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.
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
3 TBSP all-purpose flour
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.
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.)
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!
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.
Are molten lava cakes adventurous? No. But they were damned good.
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.
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.
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
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for surface
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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
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)
Preheat oven at 350 degrees. Whisk dry flour, salt and baking powder in bowl and set aside.
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.
Roll out cookie dough on a floured surface. Cut into desired shapes, brushing the extra flour off the top (it disappears once baked).
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.
Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
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:
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)
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.
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.
Bake, rotating halfway through, until edges are golden, 10 to 18 minutes (depending on size). Cool completely on wire racks.
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.
This is a tale of love and loss, fulfillment and heartbreak, happiness and anguish. This is a tale about my first love…at work.
You meet a lot of people in the workplace. If you’re lucky, you’ll figure out who the batshit crazy people are right away and keep your distance. If you’re luckier, you’ll make a friend or two. And if you’re REALLY lucky, you will find a work spouse. Coworkers come and go in our lives but you will never forget your first work spouse.
Oh the fond memories. One of my all-time favorite Kelley stories was when a Chinese filmmaker flew in to the US for a meeting with some of our other coworkers. He sat in our common area and saw Kelley working while he waited for his colleagues. During dinner, he leaned over to one of our coworkers and said, “So I must ask you – WHO is that gorgeous strawberry blonde that works in your office? She looks like a model or an actress!”
It all started over morning coffee. Kelley and I casually complained to each other about how terrible the office coffee was at the time. Neither of us were coffee snobs, but the communal office coffee literally tasted like aluminum sludge. No amount of sugar or creamer could save it. A couple of years ago, Kelley and I started buying and brewing our own coffee. Most of my mornings as of late would start with the instant message “can you go now?”, meaning it was time to rendezvous in the office pantry. Morning coffee quickly became coffee and breakfast, which then occasionally turned into drinks after work and weekend outings. I was in a committed relationship that was martial work bliss.
Naturally, as a little goodbye sendoff, I had to make a batch of “Gorgeous Strawberry Blonde” bars. Kelley had actually sent me a similar recipe from Smitten Kitchen a couple of years ago for Pink Lemonade Bars, but they used raspberries instead of strawberries. I had to go down to San Diego for a work trip the day before her last day, so I picked up a few cartons of fresh strawberries from the Carlsbad Strawberry Company farm on the drive back up. They had BEAUTIFUL and extremely sweet strawberries to choose from.
I tweaked Smitten Kitchen’s recipe a bit to make up for the additional liquid that strawberries tend to produce (versus the not-as-juicy raspberries), and didn’t use the lemon zest in the crust that Smitten Kitchen’s recipe called for. Here’s my take:
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup fresh lemon juice (pulp is fine)*
zest of 1 medium lemon
1/2 cup pureed strawberries (about 3/4 cup hulled berries)**
1 1/4 cups sugar
4 large eggs
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp kosher salt
*If you want it to be less tart, use slightly less lemon juice and more strawberry puree, but make sure you end up with the same total amount of liquid or the bars won’t set after you bake them.
**Hulling the berries is really important – you only want the sweet, red part of the strawberry and none of that white bitter center.
1. Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly grease a 9×13-inch baking pan, or line with nonstick foil or parchment paper.
2. Make the crust. In a large bowl, cream together sugar and butter, until smooth and fluffy. Working at a low speed with a stand mixer (I used a pastry blender in this case), gradually beat in flour and salt until mixture is crumbly. Pour into prepared pan and press firmly into an even layer. Bake for about 18 minutes, until set at the edges.
3. While the crust bakes, make the filling. In a blender or the bowl of a food processor, combine the lemon juice, lemon zest, strawberry puree, sugar and eggs and process until smooth. Add in flour, baking powder and salt, then pulse until smooth.
4. Gently pour the filling over the hot crust when it has finished baking. Return pan to oven and bake for about 25 minutes, until the filling is set. A light colored “crust” will form on top from the sugar in the custard – nothing a little sprinkling of powdered sugar can’t hide!
5. Sprinkle the bars with some powdered sugar. Cool completely before slicing and use a sharp damp knife to ensure clean slices. Store bars in the refrigerator. Makes about 28 2-inch square bars.
Kelley turned about as red as her bars when she opened the box on her last day and read the sign that had her infamous Kelley-isms (as seen below).
I think all approved the out come of the bars. Miss you, Kelley!
I know I recently complained about the New Year Resolutioners that crowd my gym every January, and I’m glad to finally be able to say it’s become a little more normal. Now that I can finally work out relatively in peace, I’ve been trying to figure out some ways to mix up my routine because it’s becoming… well… routine. One can only do weights and cardio on a treadmill or elliptical so many times in one week.
I like to intersperse my regular workouts with group exercise classes and have tried almost every single one 24 Hour Fitness has to offer. I’ve tried Zumba and kick-boxing, but all of the stomping around was really hard on my knees. I am also terrible at Zumba. I’m not a quitter when it comes to exercise, but I tried spin once with a coworker, got through 20 minutes of class, mouthed “I can’t feel my crotch!” to each other, and walked out together. Who the hell does spin class? I mean, are your lady parts made out of leather? How do you deal with that? Should I have lined the seat of my pants with bubble wrap? Now I understand why men don’t do spin.
Pilates and yoga are fine, as is this Nike-sponsored “athletic training” class that my gym offers. But still over a year later, nothing beats The Bar Method in my book despite my self-induced embarassing first experience. It really is my favorite workout class, but I can’t justify the steep per-class pricepoint for something I’d want to do at least 4 times a week. However, I just bought the complete set of DVDs, so we’ll see how that goes.
On the topic of breaking routines, I’ve been writing way too many updates about cookies lately, which basically means I’ve been making too many cookies. Sadly I have a few more cookie posts backlogged on top of a couple more holiday posts! Yikes! So, in the spirit of mixing things up, here’s an update on an Earl Grey Lemon Bar I made last month. I came across the recipe in the June 2012 issue of Cooking Light magazine, and have been saving it for an occasion such as… nothing. I guess I made these just for fun.
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup powdered sugar
2 Earl Grey tea bags, divided
1/8 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons chilled butter, cut into pieces
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons grated lemon rind
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon powdered sugar
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. To prepare crust, line an 8-inch square metal baking pan with foil that extends 2 inches beyond sides; coat foil with cooking spray. Weigh or lightly spoon 1 1/4 cups flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour, 1/3 cup powdered sugar, 1 teaspoon tea leaves from 1 tea bag (discard remaining tea in bag), and salt in a bowl; cut in butter with a pastry blender or two knives until mixture resembles coarse meal. Press into bottom of prepared pan. Bake at 350° for 19 minutes or until lightly browned.
2. To prepare filling, place juice in a medium microwave-safe bowl. Microwave at HIGH for 30 seconds. Add remaining 1 tea bag to juice; cover and steep 10 minutes. Squeeze juice from tea bag into bowl; discard tea bag. Combine granulated sugar, 2 tablespoons flour, and baking powder in a bowl. Add rind and eggs to juice; stir with a whisk until combined. Add sugar mixture to juice mixture; stir with a whisk until well combined.
3. Remove crust from oven; pour filling onto hot crust. Bake at 350° for 23 minutes or until set. Cool in pan on a wire rack for 30 minutes. Remove from pan by lifting foil. Remove foil, and cut into 16 bars. Sprinkle bars with powdered sugar.
The Earl Grey cut some of the tartness of the lemon bar, and gave it a great scent. I think the crust was a little softer than what I personally would prefer. If I made these again, I would probably incorporate the Earl Grey tea leaves into a firmer lemon bar crust!