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Churro Cupcakes for a Surprise 60th Birthday Fiesta!

4 Feb

I threw my mom a surprise party to celebrate her big 6-0 last month with my extended family – about 20-25 of us in all.  Given her East Los Angeles roots and inherent love for Mexican food, I decided to give it a fiesta theme.  I ordered a taco bar style set-up from a fantastic family-owned Mexican restaurant near us and of course a portion of their fantastic mole (mom’s favorite).  I made Tomatillo Salsa, pico de gallo, guacamole, and three desserts for the party – Key Lime Bars with Pistachio Graham Cracker Crust (sans compote), Aaron Sanchez’s Mexican Chocolate Brownies, and these Churro Cupcakes.

Taco Bar - Who's Hungry?

Taco Bar – Who’s Hungry?

It’s been crazy busy at work the last few months, so I parceled out my time spent on crafting/planning over the course of about six weeks. For decorations, I found a few fun colorful pieces on Amazon that livened up our otherwise intentionally monochromatic home – paper buntings, serapes, festive patterned tablecloths, and pom poms.

Photo Backdrop

Photo Backdrop

Kevin and I also ended up hosting Christmas dinner which was two weeks before the party, so we had to hide everything away before she came over.  All of the streamers, party utensils, napkins, and plates were from Party City in every sort of bright color. I also bought a couple of cute craft kits from Paper Source – a mini pineapple pinata and a DIY set of six paper cacti. I used a white gel pen to add some “texture” to each cactus as well!

Cactus Kit

Cactus Kit

Jamie let me borrow her set of acrylic paints so I could add some color to the terra cotta pots I bought for the party favors.  They held the miniature cactus candles.  I also found some colorful candies to fluff up the favor bags.

Painting Pots for Favors

Painting Pots for Favors

Since Kevin and I had to go to a family wedding the morning of the party and with how long it takes to make cupcakes, I made these late the night before.  I was worried the crunchy topping that the original recipe suggested would get soggy overnight, so I skipped that component completely. Here is the recipe as adapted from Lady Behind the Curtain, without the crunchy topping!

INGREDIENTS:

For Cupcakes:
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups cake flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 4 large eggs, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cups milk
For Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting:
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
  • 1 (8 ounce) cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 5 cups confectioners’ sugar

DIRECTIONS:

For Cupcakes:
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners.
  2. Whisk together both flours, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, cream butter and sugar until fluffy.
  3. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until each is incorporated, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Beat in vanilla, and reduce speed to low.
  4. Add flour mixture in three batches, alternating with two additions of milk, and beating until combined after each.  Fill each cupcake liner three-quarters full. Bake for 20 minutes.

    Cinnamon-y Cupcake Batter

    Cinnamon-y Cupcake Batter

  5. Transfer tins to wire racks to cool completely before removing cupcakes.

    Cupcakes

    Cupcakes

  6. Top with cinnamon cream cheese frosting.

    Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting

    Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting

  7. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Set out 20 minutes before serving
For Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting:
  1. In a medium bowl, beat butter and cream cheese until light.
  2. Mix in vanilla and cinnamon; add confectioners’ sugar 1 cup at a time until all is incorporated.

    Churro Cupcakes

    Churro Cupcakes

Not having the time to actually paint anything, I searched online for some watercolor pieces to incorporate into the DIY dessert toppers, the invitation, favors, and more.

Dessert Trio

Dessert Trio

I had to keep the surprise from my brother as well until he came over, since he cannot keep secrets.  My mom thought she was meeting at my place and carpooling with me to a restaurant nearby.  I wanted to make sure I recorded her entrance, so I had my brother let her in the community gate when she arrived.  Right before she walked in, he asked, “Are you ready?”  Good thing she wasn’t already suspecting anything!

"Which dessert do you want?" "ALL THREE!"

“Which dessert do you want?”
“ALL THREE!”

My mom was really surprised and had a wonderful time, and it’s always great to spend time with my rambunctious family!

Orecchiette Bolognese

14 Dec

When you get engaged, one of the most common questions people ask you is “were you surprised?”.  I know I ask that question a lot, and I definitely got a lot of that when Kevin and I got engaged last summer (yes – it’s official!).  I knew we would get married some day, and we had talked about it a lot.  I guess I just didn’t really worry or think about when.

