Monday, April 30, 2012

Chocolate Tartlet

This is my first attempt at making tarts. I have to say tart doughs are very similar to pie doughs. Some common ingredients are cold butter and cold water. I usually make pie dough by hand, crumbling the butter and flour together between my fingers. For this tart, I used a hand-held mixer to get the butter and flour into pea consistency before holding them together into a dough.

When you want to fold a pie dough into a baking dish, you can either roll it onto the rolling pin or fold it into quarters. I wanted to do something similar after I rolled out the tart dough, but it was so fragile. I had to use less force rolling out the tart because it was cracking up in the middle. I tried to fold the rolled out dough in half, but it teared in the middle. I had to "patch" it up with left over dough. The good thing is the patch is completely covered by the chocolate sauce. I hope with practice I don't need much patching in the future.

To give my chocolate tart more flavor profile, I blended a handful of hazel nuts and smoothed the hazel nut meals into the chocolate sauce. The result is a not so sweet chocolate tart with a hint of nutty flavor. On a second thought, this tart reminds me of Rocher Ferrero chocolate: crunchy coat with chocolate engulfed hazel nut. My tart, however, has a stronger chocolate taste :)

This yields four 4-in tarts or 1 9-in tart

First make the tart shell with no fear. Who cares if the tart falls apart when you're transferring it into a tart pan. I patched it up and it looked perfect after baking. The most important thing is to keep the butter cold and use cold water. The chilling part is essential too because it makes the dough easier to handle.

When the dough is chilling in the freezer, start blending the hazel nuts (if you're using it). You don't need to boil the milk until the tart is baking in the oven. It takes less than 5 minutes for one cup of milk to boil.

After you take the tart shells from the oven, start heating up the milk and measuring the chocolate. Set chocolate in a medium-sized bowl. When the milk is ready, pour the milk into the chocolate bowl. Next, wait for five minutes, so the milk has enough time to melt the chocolate. Gently stir the milk mixture with a spatula until you get a creamy consistency. At this stage you can add the chocolate cream into the blender and mix well with hazel nut meal or simply pour the chocolate cream into the cooling tart shell.

The only time you need your oven is for the tart shell. If you need to entertain guests and plan some dishes that required baking, you can serve this chocolate tart to free up oven space. The tart shells can be made four days in advance and bring to room temperature before pouring the chocolate cream into it. At the end, garnish with a hazel nut or some gold paper. A dash of powdered sugar would look lovely too.


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Julia Child's Boeuf Bourguignon

Boeuf Bourguignon from Julia Child's Mastering The Art of French Cooking

I'm very excited to try Julia Child's Mastering The Art of French Cooking. Some recipes intimidate me and some look easy to prepare. The first recipe I tried out is Boeuf Bourguignon--the classic beef stew. This is one of my favorite French dish. I first fell in love with boeuf bourguignon from Le Saint Amour at Culver City, CA.

Rarely do I make savory dishes. I want to say I don't like cleaning oily dishes, but baking uses a lot of butter and leave tons of bowls behind too. I guess I am simply a sugar addict. I cannot imagine life without sugar!

After my first try on boeuf bourguignon, however, I think I'll be making this dish again and again. I like the smell of sweet and savory mingling in the kitchen. You can't really tell whether the meat has caramelized or there's simply beef in a cake.

Talking about caramel, this reminds me of onion. The smell of browned onion and the caramel-like juice they produce is heaven. I love onion. It's such a common vegetable that is used in almost all dishes? You can't go wrong with adding a few slice or some diced onion. It goes well in stews, in soups, in salad, in sandwiches and name it! Next to-do dish shall be onion soup!

Going back to beef stew, it is really REALLY easy to make. The actual preparation time takes about half an hour. Afterwards you can leave it cooking in the oven at low heat. Come back two hours later to check the tenderness, and there you got dinner!

I didn't follow the recipe completely. I used water instead of beef stock, and the stew still came out flavorful. The beef stock would kick up the flavor profile to another level, but a simpler ingredient list actually show off the beef flavor more, which is what I prefer. My mom has always kept seasoning to a minimum so you can really taste the ingredients, and this is how she's influenced me in some of my cooking habits. Apart from the stock and water substitution, I also used ketchup instead of tomato paste. Ketchup is the most accessible tomato paste in my fridge! Next time I'll throw in two tomatoes to add acidity to the stew. Hmm.....and I omitted garlic, thyme, and bay leaf. I'm sure a master chef will be shaking his or her head, but I like my stew nevertheless!

After 2 hours in the oven, the meat reduced 3/4 in volume

One big bite of beef, carrot and onion

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Sweet Potato Corn Bread

Mini corn bread to share

The Farm of Beverly Hills serve the best table bread. Their corn bread melts in your mouth. It goes so well with this sweetened butter that comes with the bread. I am always tempted to run away with a basket of corn bread and order nothing from the restaurant.

