Monday, April 26, 2010

CSN Product Review, Growing Basil, Award!!

1. First of all, I would like to inform you all that CSN has contacted me about doing a product review. CSN Stores, an online retailer with over 200 + stores, sells everything from wall sconces and barstools to cookware and backpacks. So, be looking out for this review; there maybe a surprise in store!
2. Okay, so I've been wanting to grow my own herbs and veggies for a long time, but my history of killing almost all living things (with humans and large animals being the only exceptions hah!) has prevented me from trying. Well, a friend/colleague of mine overheard that I wanted fresh basil (along with other herbs) and gave me some basil (see photo above) the next day I saw her. Isn't she the greatest?! The first thing I thought when I saw the basil was, "Oh no! I'm about to kill another plant! I better use up some basil today because it will be dead by the next day." haha!

I looked online to see how to take care of basil, went to the store to buy soil, a pot, and a shovel. Then, I potted the basil carefully and placed it outside. Fast forward almost two weeks later, and I am happy to report that my basil is still alive and growing!!!!! I cannot believe it!! Now, I'm thinking about adding another herb. What do you all suggest?
  1. Can I add another herb or herbs to the same pot?
  2. What herb do you suggest? I am thinking about adding rosemary, parsley, or mint.

Two food bloggers, Spicie Foodie and Casa en la cocina, gave me this award. I feel so honored!!

The rules of accepting this award are as follows:
-Put the logo on your blog or within your post.
-Pass the award onto 10 bloggers.
- Link the nominees within your post.
- Let the nominees know they have received this award by commenting on their blog.
-Share the love and link to the person from whom you received this award.
-Lists things that make you happy.

I'm passing this award to every single person who leaves a comment here. You have the option to follow the rules and acknowledge this award on your own blog or list the ten things that make you happy in the comments section below. I know this breaks the abovementioned rule, but I also understand that some bloggers don't like to participate in award giving/receiving. So, list the ten things that make you happy in the comments section or on your blog with a link to this post.

Ten Things that Make Me Happy (in no particular order after #4):
1. Loving God.
2. Talking to my mom.

3. Being with my on-and-off girlfriend and her two daughters.

4. Learning and knowing other languages.

5. Being a doctoral/PhD student.
6. Teaching.
7. This blog.
8. Hearing from my readers. I LOVE YOU GUYS!!!!
9. Baking
10. Traveling to other countries.

I look forward to hearing about the ten things that make you all happy and for your advice on growing herbs!


Chocolate Overload Cake

I'm an introvert. I'm a hermit. I don't like to go to parties. Nevertheless, I was invited to what I thought was going to be a simple party for most of the ladies in the Spanish & Portuguese department of my university, but it turned out to be a bridal shower X 3/baby shower/farewell to departing colleagues/dancing fiesta instead haha.
We played a bunch of shower games such as wearing g-strings over our clothes (I placed my thong on my ears and under my chin hehe), dressing the two (out of 3) brides-to-be in toilet paper, placing condoms on big cucumbers, making and listening to marriage advice, etc. There was also a LOT of good food such as different types of salads, sandwiches, tamales (yum!), Challah bread, fondue, cream puffs, bacon-wrapped dates, etc. It was a fun party even for an introvert like me.
The main reason I originally agreed to go was because my friend/colleague, the host of the party, wanted me to make a chocolate cake for them. I was nervous about making a cake for everyone; it was my first time to do something like this.

I wanted my cake to be spectacular, so I thought of my chocolate mousse cheesecake (yes, I'm bringing this one up again) and made my own rendition of a Chocolate Overload Cake. All the components of the cake have been seen on my blog, but I'm going to post the recipes here along with process photos. Because of the over-abundance of chocolate, I decided to make vanilla bean ice cream to go with the cake. I doubled the recipe, so I used two vanilla beans in it. It was awesome. I'm not going to post the ice cream recipe here, but you can find it here. It is definitely my go-to recipe for vanilla bean ice cream.
My friends/colleagues were very impressed with the cake and ice cream. They kept asking me if I made the cake and if I'd made all of it. I had to keep saying, "YES YES YES!" hahah. They raved over it. I'm telling you, they were so loud and energetic throughout the party until they took the first bite of the cake. The talking stopped immediately; it sounded like I was in a library or something. LOL! Then they started telling me how good it was. The colleagues who have visited my blog started telling everyone about my blog. I felt so embarrassed. I wanted to just walk out because I don't like a lot of attention on me. I guess I should have realized ahead of time that that would happen with this cake. It did evolve into something much better than I had imagined. My cake-decorating skills are slowly getting better. I definitely need more practice, but I was pretty proud of how this cake looked. (I also found out that I need practice in taking photos of non-food items. Almost all of my photos were blurry at the party.)