Looking back, I totally missed the signs.  I had gotten a massive respiratory infection right before 4th of July weekend, and I sounded like a man. A real butch chain-smoking bearded lumberjack kind of man.  Apparently, Kevin had planned to propose that weekend but since I got sick, he decided to bump it a week.  He said that he felt bad I didn’t get to take advantage of the 3-day holiday weekend so he wanted to plan a date for us (clue #1). He had talked a number of times about how special Descanso Gardens was to him and his family and had told me about some of the great memories from his childhood with his grandparents and cousins there.  I had never been, so when I found out that’s where we were going, I didn’t suspect anything (clue #2).  He had a glass of whiskey a little before we left at 2pm (clue #3), but I attributed it to the fact that maybe he needed one after braving the first weekend of the Nordstrom Half-Yearly sale with me that morning.  It was also a warm day, but he was full on sweating – and I don’t mean a delicate dew across his nose.  We’re talking a thick stripe of sweat all the way down the back of his shirt, poor guy (clue #4).  And then there were the awkward silences (clue #s 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10) whenever we would get to a really beautiful, secluded picturesque setting in the garden.   I thought it was because he was tired of all of the steep inclines we were scaling or the mild heat. Throughout the afternoon, we both said how it would be nice to do something special at Descanso someday – like a wedding or take pictures or something.

Then, we got to the rose garden.  I was noting how gorgeous Descanso was and turned around for a quick moment to take in the surroundings. I remember saying, “what do you think?” and not getting an answer.  I heard him say, “Al?”, and when I turned around, he was down on one knee holding up a ring.  He had beads of sweat beading down his forehead and this look on his face that I’m pretty sure I make when I think I’m about to get hit in the face or when I look directly at the sun. He asked me to marry him.  Instead of saying yes the way most girls would say when the man of their dreams pops the question, I said “Is this for real?”.  I have no idea why I said that (What if he said “naw, just kidding”?), but he reassured me it was and I said yes.  So here we are.  We won’t be getting married at Descanso after all, but we did do our engagement photos there thanks to our phenomenal photographer, Rodney Ty. Here’s a sneak!

Descanso Gardens

Descanso Gardens

The day we had our engagement shoot, I was in a rush to get something to eat before meeting up with Kevin, and the only place nearby that didn’t have a wait was a quick service Greek spot.  Being the considerate person I am, I told them not to put hummus or garlic sauce on anything so Kevin wouldn’t have to breathe in my essence for the rest of the day.  However, I did not realize how much raw onion would be in my pita until I wolfed down my first bite. I pulled out as many as I could find, but it was too late. Those suckers were STRONG.  My breath nearly set his eyebrows on fire in the afternoon, but he was a great sport about it.  I love the photo below because his face totally shows him being torn between trying to smile and look happy for the photo while my breath was really making him cry.  Sorry, hun!

Onion Breath!

Onion Breath!

Anyway, Kevin LOVES orecchiette, so making that for his birthday dinner a couple months ago was a no-brainer.  It pairs really nicely with some sort of Italian fennel sausage.  I’m not entirely sure why that is.  My theory is that it’s because the sausage falls apart into little curds of ground meat when its casing is removed, and the orecchiette almost serves as a little bowls to catch it before it falls to the bottom of the dish the way it would with penne, farfalle, or so many others.  But Kevin doesn’t really like fennel.  Or sausage.  So, figuring out what else would pair well with the orecchiette took some thinking.  Okay, maybe not a lot of thinking, because really – who doesn’t love a good hearty Bolognese?

Orecchiette Bolognese

Orecchiette Bolognese

I didn’t make the pasta from scratch, but I did do the Bolognese.  Here is a recipe as adapted from Anne Burrell.  Note that this recipe is a TIME COMMITMENT.  It’ll take you about 5 to 5.5 hours from start to finish – but it’s worth the time and effort!

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 large onion or 2 small, cut into 1″ dice
  • 2 large carrots, cut into 1/2″ inch dice
  • 3 ribs celery, cut into 1″ dice
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • Extra-virgin olive oil, for the pan
  • Kosher salt
  • 3 pounds ground chuck, brisket, or round… or a combination
  • 2 C tomato paste
  • 3 C hearty red wine  (Don’t go super cheap on the wine – use one that you would drink!)
  • Water
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 bunch fresh thyme, tied in a bundle
  • 1 pound orrecchiette
  • 1/2 C grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

DIRECTIONS:

  1. In a food processor, puree onion, carrots, celery, and garlic into a coarse paste. In a large pan over medium heat, coat pan with oil. Add the pureed veggies and season generously with salt. Bring the pan to a medium-high heat and cook until all the water has evaporated and they become nice and brown, stirring frequently, about 15 to 20 minutes. Be patient, this is where the big flavors develop.  The bottom of your pan should look like this when you move the veggies aside:

    Cook the Veggies til the Water Disappears

    Cook the Veggies til the Water Disappears

  2. Add the ground beef and season again generously with salt. BROWN THE BEEF! Brown food makes for a more flavorful dish. Don’t rush this step. Cook another 15 to 20 minutes.

