I will for sure post separately about at a later time. They were too good not to!

Mini Brown Sugar Pumpkin Cheesecakes with Oreo Crust

Another backlogged holiday season post!

For Thanksgiving dinner (yes…Thanksgiving) with my mom’s side of the family, I needed to come up with something a bit different to contribute for dessert.  It had been a while since the last time I’d made anything with cheesecake, so I decided to once again combine pumpkin and cheesecake.  I found a great recipe on Fowlering the Width for mini pumpkin cheesecakes here:

Ingredients:
  • 1 package of oreos
  • 4 T unsalted butter (half of a stick)
  • 24 oz. cream cheese  (3 8-oz. bricks), room temperature
  • 1 3/4 cups dark brown sugar
  • 4 eggs, room temperature
  • 1 15-oz. can 100% pure pumpkin
  • 1 T of vanilla extract
  • 2 t of pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/4 C all-purpose flour
For the Crust:
  1.  Crush your oreos in the food processor and then pour in the melted butter. Spoon about a tablespoon or so of the crust into cupcake liners and then press down with a glass.

    Pressing Oreo Mixture into a Crust
    Pressing Oreo Mixture into a Crust
For the Filling:
  1. Beat the cream cheese in your mixer until smooth. Add the brown sugar and mix. Break your eggs into another bowl and then break them up with a fork. Add to the mixer. Beat well.
  2. Add the pumpkin, vanilla, pie spice, flour and mix until well combined.

    Pumpkin Cheesecake Batter
    Pumpkin Cheesecake Batter
  3. Pour filling into crusts. Bake at 325 for 35 minutes then turn off heat and crack the oven door for an additional 30 minutes. Then cool in kitchen for another 30. Then cool in fridge for 6 hours or overnight. You can top with whipped cream or eat as is.
 Makes 36 cupcake-size cheesecakes.
Mini Brown Sugar Pumpkin Cheesecakes with Oreo Crust
Mini Brown Sugar Pumpkin Cheesecakes with Oreo Crust

I ran out of foil cupcake liners, soooooo I had to improvise a bit with some foil.

Ghetto Cupcake Wrappers
Ghetto Cupcake Wrappers

The tops didn’t crack in the oven – always a good sign with cheesecake.  These were VERY rich and very sweet, for those that are into that.  The texture of the cheesecake was light and airy considering how much cream cheese went into it, but they were still really flavorful.  If you make these, be careful not to eat too many at once if you’re sensitive to rich foods like yours truly or you won’t like what happens after…