I had enough buttercream to cover the cake and make the (wimpy) rosettes, but I didn't have enough to make a border at the bottom of the cake. The ganache dribbling down to the bottom of the cake helped a bit, though.
WHEN you make this cake, because you will hehe, eat the slice from the bottom to the top because the top is freaking orgasmically good! I love saving the best for last.

Hershey's Perfectly Chocolate Cake
adapted by Hershey's and found here on my blog
(this recipe is also on the back of the Hershey's cocoa canister)

2 cups sugar
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup HERSHEY'S Cocoa (I used the dark cocoa this time)
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup buttermilk (I used whole milk)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup boiling water (I used 2 Tbsp espresso + 1 cup boiling water instead)

Heat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two 9-inch round baking pans. Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed of mixer 2 minutes. Stir in boiling water (batter will be thin). Pour batter into prepared pans.Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans, and flip over onto wire racks. Cool completely. 10 to 12 servings.
Cut the top of the dome of the cake to make it even (My cake was too crooked, but it worked out fine). Then place the COOLED cake in a springform pan top-side down (see photos in the mousse recipe section below).
Mousse au chocolat/French Chocolate Mousse
adapted from Tyler Florence on Food Network and found here on my blog

6 ounces semisweet baking chocolate, chopped (I used Guittard this time; use good chocolate)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 tsp espresso powder (added to intensify chocolate flavor, optional)
3 eggs, separated
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream, cold (do not use half-frozen cream; the whipped cream will curdle)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

THE chocolate!If I don't get my block of chocolate from the grocery store, I go to a baking supply store called All-In-One Bake Shop in Austin, TX. They have different types of Guittard chocolate in bulk. I think it is a better deal to buy big blocks of high-quality chocolate than to get little four-ounce, packaged chocolates at the grocery store. Also, Guittard (or Callebaut, my other favorite) is a better quality of chocolate than the more common type in the store. Of course, there are other fantastic brands. Callebaut and Guittard are my favorites, though. I used up almost all of this chocolate in this Chocolate Overload Cake! WHOA!

Place the chopped chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl, and place over a saucepan containing barely simmering water (or use a double boiler). Melt the chocolate and butter together and stir with a whisk until smooth. Add in the espresso powder. Remove from heat and cool slightly. Add the egg yolks to the chocolate, 1 by 1, beating with a whisk until incorporated. Set aside.

In another bowl, beat the egg whites until foamy. Add the cream of tartar, and continue to beat. Gradually whisk in 1/4 cup sugar, and continue beating until stiff peaks form.Top: Egg whites; Bottom: Heavy cream

Beat heavy cream in a chilled bowl with chilled beaters until it begins to foam and thicken up. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar and vanilla. Continue to whip the cream until it holds soft peaks.

Gradually and gently fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture to lighten it. Then, delicately fold in the whipped cream. Take care not over work the mousse, but make sure you blend in the cream well.
Place the mousse on top of the first layer of cooled cake while still in the springform pan. Add the other cake layer. Add the other half of the mousse to the top layer. Flash freeze the cake for 1 hour and then cover with clear wrap to let freeze for 3 more hours or overnight.

Top left: cake pan turned upside down to release cake into springform. Other photos are of the layering process. I could have cut one layer of cake in half, but I wanted a tall cake. You could make this cake a four-layer cake, but I didn't want that responsibility haha. As you can see, just the first layer of cake went over the rim of the springform pan. Also, the cake was smaller than the pan, but it worked out fine.

Prepare the buttercream below, and refrigerate it if doing it ahead of time. If not, make it the day you'll be eating the cake.