I found a savior recipe that would save me from a trip to The Farm--no more over spending on corn bread, ha! Unlike The Farm, this recipe makes a slightly drier corn bread and not as buttery, but it a deeper corn flavor. Maybe the corn flavor comes with the quality of your cornmeal.

I made my own cornmeal by blending pre-popped corns in my Vitamix. Boy was it loud when I turned the Vitamix on. I was wondering if the blade will cut through those stubborn little thing. After five minutes of on and off blending, I got a bag of cream colored cornmeal!

Now on to baking: get all the ingredients measured and melt the butter in your microwave. Next peel, cut, and boil one sweet potatoes for 5 minutes. Cool them in a bath water after you take them out from their hot bath, and don't forget to drain the potato again before you incorporate them into your batter.

Instead of baking them in a square pan, I baked them in cupcake liners. It's just easier to share with friends. I did have some leftovers which I baked in a mini loaf pan. The cornbread from the loaf pan is more moist than the cupcakes. If you want muffin corn breads, only bake for 15 minutes to retain the same level of moisture.

Another note is, sweet potato is optional. I had one on my hand and didn't know what to do with it.

Corn bread anytime!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Ugly Chocolate Bread

Soft and spongy chocolate layer bread
I saw these gorgeous chocolate breads on a Taiwanese blog. They remind me of a squared bread I loooooved as a child. In between the bread are layers of chocolate. Thinking back...the bread didn't have a chocolate taste. I guess anything brown and found in a bakery would be mistaken as 'chocolate'. Or chocolate was too expensive an ingredient so they skimmed on the chocolate and used less cocoa powder and replaced the rest with powdered milk. Too bad I couldn't find a picture to  tried to find the recipe on Yahoo Taiwan, but it seems like chocolate layer cake and crepes are more popular than my childhood favorite.

Another unfortunate thing is I failed at replicating my childhood memory. It turned out to be...really ugly. I couldn't get the bread to contain its shape when I put them in the oven. So on my second batch, I cut the dough into nine pieces and baked them in a brownie pan. They retained their shape! And they have a softer texture than the ones baked individually.

Was intended on making 'squared' bread

For the recipe, I used the tang zhong dough I shared previously on my blog. Follow the link and follow the recipe until after the first rise. Then follow the recipe below to make the chocolate block.

To make chocolate layers, you will be folding the dough and chocolate block together like you would be doing to make croissants. So what you do first is roll out the bread dough into a rectangle, place the chocolate block in the middle, then take 1/3 of the dough and fold over the chocolate. Take the left side of the dough and fold over to the right. Now it looks like a book--one where you would flip the page from right to left. Rotate the dough 90 degree South, so the book opening is facing you.

Use the rolling pin to flatten the dough, and repeat the folding process.

After giving the dough two folds, you can either cut them up into squares and place them in a brownie pan OR follow this blog for more twistful ideas.

Last bake the bread in the oven for 15-20 minute, and enjoy!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Yellow Butter Cake

I don't make a lot of cupcakes at home. In fact, that little cake in a cup intimates me. A good cupcake must have a good base, then the frosting must complements the base with just enough sweetness. Also the cake needs to be moist, so timing is everything when you bake the cake in shallow cupcake tins compare to a wider cake pan.

I've tried several cupcake specialty stores in Los Angeles. Dots Cupcake at Pasadena has the most balanced flavor. I think the cake is barely sweetened, but that makes the frosting stand out so much. The sea salt caramel cupcake even has a condensed milk filling that ups the sweetness of the cake. But besides the frosting and filling, Dots Cupcake have bland cake base. To a point where you get a acidic or perhaps a metallic taste from tasting too much baking powder.

Lemonade and The Oinkster both serve really cute petite cupcakes. I love how appetizing the size is without overwhelming your sweet tooth, but they are both super greasy. If you hold either cupcake in a paper bag, the bottom of the bag can soak up so much oil. The excess oil keeps their cupcakes moist at all times. Maybe that's just the way restaurants do to extend shelf life.

I haven't found a better tasting cupcake than Sprinkles. Yes, they are way too sweet for me, but the cinnamon sugar cupcake has no frosting just a layer of cinnamon sugar. That is the best combination in my opinion. I still get a sweet kick on the top, but I really don't need all that frosting because the cake is flavorful and crumbly and moist. It's amazing how it can be both crumbly and moist at the same time! But Candace Nelson makes perfect cupcakes.

So back to my own cupcakes, I'm not so much of a frosting person as you can tell by now. I believe in flavor not so much plain sweetness from excess sugar. Instead of frosting my cupcakes, I had a spoonful of whip cream on top. The simple butter cake with a tiny amount of jam filling topped with whip cream is just a simple dessert but so amazingly refreshing!

