My bundt cake pan doesn’t get a lot of use. It sits in a cabinet, mostly unused, but it’s never let me down. Cakes are easy to bake in general, but making them look appetizing is much more difficult. This is where the bundt pan comes in handy. All you have to do is pour in the batter, bake, flip it over, and you have an instantly attractive cake. No frosting required! Although there’s nothing stopping you from adding whatever frosting you like, of course. Flexibility is good when it comes to desserts. I’ve made a few fantastic bundt cakes over the years – a chocolate pound cake for when we had company over, a lemon cake for Dan’s birthday, a reincarnation of our wedding cake for our second anniversary, and a pumpkin cake for our Halloween party in 2009. These were all great successes, but I haven’t thought to make another one for a long time. For my own birthday I usually pick something outside the box like this year’s red velvet cheesecake, and for Dan’s birthday he prefers Georgetown cupcakes that I order online. (Very little effort required!) But this weekend as I was sifting through Pinterest, getting sick of all the chocolate chip cookie recipes I’ve been hoarding lately, I decided I was going to go all out this week and bake a bundt cake. I’ve been drooling over these two recipes for blackberry jam cake and raspberry applesauce cake for a long time so I think it’s finally time to make them myself. Wish me luck! I’ll have pictures to share soon!

Lunch Crockpot

Is it wrong that I want one of these? I guess I’d just like to try it actually. I’m not even really sure how it works. From what I can tell, you put your soup or whatever in it, plug it in at your desk at work, and your lunch is piping hot in some period of time. Interesting concept. But isn’t it just infinitely easier to nuke your food in the microwave for 90 seconds rather than let it warm up at your desk for hours? Maybe not. I don’t claim to be any sort of expert in food heating technology. I guess this means I need to try one of these teeny tiny Crockpots!

Baking challenge

I’ve had this bag of Nestle Toll House Dark Chocolate & Mint Morsels in my kitchen cabinet since December at least and it’s time to find something to do with it. While I go through bags of semi-sweet and milk chocolate chips on a regular basis, mint chips are a little harder to incorporate into my normal baking routine. I just don’t see adding them to a batch of your everyday chocolate chip cookies. I’m kicking myself for not using these dark chocolate and mint chips them over the holidays because now I’m struggling to find recipes where I think they’ll work. I should have taken that “Limited Edition” label seriously! The most promising recipe so far is this one for chocolate mint chip cookies from Two Peas and Their Pod. There’s got to be something more creative, though. Does anyone have another suggestion?

Trying new recipes

1) Lemon brownies. I intended to make these last week and take them to work to share with a co-worker who gave up chocolate for Lent, but unfortunately I was way too busy to do much cooking. I did take the green velvet brownies to work on Monday, but they had chocolate in them so not everyone could partake. Sorry about that Marie! Anyway, I had a little free time yesterday while Dan was working on his electric guitar so I whipped up a batch of lemon brownies. (I’m not sure “brownie” is the right way to characterize these bars because they aren’t chocolate, but I can’t think of anything better right now.) I’ll write a whole post about these bars later, but for now I’ll just say they are really tasty. If you like lemon, these are the “brownies” for you.

2) Cashew chicken. Dan had to go to work today, but we talked about dinner options before he left. After going back and forth with a couple of suggestions from each of us, Dan mentioned that he would like something paired with rice. A reasonable suggestion, but most of my stir fry attempts in the past have been less than stellar. However, a while back I pinned a seemingly suitable recipe on Pinterest so today was the perfect time to give it a try. After braving the rain to get some chicken and cashews at the grocery store, I made this dish paired with some brown rice for dinner. Dan absolutely loved it and I liked it as well, but the sauce was a tad too spicy for my tastes. I think I’ll try leaving out the cayenne pepper next time, but otherwise this recipe is a definite keeper.

3) Giant chocolate chip cookies. The last time I tried making one of these the dough spread out way too much, leading to a big, flat cookie with burnt edges. Not good. So when I saw this slightly modified recipe I had to give it a try to see if I could improve the results. Unfortunately this one wasn’t quite right either. The dough didn’t spread out very much, which was good, but then the middle of the cookie didn’t get quite done before the edges were almost burned. And I even baked my cookie almost 33% longer than the prescribed 15 minutes. Perhaps I should have spread out the dough a little before I put it in the oven. Anyway, while this giant chocolate chip cookie turned out better than my previous attempts, I won’t be making it again. It was just average, and I’ve made too many amazing chocolate chip cookie recipes this year to use one that isn’t up to par.