    Brown Your Beef!

    Brown Your Beef!

  3. Add the tomato paste and cook until brown about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the red wine. Cook until the wine has reduced by half, another 4 to 5 minutes.
  4. Add water to the pan until the water is about 1 inch above the meat. Toss in the bay leaves and the bundle of thyme and stir to combine everything. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer, stirring occasionally. As the water evaporates you will gradually need to add more, about 2 to 3 cups at a time. Don’t be shy about adding water during the cooking process, you can always cook it down. This is a game of reduce and add more water. This is where big rich flavors develop. If you try to add all the water in the beginning you will have boiled meat sauce rather than a rich, thick meaty sauce. Stir and TASTE frequently. Season with salt, if needed (you probably will). Simmer for 3 1/2 to 4 hours, stirring occasionally.

    Simmer

    Simmer

  5. During the last 30 minutes of cooking, bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat to cook the orecchiette. Pasta water should ALWAYS be well salted. Salty as the ocean! TASTE IT! If your pasta water is under seasoned it doesn’t matter how good your sauce is, your complete dish will always taste under seasoned. When the water is at a rolling boil add the pasta and cook for 1 minute less than it calls for on the package. Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water.
  6. While the pasta is cooking remove 1/2 of the bolognese from the pot and reserve.
  7. Drain the pasta and add to the pot with the remaining bolognese. Stir or toss the pasta to coat with the sauce. Add some of the reserved sauce, if needed, to make it about an even ratio between pasta and sauce. Add the reserved pasta cooking water and cook the pasta and sauce together over a medium heat until the water has reduced. Turn off the heat and give a big sprinkle of Parmigiano. Toss or stir vigorously. Divide the pasta and sauce into serving bowls or 1 big pasta bowl. Top with remaining grated Parmigiano. Serve immediately.

This bolognese was so delicious and didn’t require heavy cream or butter, like a lot of other recipes do.  The sauce can totally be frozen in a freezer-friendly ziploc baggie if you have a ton of leftovers – just pre-portion everything out.  When we made our leftovers, we thawed a portion of the sauce in the fridge overnight, and then added a lot of minced veggies (mushrooms, broccoli, cauliflower) when we heated it up again on the stovetop.  It made a little sauce go a long way and added some extra nutrition and bulk to the meal. Delish every time!

Chocolate Banana Bread Pudding

4 Jul

It’s the 4th of July and I’ve been holed up at home for the last three days with a respiratory infection.  I hardly ever get sick but when I do, that’s usually what it is.  Up until today, eating has felt like I’m dining on sand sprinkled with glass shards sauteed in acid every time I swallow.  And it all just takes like hurting…there is no flavor thanks to the congestion.  Then, there is the phlegm.  It is absolutely amazing the varying shades of color that post nasal drip can trigger.  On the bright side, I do think I’m slowly on the mend, though my voice still sounds like it belongs to someone who has been chain smoking for 30 years.

So who’s hungry?!

I’m so bummed I’m missing out on all of the 4th of July party shenanigans (e.g., eating like it’s my last day on earth), and while I’m not contagious, I just didn’t want to be “that” phlegmmy coughy person at the BBQ or Kevin’s family’s lunch.  So here I am, drinking hot tea to soothe my throat in my eighty-five degree apartment…trying to get caught up on the backlog.

Kevin and I hosted a belated birthday dinner at our place for Alex’s birthday back in February (dinner recipe deets forthcoming) and had to make sure we had something kick-ass for dessert.  With Lingie as chief dessert decision officer, we came up with a great idea for a chocolate banana bread pudding.  My favorite bread pudding is from Nook Bistro, as are a few other recipes I’ve tried to recreate through the years.  The recipe I found on Denica’s Cafe sounded like it would yield something similar at the time, though now that I’ve made and eaten it, I’m convinced Nook’s uses way more fat and maybe even a brioche bread.

I did make a few tweaks to Denica’s recipe though.  Chocolate chips usually have less cocoa butter than bars do, so they hold their shape in moderate oven heat.  That way, they retain their texture and shape in cookies, muffins, and other baked goodies without looking melted melt (even though the cocoa butter has melted). I wanted a big gooey swirly chocolatey mess with my bread pudding, so I chopped up a chocolate bar (dark instead of semi-sweet, simply out of preference) into chip-sized pieces.  If I were to make this again, I’d utilize bananas that are a day or two more ripe than what Denica recommended too, again for that gooey bread pudding texture.