Chocolate Buttercream
from the Daring Baker's Dobos Torte. Recipe copied from PastryPal

4 oz bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped (I used Guittard semi-sweet chocolate)
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter
2 tablespoons cocoa powder, Dutch-processed
1 1/4 cups (125 g) powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Fill a pot with water, bring to a boil, and place a larger bowl filled with the chocolate over it. It will melt gently.Let the chocolate cool to lukewarm on the side. Meanwhile, beat the butter until completely smooth. Add cocoa powder and beat in. Sift the powdered sugar directly over the bowl and beat that in. Next, in goes the vanilla and the melted chocolate. Mix together, and place a crumb coating on the cake. Refrigerate or freeze the cake for 30 mins-1 hour. Then, add another coat of frosting.
I apologize for the awful photos. At least you can see what I did here. I scraped the sides of the cake because of the mousse peaking out of the cake layers. Once I evened out the sides, I was able to add a crumb coating of buttercream. After refrigerating the cake (and preferably the frosting as well), I added the second layer of buttercream.

If you want to do a lot of decorating with his frosting, I suggest making another half portion of this frosting or doubling it.

Espresso Ganache
adapted from and found here on my blog

1/2 cup heavy cream
4.5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped (I used Guittard semi-sweet)
1-2 tsp espresso powder (optional)
1 Tbsp dark rum (I used vanilla extract instead)

Heat the cream in a small sauce pan over medium heat. Heat it up just BEFORE it boils. Place the cream over the bowl of chopped chocolate. Stir the mixture until smooth. Stir in the espresso powder and rum or vanilla extract. Allow the ganache to cool for about 15 minutes before pouring the mixture on top of the buttercream.
The process of making ganache.

Save the rest of the ganache for decorations (if you whip the ganache when it's cold, you can pipe a beautiful decoration) or save it for something else.
I totally need to learn how to take photos that don't include food and in low-light situations like this party. That is my next on non-food photography. My party photos look awful and shaky. I realize now that I should have increased the ISO.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Strawberry Cake

It was hard to make this cake. Not because of the recipe, but because of the color of the cake. You see, I'm not a fan of pink because it reminds me of gender stereotypes that are pinned on people from the time most parents know the gender of their child. Gender stereotypes can sometimes hinder people from being and doing whatever they want because of societal expectations, and that bothers me to no end. Yes, all of these feelings surged about because of the color of this cake. Yes, I have problems hahaha. Moving on...
Anyway, I was really craving strawberries and cake, and I kept seeing strawberry cakes popping up on the internet, but they were all made with cake mix as its base and/or looked too dry. I wanted a true, homemade, strawberry cake that was sure to be moist and soft. I decided to use this vanilla cake recipe as a base and go from there. It was fun to experiment with the ingredients, but I was afraid of how the cake would turn out.
Fortunately, it came out almost perfectly. I say almost because I think I put too much purée in the batter and frosting because the texture of both was sort of weird... I can't explain it. The frosting was sort of gloppy yet smooth enough to place on the cake. Nevertheless, the cake was AMAZING.
I had meant to take a "fork-in-cake" photo so that you could see how moist and soft the cake was but I wanted to take a bite so badly and before you knew it, I had an empty plate with the lone, half-frozen strawberry on the side of the plate. A few hours later, I grabbed another slice. Yes, it was that good. I'm so sorry I couldn't give you that shot, but this cake was too freaking good. It was exactly what I needed, wanted and craved.
Despite its amazing taste, I need to experiment with the amount of purée required in the batter and frosting. As is, however, it is more than fine. I didn't get to decorate the cupcakes because I was too busy eating the regular cake. So, I will leave that job for the next man or woman to make :D...
In the frosting, I added lemon extract just to test it out. I loved how it gave a welcomed brightness to the strawberry. Oh, I want another slice right, um, I better end this post now. Here's the recipe!