“Whole Paycheck”

I didn’t understand why some of my friends call Whole Foods, “Whole Paycheck” until today. Usually I only buy a few items (stuff I can’t find at our usual grocery store), but today I think I went a little overboard because I was shocked at the total when I checked out. Not that I bought anything we didn’t need or won’t use, but definitely more than my normal purchases. It was all worth it, though, when Dan, Bryon (Dan’s brother who’s visiting us), and I devoured a whole bunch of fruit, cheese, crackers, and fig spread for lunch when I got home. Tasty. Last night I took the boys out to a belated birthday dinner for Dan at Bazaar, but I couldn’t get a reservation earlier than 10:30 PM. So to tide us over until dinnertime we ate almost all of the fruit in the house as a snack after I got home from work yesterday. This meant I had to stock up on just about everything at Whole Foods today. After lunch the boys went back to the garage where they’re building an electric guitar and I made a batch of spaghetti sauce for dinner this week using some ground lamb and sausage I bought at Whole Foods. Having leftovers in the fridge is priceless on busy weekdays – especially the spaghetti Dan loves. I’ve tried making my famous spaghetti sauce with meat from the Sprout’s Market near our house, but it wasn’t nearly as good. I suspect the sausage I got there wasn’t as flavorful as the Whole Food variety. Too bad Whole Foods is so much farther away! I also bought some chicken breasts and spices today to make Crockpot chicken curry later this week. The last batch I made mostly ended up on the kitchen floor due to a case of butterfingers (read about it here) so I didn’t get to give it a proper try. I’m eager to find a good curry recipe so I hope my next attempt isn’t another miserable failure. All in all, I think I made some good purchases at Whole Foods, but I definitely won’t be shopping there regularly if I want to keep my bank account healthy. Buying meat for spaghetti at “Whole Paycheck” every other week is OK, but buying all of our groceries there is way too expensive.

5 Best Things I Ate in 2011

After giving it a lot of thought, I’ve compiled a list of the five best things I ate in 2011. Not surprisingly the of majority of my best meals happened on vacation. Whether the food is just better or whether it’s just more memorable, eating at new and different places is one of the best parts of being on vacation. Not that Dan and I don’t go to a lot of great restaurants in Los Angeles (as evidence by the other items in this list), but you can’t beat meals in exotic locales. So here they are the five best things I ate in 2001 in no particular order.

1) Dinner at Mama’s Fish House in Pai’a, HI – Liliko’i colada (non-alcoholic), Maui onion soup, Slow cooked beef rib with kalua pig on the side, and “Polynesian Black Pearl” chocolate and liliko’i dessert (see photo above)
2) Frozen butterbeer and pumpkin juice at Universal Studios Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando, FL
3) Butternut squash soup, cookies, and Blue Sky soda at the California Academy of Sciences museum in San Francisco, CA
4) “Philly cheesesteak” sandwiches at The Bazaar restaurant in Los Angeles, CA
5) Roasted lamb tacos at Border Grill in Santa Monica, CA

Honorable mention: Homemade chocolate chip, blueberry, lemon raspberry, orange cranberry, and cinnamon scones at my favorite holiday potluck at work.

The Bazaar

As I mentioned in a previous post, Dan and I had dinner at The Bazaar restaurant at the SLS Hotel on December 27th and it was a truly excellent meal. We took pictures of almost every dish we ordered (yes, we’ve become shameless foodies) and I uploaded them to my Christmas 12/11 photo album. We haven’t had a meal this good in a long time even though we go out to great restaurants about once a month so I decided to document everything we tried so that I won’t forget!