Here is my rendition:

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 loaf (16 oz) firm white bread or French loaf, cut into 1 1/2″ chunks and left out uncovered overnight
  • 3 ripe but still somewhat firm large bananas.  Use bananas that are a little ripe than what’s pictured below. Brown spots are fine!

    Key Ingredients

    Key Ingredients

  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 cups half-and-half
  • 1/4 C packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 C granulated sugar
  • 2/3 C chopped dark chocolate chunks (I used bars of Cote D’Or)
DIRECTIONS:
  1. Peel and slice bananas into 1/2 inch slices.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk eggs, half-and-half, and sugars until blended.  Gently stir in bread, bananas, and chocolate chunks to combine.  Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour or overnight, pressing down bread occasionally to absorb cream mixture.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease a 9″ round springform or cake pan that is at least 2 inches deep.  The pan will be very full.
  4. Bake bread pudding, covered loosely with foil, 35 minutes.  Uncover and bake 45 minutes or so longer, or until knife inserted in center of pudding comes out clean.  Cool pudding slightly on wire rack before serving.

    Chocolate Banana Bread Pudding

    Chocolate Banana Bread Pudding

Check out that gooey swirl!  We served it a la mode, and I think it went over well with the birthday boy and fellow dinner guests!

 

D*ck Cookies (Brownie Roll-Out Cookies and Basic Sugar Cookies)

20 Aug

Yes ladies and gentlemen. You read that right. D*ck cookies. I tried to think of a less crude, less NSFW, cuter name to call them.  But there’s no getting around it.  I made d*ck cookies. And I made them twice.  You now can freely lower your expectations for the content on this blog.  As cutesy and wholesome as my last post was, this next one is not going to be pretty.

One of the societal rites of passage for men is the coveted bachelor party.  It’s the infamous night (or even a weekend) whereby guys, scared shitless by the prospect of dedicating the rest of their life to a girl (a girl that they picked in most cases), give themselves free reign to consume near-fatal amounts of tequila and will actually pay money for a nude stranger to give them a boner in the presence of their closest guy friends.  For women, the bachelorette party often constitutes much of the same in the way of drinking, but activities with a nude stranger are often replaced by lots of giggling at fake penises (penii? …no, I’m pretty sure it’s penises).

I don’t think I’ll ever understand the obsession with penis decorations at bachelorette parties, but I’ve been coerced into making d*ck cookies two summers in a row for such events.  Shirley purchased d*ck cookie cutters last summer for Leslie’s bachelorette, which I used to make chocolate brownie cookies using a recipe from Smitten Kitchen.

Refridgerated Dough and... Cookie Cutters

Refrigerated Dough and… Cookie Cutters

They actually turned out to be quite delicious.  While I would like to think I’m not so superficial as to think less of a dessert just because it looks like a big chocolate… you know, I just couldn’t bring myself to eat as many cookies as I wanted to.

Brownie Roll-Out Cookies Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 3 C all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 C lightly salted butter, softened (I used one stick salted, one stick unsalted)
  • 1 1/2 C sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2/3 C unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Valrhona)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven at 350 degrees. Whisk dry flour, salt and baking powder in bowl and set aside.
  2. Mix butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla, and cocoa in mixer. Gradually add flour mixture, and mix until smooth. Wrap in plastic and chill for at least one hour.
  3. Roll out cookie dough on a floured surface. Cut into desired shapes, brushing the extra flour off the top (it disappears once baked).

    Yup. This Happened.

    Yup. This Happened.

  4. Bake on a parchment-lined baking sheet for 8 to 11 minutes (the former for 1/8-inch thick cookies, the latter for 1/4-inch cookies) until the edges are firm and the centers are slightly soft and puffy.
  5. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
Hearts make it all less naughty, right?

Hearts make it all less naughty, right?

Knowing how enthusiastic Shirley was about all the penis decor at Leslie’s bachelorette, I broke out the d*ck cutters again. This timing using Martha Stewart’s Basic Sugar Cookie recipe and adding some red food coloring to make them pink.  The bridesmaids unanimously voted that more of a “fleshy” color would be appropriate.

Basic Sugar Cookie Recipe:
Ingredients:

  • 2 C all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 C (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 Cgranulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • Optional food coloring (I used 4-5 drops of red food coloring to get this shade of pink)

Directions:

  1. In large bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, and salt. With an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in egg and vanilla. With mixer on low, gradually add flour mixture; beat until combined. Divide dough in half; flatten into disks. Wrap each in plastic; freeze until firm, at least 20 minutes.

    And it happened again...