Strawberry Cake
Vastly adapted from Bridget's White Cake
YIELDS: 2 9 inch cakes PLUS 12 cupcakes or 3 8-inch cakes (halve recipe for less)

Baker's Joy or Cooking Spray
2¼ cups cake flour (9 ounces), plus more for dusting the pans
1 pkg (3 oz) strawberry gelatin (about 1/3+ cups)
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon table salt (I use kosher)
12 tablespoons unsalted butter (1½ sticks), softened but still cool
6 large egg whites (¾ cup or 180 grams), at room temperature
1 cup tablespoons whole milk, at room temperature
2 teaspoons almond extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 - 1 1/2 cups strawberry purée (I used 2 cups in this cake, so I think 1 to 1 1/2 cups would be better) [1 1/2 cups strawberries with stems removed (fresh or thawed) + 1/4 - 1/3 granulated sugar (depends on how sweet the berries are) + Juice of 1 lemon]

Prepare the purée: Place the cut strawberries in a blender or food processor. Add sugar and lemon juice (without the seeds!). Purée the mixture until smooth.
The Cake: Set oven rack in middle position (If oven is too small to cook both layers on a single rack, set racks in upper-middle and lower-middle positions). Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Spray two 9-inch round cake pans with nonstick cooking spray; line the bottoms with parchment or waxed paper rounds. Spray the paper rounds, dust the pans with flour, and invert pans and rap sharply to remove excess flour (If you use the baker's spray, you don't need to do all of those steps. Just spray and proceed to the next step).

Pour milk, egg whites, and extracts into 2-cup glass measure, and mix with fork until blended.
Mix cake flour, gelatin, sugar, baking powder, and salt in bowl of electric mixer at slow speed. Add butter; continue beating at slow speed until mixture resembles moist crumbs, with no powdery streaks remaining.

Add all but ½ cup of milk mixture to crumbs and beat at medium speed (or high speed if using hand-held mixer) for 30 seconds. Add 1/2 cup of purée and beat for 30-45 seconds. Then, add remaining ½ cup of milk mixture, and beat 15 seconds more. Add another 1/2 cup of purée, and beat for 15 seconds more. Stop mixer and scrape sides of bowl. Return mixer to medium (or high) speed, and beat 20 seconds longer. (Tedious steps but necessary to avoid over-mixing)

Divide batter evenly between two prepared cake pans (I weighed them out on a scale); using rubber spatula, spread batter to pan walls and smooth tops. Arrange pans at least 3 inches from the oven walls and 3 inches apart. (If oven is small, place pans on separate racks in staggered fashion to allow for air circulation OR bake them individually like I did.)Bake until thin skewer or toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 22 to 24 minutes.
Let cakes rest in pans for 5 minutes. Loosen from sides of pans with a knife, if necessary, and invert onto wire racks. The two different types of cake pans yielded two different looking cakes.
Re-invert onto additional wire racks. Let cool completely, about 1- 1½ hours.
Strawberry Frosting
by Memoria

1/2 cup butter (1 stick), softened
1/2 cup shortening (can sub more butter for a less fluffy frosting)
3-4 cups powdered sugar (to taste)
1 tsp lemon extract (optional)
1/4 - 1/2 cup strawberry purée

Beat butter and shortening for 3 minutes. Slow down beater or mixer, and add powdered sugar one cup at a time. Once the mixture is well-integrated, add in the purée until desired consistency is reached.

I did a crumb coating but didn't have time or space to refrigerate it. Anyway, I added the next batch of frosting and being the creative person I am, I plopped a frozen strawberry on top of the crooked, sliding cake! LOL!
The end!

Monday, April 19, 2010

BBQ Chicken Braid

Dear Yeastaphobes,

On my very first post, I made a Cherry Cream Cheese Danish that required not only laminated dough but the use of yeast. I never knew there existed a fear of yeast until I became more integrated into the food blog world. I say this not to brag but to tell you that most likely your fear of yeast lies in the knowledge of the fear of yeast itself (huh?!). In other words, because I never knew there existed a fear of yeast, I treated this fungal ingredient as any other ingredient. I just followed the instructions and avoided the pitfalls I had read or heard on other recipes (i.e., avoid hot water and salt). I used a thermometer to check the temperature of the water and only added salt after adding the flour, and everything always has worked out fine....well, at least in the yeast department. So, pretend like the fear of yeast doesn't exist. Just remember that it's just another ingredient like eggs or milk. All ingredients require a certain procedure in order to obtain optimal use out of them. NOW GO FORTH AND MAKE THE BELOW BREAD DISH! :)

Memoria of Mangio da sola
I have to admit that this is the prettiest, savory dish I've ever seen in my own apartment haha. This braid was so lovely that I almost didn't want to cut into it...almost. It was delicious.
Wow. Did I really make this?

