Thursday, November 30, 2006

Friday, November 17, 2006

Bread Pudding

A couple days ago I made a post referencing a loaf of French bread. It was odd having a deliciously new loaf of crusty bread lying around specifically waiting for it to go stale, but that's exactly what I was doing. In mind I had visions of a custardy bread pudding, replete with raisins, swirled with cinnamon and nutmeg. The day came when I finally had the time to make it, only to find out I was completely shot of raisins! I still had dried cranberries from the quiche I had made, but really didn't want cranberry taste in my bread pudding. Time was tight, the raisins would have to be missed.

I used a recipe found from Simply Recipes, changing a few things around. Instead of allspice I used simply cinnamon and nutmeg, and of course there were the absent raisins. I baked two versions: one in a mini bundt pan that came in a set of 4 that I ad just picked up, and 1 in a cake pan to share with my coworkers. The single loaf I used was more than enough, even with a few pieces taken from the end for the French Toast. I loved how the mini version turned out, and enjoyed it when it was barely cool!

French Bread Pudding

1 loaf French bread torn into pieces
4 1/2 cups milk
3 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups sugar
2 Tbsp vanilla
1 cup raisins
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

3 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350°F.Soak the bread in milk in a large mixing bowl. Crush with hands until well mixed and all the milk is absorbed. In a separate bowl, beat eggs, sugar, vanilla, and spices together. Gently stir into the bread mixture. Gently stir the raisins into the mixture.

Pour butter into the bottom of a 9x13 inch baking pan. Coat the bottom and the sides of the pan well with the butter. Pour in the bread mix and bake at 350°F for 35-45 minutes, until set. The pudding is done when the edges start getting a bit brown and pull away from the edge of the pan.

I topped mine with a little homemade glaze: 1/4 cup sugar with just enough water to give it a thick consistency, then drizzled over the pudding.

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Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Sweet Potato Flop

For a whole week I had been craving sweet potato fries. I don't eat fries very often, but when the craving hits, it hits terribly hard. California is one of the few places I've lived that actually serves sweet potato (yam, more appropriately) fries, chips, whatever you want to call them. In may, in fact, be the only place I've lived to do so.

That said, my own kitchen attempts to recreate the crispy-skinned gooey-centered goodness that is a sweet potato fry failed miserably this evening. There is a good possibility that my oil was not hot enough, as I do not yet have a kitchen thermometer. It stands to reason that the fries simply sucked up excess oil as they were limp, flavourless, and simply soggy.

I've never actually made fries before, but the instructions sounded easy: slice up potatoes, fry in batches in hot shortening. Bourdain drooling over horse kidney fat aside, I worked with what I had. I wished for kosher sea salt, but even that wouldn't have saved these fries. I'm not sure if perhaps yams need a different frying method than regular potatoes, or if there is more to the "perfect temperature" than I bargained for. Let's just say it's good I only bought one potato, as the majority ended up in the bin.

But the night was not all a loss- I finally made the bread pudding I mentioned here, and a post on that is soon to follow. Last, but not least, I leave you with this enticing photo, with the promise of a mystery and post. Ooooh, tantalizing!

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Saturday, November 11, 2006


Sometimes it's the most simple dishes that are the most heartwarming. Lately I've found myself craving earthy dishes, vegetables, and the peppery flavours of home. Sushi is great, truly, but there's something about a fresh mushroom, soil still clinging to its spongy skin, that inspires a homecooked meal.

The other day whilst shopping, I saw the bin of mushrooms in the produce section, quietly ignored while shoppers bustled about selecting onions and potatoes and cabbages and lettuce and avocados and the like. So inconspicuous and silent, they seemed to doze as I walked over, suddenly wanting to pop one in my mouth right then, raw. I felt a hunger for the last bit of sleepy summer earth as I filled my bag with criminies.

Slowly piecing together a recipe in my mind I went on a mini scavenger hunt, gathering things I thought would work well together. I selected a bag of grated Monterey, but immediately placed it back and grabbed a container of crumbled feta cheese instead. I had breadcrumbs at home, fresh Italian parsley at home. My idea was beginning to solidify.

Once home, I whisked an egg and a little extra cream I had together, then added the chopped parsley that grows rampant in my garden. A little salt, pepper, cayenne, and then the breadcrumbs. Once I had a thick paste, I added the feta crumbles.