    And it happened again…

  2. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment. Remove one dough disk; let stand 5 to 10 minutes. Roll out 1/8 inch thick between two sheets of floured parchment, dusting dough with flour as needed. Cut shapes with cookie cutters. Using a spatula, transfer to prepared baking sheets. (If dough gets soft, chill 10 minutes.) Re-roll scraps; cut shapes. Repeat with remaining dough.
  3. Bake, rotating halfway through, until edges are golden, 10 to 18 minutes (depending on size). Cool completely on wire racks.
For Shame...

For Shame…

Since these were standard sugar cookies, I rolled them out at 1/8″ (per the recipe).  However, seeing as how those little peckers bubbled up a little bit (probably due to re-kneading after the first cut), I would probably roll them out somewhere between 1/8″ and 1/4″ next time and really knead them more.  I didn’t have that problem with the brownie roll out cookies – probably due to the less delicate texture of those.

Vanilla Roasted Pears

3 Jun

Kevin and I hosted a fun Saturday evening in Los Feliz for Tony and Julie a few weekends ago, basking in the warm afternoon sun cocktail in-hand on the outdoor patio of Katsuya at the Americana followed by a fun four-course homemade dinner courtesy of Kevin and yours truly.

The Capitellis!

The Capitellis!

Apologies in advance for the poor photo quality and plating, as I used my phone’s camera and only briefly had the food on a plate before we shoveled it down our throats.  Classy bunch, I know.  No time for fluff and positioning when there was food to be eaten!

First Course - Cheese & Charcuterie

First Course – Cheese & Charcuterie

To start, we put together a simple cheese and charcuterie board with Supreme brie (my fav), a gouda-cheddar blend, red wine (chianti) salami from Trader Joe’s, and a Trader Joe’s prosciutto (my absolut fav storebought prosciutto).  We threw in some granny smith apple slices, and wheat and flax crackers.  Tony apparently is a big chocolate beer guy, so Kevin decided to pick up a couple of chocolate stouts for the boys to try.

Second Course - Arugula Salad

Second Course – Arugula Salad

For the second course, we made a simple arugula salad topped with homemade candied walnuts, julienne fuji apple, and shaved (not grated!) parmesan cheese, all drizzled over with a homemade brown sugar balsamic vinaigrette (1/4 C balsamic vinegar, 1 chopped shallot, 1/2 C olive oil, 2 tsp brown sugar, 1/4 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp fine black pepper – whisked together and sitting for at least an hour).

I didn't remember to take a photo til midway through eating this dish...

I didn’t remember to take a photo til midway through eating this dish…

For the entree, we did a wheat rotini pasta dish with simple grilled shrimp, pan-friend kale, and Trader Joe’s sundried tomato.  We also added a touch of Trader Giotto’s Organic Vodka sauce to add a little bit of moisture to the dish – Kevin’s genius idea.

And now for the real subject matter of this post – dessert!  I wanted to make something that we could make and eat right away, rather than the types of things I typically make in advance (i.e., cupcakes, cookies, bars, etc.).  Also, baking at Kevin’s means either needing to be self-sufficient as far as not needing the typical tools and machinery goes, or bringing all the machinery myself.  We settled on a vanilla poached pear recipe (below) as adapted from one I found on Smitten Kitchen.

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 4-5 slightly-under-ripe, fragrant, medium pears, peeled if desired, halved though the stem and cored (I used Bosc)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 2 tablespoon unsalted butter

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Place the sugar in a small bowl. With a thin, sharp knife, split the vanilla bean lengthwise in half and scrape out the seeds. Stir the seeds into the sugar.

2. Arrange the pears in a large baking dish, cut-side up. Drizzle the lemon juice evenly over the fruit, then sprinkle with the sugar. Nestle the vanilla pod among the fruit (I first slit my halves lengthwise into quarters). Pour the water into the dish. Dot each pear with some butter.

Pears, Vanilla Sugar, and Butter - Easy!

Pears, Vanilla Sugar, and Butter – Easy!

3. Roast the pears for minutes brushing them occasionally with the pan juices. Turn the pears over and continue roasting, basting once or twice, until tender and caramelized, 25 to 30 minutes longer. A paring knife poked into the thickest part of one should meet with no resistance.

Slightly Blistered Pears

Slightly Blistered Pears

4. Serve warm, spooned with the caramelized pear drippings from the pan over vanilla ice cream.

Vanilla Roasted Pears

Vanilla Roasted Pears

I LOVED this recipe – it’s a nice light dessert that I could eat probably every day.  When (not “if”) I make this again, I might substitute the white sugar for a little less than the same amount of brown sugar just to get a little more of a molassesy-sticky texture to the glaze. MMM