The bread was soft with a slight, welcomed crunch due to my overheating oven. The filling was very flavorful despite the little bit of BBQ sauce I had in my possession. After I made this braid, I went back to the recipe source at Mel's blog, My Kitchen Cafe, and saw that other people who had tried this braid experimented with other fillings that I would like to try in the near future.
Since I live alone, I froze one half of the dough for later. With that dough, I would like to make a sort of a buffalo chicken filling with Frank's Red Hot Wing Sauce. For the vegetarians out there, I'm sure you could use a variety of meat-less fillings as well. Stuff the braid with various grilled veggies. That mixture even sounds good to me!!
"Off with its head!" I still feel bad about doing this decapitation to the lovely braid.

I have posted some step-by-step photos below and a link to a printable version without photos. I suggest making the filling first or during the bread's first rising. Also, mix the chicken with the other fillings (minus the cheese) for quicker distribution.
Thanks, Mel!
There's a yummy filling inside of that soft dough!

I am submitting this lovely braid to YEASTSPOTTING!

*UPDATE* Check out the Pizza Braid I made with the leftover dough!

French Bread Rolls
adapted from My Kitchen Cafe who got it from
Yields one dozen rolls or two braids

1 1/2 cups warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
2 tablespoons white sugar
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon salt
4 cups bread (or AP) flour (I used bread flour)

In a large mixer bowl, stir together warm water, yeast, and sugar. Let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes.
To the yeast mixture, add the oil, salt, and 2 cups flour. Stir in the remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until the dough has pulled away from the sides of the bowl.
Turn out onto a lightly floured surface, and knead until smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes. Lightly oil a large bowl, place the dough in the bowl, and turn to coat. Cover with a damp cloth, and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.
Deflate the dough, and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. (If doing regular french rolls: Divide the dough into 12-14 equal pieces, and form into round balls. Place on lightly greased baking sheets at least 2 inches apart.] [If doing the braid: Divide the dough into two, equal-sized balls. (I weighed them out). Scroll down to the next recipe for more instructions.] Cover the rolls with a damp cloth (or greased saran wrap), and let rise until doubled in volume, about 40 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C).

The left ball of dough is now in the freezer.

Bake for 12-13 minutes in the preheated oven, or until golden brown.

BBQ Chicken Braid
adapted by My Kitchen Cafe

1 recipe French Bread Rolls (above)
2 cups shredded, cooked chicken
1/2 medium onion, sliced into thin half moons
1 1/2 cups barbecue sauce (I only had 3/4 cups of bbq sauce in the house)
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese (I used and shredded a block of provolone)
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

FILLING: Season your chicken well. Boil or grill your chicken and then shred it. Add the BBQ sauce and chopped onions to the chicken.
TIP: Make the filling first, and store it until ready to use.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

BREAD BRAID: After the french bread roll recipe has gone through the first rise, split the dough into two parts (I weighed my dough. Each one came out to about 528 grams). Lightly cover one portion and set aside, or refrigerate (up to 2 days) or freeze (up to 2 months) the other ball. Roll the other portion into about an 11X17-inch rectangle (I rolled mine out on a silpat liner for easy transfer to the baking sheet and oven).
Grate your own cheese for a better flavor!

Using a pizza cutter, knife, or dough cutter, cut 1-inch wide strips in towards the center, starting on the long sides. There should be a solid strip about 3 inches wide down the center, with the cut strips forming a fringe down each side.
Spread half of the barbecue sauce down the center strip. Top with the chicken, onions and cheese. Fold the side strips over filling, alternating strips from each side and pressing them into the dough on the opposite side, forming a braid. Pinch or twist to seal.
Can you tell how soft this dough was?

Pick up the Silpat or parchment paper, and transfer it to the baking sheet. Or you can slide the pan under the Silpat liner, and let rest for 15 minutes.

While it is resting, follow the same steps above for the second portion of dough. Bake the first braid for 15-20 minutes (while the second braid is resting), until golden brown and bread is baked through. Remove from oven and bake the second braid.

Let the braids rest for 5 minutes. Using a serrated knife, cut braid into sections, and serve warm.