These I piled into the mushroom caps, topping with a little extra cheese, then stuck them in the oven until the tops turned golden. I gave the same treatment to a couple extra tomatoes I had as well, but the mushrooms were the spotlight on this evening. Despite a leetle overcooking by yours truly, I enjoyed the subtle contrast of the feta and fresh bright parsley with the earth-kissed mushrooms. I've found that I love weaving together meals as I walk through the market, relying on my personal whim and craving. In this case at any rate, it did not steer me wrong!

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Thursday, November 09, 2006

A Burst of Colour

I have been spoiled entirely too much lately. The company that I work for has done some dinners recently, and fortunately for me the rest of the team loves sushi just as much as I do. I usually don't got out for sushi much, even though I adore it, simply because the price can be a bit high. When someone else is paying however...

My favourite without a doubt is the unagi. Unagi anything really, unagi donburi (Or uyadon), unagi nigiri (pictured below), unagi maki... it's broiled eel with a sweet shoyu (soy) sauce. If I knew how to attempt this at home, I would, but since I fear my seemingly general inability to cook any form of a successful Asian dish; well I'll just leave it to the pros.

Here in the Silicon Valley, many sushi restaurants are Korean-owned. This usually means an appetizer of glass noodles, or jabchae. This chilled dish has a strong sesame oil flavour, but is fantastic with the kimchi and other pickles served with the main course. Although not a taste I'd associate with the subtle colour of sushi, I've come to look forward to the small plain dish of unassuming noodles and carrots.

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Tuesday, November 07, 2006

In Search of the Perfect Chocolate Cookie

Over the next week or so you will likely see several recipes for chocolate cookies. I'm on a quest, you see, of finding the perfect one. A combination of soft, chewy, fudgy, and gooey- all combined in one sinfully decadent circular dessert.

This batch ended up being a disappointment. Oh they look pretty enough, but the cookie was too thin, too flaky, and crumbled at the drop of a hat. The recipe I used came from an online search, and resembled more of a torte than a cookie. It originally called for a mere 1/4 cup of flour, and yet promised 36 cookies! I had added an additional 1/4 cup to the weak, sauce-like batter, and still only managed to eek out a little over a dozen.

"These will be like mini-torte cookies," I thought hopefully. "Torties. It'll be the start of something new, and innovative!"

Uhuh. Not so much.

The boys at work liked them well enough, which was gratifying since I had promised them chocolate cookies, and then showed up with the sad and sorry 9 or so flat cookies that hadn't crumbled to bits. The rest, by the way, smooshed together into lumps, so that they had to be pried apart in order to resemble any form of traditional cookie.

Unless you really want the recipe I won't bother including it here, as I count it a dismal failure. I have another recipe I'll be trying Thursday, and once again the boys at work will be my guinea pigs. This recipe promises "A molten gooey center", so I will be keeping my fingers crossed, my hopes high, and my chocolate fresh.

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Sunday, November 05, 2006

French Toast Sunday

Today I was planning on going to the Mountain View Farmer's Market- all bundled up in a cute autumny sweater and camera in hand. Sadly, it didn't happen. I missed the lightrail, then the connection, and finally decided after waiting 30 minutes for the right lightrail that I would rather be home cooking. My tummy rumbled in agreement, so I swung on the next lightrail home. Mountain View will be there next Sunday, as shall I.

I already knew what I wanted as the rail bumped and squeaked and clattered its way towards my stop. I am very much a breakfast food girl- from runny scrambled eggs to pancakes and waffles. My last shopping trip had seen the purchase of a large French loaf however, and although the bulk of it was planned for another recipe I'll be making soon, I figured I could spare two or three slices from the end for my breakfast.

This recipe is very simple, and can be made in a flash. The ingredients here are for one person, but it's very easy to double, triple, quadruple, etc.

Sunday French Toast

3 slices of French bread
1 egg
1/4 cup half and half
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
dash salt

Whisk the egg and half and half together. Add the salt, cinnamon and nutmeg, and whisk until blended. Take each slice of bread and place it into the egg mixture, soaking up slightly. Turn and coat the other side. Pleace the bread into a large frying pan set on medium heat. Cook each side until golden brown.

You can top yours with anything from syrup to chocolate, but in this case I sprinkled some superfine sugar, a little extra cinnamon, and some thinned down cranberry jam.