Here is the yellow butter cake recipe I used. Instead of baking the batter in a cake pan, I poured them into cupcake liners, and the cake had a simple yet flavorful butter profile that is light and spongy.

1-2-3-4 Butter Cake Recipe
After baking, I let them cool on the wire rack before digging out a hole on the top and filling them up with jam. Don't hesitate to splurge on a good jam. They make a big difference when you're using such simple ingredients as butter and whip cream.

If you don't have one of those cupcake tools I used in the photo, use a core remover or just cut a tiny hole and scoop some cake out.

Cupcake cored and filled with jam
Although I used the recipe as a cupcake base, it also makes a good base for cake. I made an one layer cake with this recipe, then I sliced the cake in half to add frosting and more jam! Put the top layer back and dump frosting all over the cake. Unfortunately, I did not have enough time for the frosting to set, so when it came time to serve the cake, the frosting was dripping off, making my cake look like it's melting.

Frosting dripping off the cake
It was still a easy cake after all =]

Friday, April 13, 2012

Mocha Almond Cake

Bitter sweet almond cake

Chocolate and espresso go so well together in desserts. Bitter sweet chocolate gives the right amount of sugary flavor that lightens espresso's bitterness. There is no need to use cups and cups of sugar to flavor your treat. The two star ingredient have enough kick already.

A few weeks back I shared a recipe on Almond Honey Cake. This recipe is an adaptation of it. I added some chocolate chips and dissolved two tablespoons of honey in half a cup of espresso. The result is a unsweetened mocha cake! If you prefer a sugary dessert then double the honey amount or substitute honey with half a cup of sugar.

Here is the adapted recipe for the almond cake:

Adapt the amount of sweetness you want by adding more honey or use 1/2 cup of sugar

Chunks of almond and chocolate chip

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Food Truck Tuesday at Highland Park

What do you do on a Tuesday night? If you never have anything to look forward to, mark your calendar for Highland Park's Food Truck Tuesday. 

You will find about 8 trucks lined up at the back parking lot of Figueroa Produce starting at about 5:30pm. This mobile food night started off as a venue for vegetarians. All trucks that attend the gathering must provide at least one vegetarian or vegan dish. That seems to be history now because I saw Lobsta Truck offering lobster rolls, crab rolls, clam chowder, but nothing on the veggie side.

Whether you are a vegetarian or not, check out Figueroa Produce every Tuesday. Here's what we tried at the event on April 3:

Mandoline Grill
Their banh mi is the most budget friendly at $7 for a 12" sandwich. You can choose between Hawaiian BBQ Chicken, Grilled Steak, Pork, or Tofu. The baguette that wraps all the goodness together is so thick that you must take a bite of the crispy thing with a few strings of pickled carrot and daikon. Then you get to the whole combination of meat + side + bread. The sweet and sour salad really enhances the meat. If you're not up for a whole sandwich, try their taco and salad that offer similar taste sans bread.

Extra tofu salad with a side of pickled carrot & daikon along with two secret traditional sauces (vegan dressing available)
Nothing beats fresh cut fries served with a spoonful of chili and a generous amount of cheddar cheese. Frysmith offers just that. You can find angus beef chili cheese fries or vegetarian chili cheese fries. There is also a sweet potato option served with chicken and tomatillo-tamarind sauce; kimchi fries with Kurobuta pork belly; grilled steak with jack cheese. If you're looking for an appetizer to munch on while you decide which truck to tackle next, go get a large plate of fries for $6.

Vegetarian Chili Cheese Fries
Franken's Gourmet Franks
Next, we moved on to a plant based hot dog stand truck. First you choose from three sausages: the greater, the witch, or the franken. They are filled with all sort of goodies like micro brewed full sail ale and sun dried tomatoes. Next you top your hot dog with sauerkraut, relish, onion, veggie bacon, jalapeño, cole slaw, mustard, ketchup, hot sauce, and/or mayo.

A spooky hot dog stand
B Sweet
This truck deserves the "best dessert truck in Los Angeles" title! We were doubtful at first because how can a cupcake stay fresh in a moving truck? Surely the texture must be dry like sandpaper. The frosting was rather flat on top too. What changed our mind was the free sample of red velvet and dutch apple bread pudding we got. Boy were we blown away by the bready custard. We were convinced to give their red velvet cup cake a try. Surprise surprise! The cake was moist and crumbly. It also had a vibrant butter taste to it that paired well with the creme cheese frosting. For $3 a cupcake and $5 per bread pudding, it's a little on the expensive side, but well deserved for its flavor.
B Sweet with delicate offers like cupcake, bread pudding, cookies, and chocolate milk
Unfortunately we weren't able to try Lobsta Truck, India Jones, Palazzolo's Gelato, Buttermilk, Grill Em All, and Lomo Arigato. The trucks change all the time, so come every Tuesday because you will discover new exotic foods that will rock your taste buds.