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Friday, November 03, 2006

A Thank You

I never got a chance to send a big thank you to Sam over at Becks & Posh for the warm welcome she extended a few days ago. I feel like such an ungrateful blogger! It didn't take me checking my site stats to see the visiting folk, I read her blog every single day and when I saw this humble site listed I was SO giddy!

Scott over at RealEpicurian always makes me feel so wonderful, and never fails to bring a smile to my face. I want to send a quick thank you to everyone who has been commenting and e-mailing, I'm delighted to be writing alongside all of you! The foodie community is one that spans the globe, and we're all brought together by our love of cooking, baking, tasting... it's such a gift to "meet" everyone that otherwise could not have happened.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Phở Lynn

One of the things I absolutely love about this state- and Silicon Valley in particular- is the vast amount of incredible ethnic cuisine that can be found. Recently I began a quest to find a good phở place near me in San Jose. I knew a few spots in Mountain View, but wanted something I could zip to when a phở craving hit.

For the uninitiated, phở is a traditional Vietnamese soup, consisting of noodles in a clear broth made from beef, star anise, and ginger (although there are variations). You select different cuts of beef (or sometimes shellfish or meatballs, although beef is the norm) that are served rare in the hot soup and cook while you are eating. On the side is a dish of fresh herbs like sweet basil or cilantro, bean sprouts, lime, and chiles. One usually tops the dish with provided hoisin or Vietnamese hot sauce.

I arrived early for the 11am lunch opening, but that was okay, since it gave me time to discover a restaurant supply store a few buildings down. Bulk dairy! Bulk chocolate! Bulk baking supplies! All at happy student friendly prices.

After drooling over a massive stock pot and some gorgeous boning knives, I headed back to Phở Lynn. I was prepared for disappointment, honestly, because this was San Carlos St in San Jose, and there was no mention of Phở Lynn on Yelp (a somewhat trusted resource for me).

The nicely accented dining area smelled strongly of antiseptic when I first walked in, a bit offputting, but I figured it was because the place had literally just opened for lunch. Sure enough, by the time I left the smell of cooking and incense had comfortably wiped out the antiseptic odor.

I ordered a small phở (trust me, you always want a size small! Phở portion sizes are incredibly massive)my usual way, with beef, flank, and brisket. The brisket pieces tend to be a bit fatty, as does the flank depending on your restaurant. Tripe and tendon are also popular choices, and I've hear many good things about the former. I intend to give them both a try next time. :)

In addition to the phở, I ordered an appetizer of fried quail, which is the first picture above. It was served quickly, with lime and a side of dipping salts, and was absolutely incredible. Hot, sweet, and crispy, it was the perfect starter, even though you really don't need additions with phở. (Seriously, HUGE portions!) I knew I'd be writing up this review though, so I thought I might as well order it. I'm glad I did.

The pho itself was everything it should be-fragrant with onions and beef, and just the right amount of seasoning. The noodles were perfect, and the side condiments so very fresh. The help at Phở Lynn was friendly, fast, and left me feeling welcome and comfortable. I'm thrilled that there is a great Vietnamese place just a few block from me, and that it more than fits my budget as well!

A little heartwarming bonus for me personally was the simple Buddhist altar tucked under a counter at the front of the store. Gently spiraling incense, candles, and a cup of very dark Vietnamese espresso gave the humble shrine a homey feel; it was comforting indeed.

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Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Comfort Me

I've started a new job here, which is fantastic, but doesn't leave the long lazy afternoons for baking that I had been blissfully enjoying. There is still plenty of time to be sure, however some nights all I wish to do is come home and nosh on something comforting and quick. Last night was one of those nights. I had gotten home a little later than usual, since I needed to run some errands on the way. As I wearily peered into my cupboards and fridge, the bright smiling faces of little bella potatoes grinned back at me. There, I thought, was dinner.

Dishes like these are easy to prep at the last minute, because they're based in the basics. A little cream, some whipped egg, and entirely too much butter. Toss in a little salt and pepper and fresh chopped parsley (which I have, but utterly forgot to add), and you're set. I was able to bake the sliced potatoes directly in the bowl, which made for a sizzling treat when I pulled them out of the oven.

I think this would be good with some grilled onions, or a little sage or cilantro. All in all, however, simple was comforting as my meal emerged thirty minutes later, baked and delicious. Snapping on the broiler at the very end ensured the lovely roasted top.