Jamón Ibérico de bellota Fermin (Acorn-fed, free-range Ibérico ham) with Catalan style toasted bread and tomato spread
Seared Mary’s Farm chicken with honey dates, mustard caviar, and mustard greens
Seared Strauss Veal loin Jaques Maximin with trumpet mushrooms
Baby Japanese peaches with Di Stefano burrata cheese, hazelnuts, and arugula
Ottoman carrot fritters with apricots andpistachio sauce
“Your life will change” Dashi linguini with Parmesan, Quail egg, and basil
“Philly cheesesteak” sandwiches with air bread, cheddar, and Wagyu beef
Cotton candy duck liver (only Dan was brave enough to try this)

Shared desserts – Apples “Carlota” Bread pudding with saffron sauce, Lemon poppy seed cupcake
Dan’s desserts – Star anise bonbon, Maldon salt dark chocolate tablette, and Saffron with Edible Paper pate de fruit (like a gumdrop)
Lauren’s desserts – Caramel bonbon, Raspberry milk chocolate tablette, and Passion fruit pate de fruit (again, like a gumdrop)

Holiday care packages 2011

Each of this year’s holiday care packages contains some combination of the following (depending on how I split them up):

1) Snickerdoodle blondies
2) Peanut butter blondies
3) Brown butter blondies
4) Red velvet brownies
5) Candied almonds and pecans
6) Honey spiced almonds

The packages are sitting by the door, ready for me to mail tomorrow. I can only imagine what a zoo the post office is going to be so I’m going to have to get there just as they open in the morning. That should be fun. On the upside, Dan and I finally decorated our Christmas tree that we bought two weeks ago and it looks great. I’ll post some photos later this week.

A Tale of Two Pecan Pies

A couple of weeks ago I promised to make a pie for the Arthur Murray Christmas party even though pies and I haven’t exactly agreed in the past. Sounds like a recipe (pun intended) for disaster, right? You got it. My mom has been using my Aunt Martha’s incredible pecan pie recipe as long as I can remember so I figured that would be the safest thing for me to make. It’s tried and true and never let my mom down. I even successfully made one myself for Thanksgiving 2005 (see photo above) in my tiny Seal Beach apartment kitchen. So making a decent pecan pie now that I have a larger kitchen and a lot more cooking experience should have been a piece of cake (another pun intended), right? Unfortunately not. The fact that I ended up making two pies should tell you something right off the bat. On the first one the crust retracted in two places and some of the filling spilled over the top, in between the crust and the pan. I didn’t think too much of it when I took the pie out of the oven, but when I tried to slice it yesterday parts of the crust were hopelessly stuck to the pan. That filling that had made its way outside the crust was as good as super glue after it cooled to room temperature. I couldn’t get a full slice out of the pan without it falling apart. No big deal, I figured, because I had enough ingredients and just enough time to make another pie before the Christmas party. This time I used my shallower pie pan so I would have plenty of crust covering the edge of the pan, hopefully avoiding the problem of the migrating filling. The second pie looked beautiful coming out of the oven so I though I’d hit it out of the park this time. I was wrong. As soon as I set the pie on the cooling rack I realized that the crust had completely split down the middle – something I could only tell because the pan was glass. This allowed a good amount of the filling to seep out and form a layer of sticky liquid between the crust and the pan. How could that possibly have happened? Slightly panicked, I called my mom for help. After talking about it for about twenty minutes we decided that the crust must have been bad. I used Pillsbury refrigerated pie crust because I’ve never been brave enough to make my own from scratch, and the two I used for the pecan pies came from the same box. There must have been something weird about that particular batch. Maybe this little incident will motivate me to try make my own pie crust in the future. But anyway, I had run out of time so I cooled the second pie to room temperature, sliced it, and transferred the slices to another plate as carefully as possible to take to the Christmas party. Those slices didn’t look pretty and most of them were missing large chunks of crust that were still attached to the pan, but I took them to Arthur Murray anyway. Based on a couple of sample bites the pie tasted great – it just wasn’t as pretty as it should have been based on past results. The owner of the studio said it was the best pecan pie he’s ever tasted so that’s something. I love my Aunt Martha’s recipe because it uses brown sugar instead of corn syrup (yuck) for the filling. It’s seriously delicious. After I get over the two disastrous pecan pies I made this week I’ll have to try the recipe again to make sure I can get a good result. Thanks Aunt Martha!

Potluck madness

The potluck I was so excited about yesterday was fantastic. The day started badly, though. My flight from Atlanta to Los Angeles on Monday night was delayed so I didn’t get home until two hours later than I was scheduled to. This meant that I went to bed too late, didn’t get enough sleep, and was still tired when my alarm went off the next morning. So I decided to sleep in a little and just stay at work later to make up for it. No big deal, right? Well, as I was walking out to my car at 8 AM I got a phone call reminding me that I was supporting an event and informing me that I was supposed to be there already. Shoot. Luckily I was already on my way and being a half hour late didn’t end up making that much of a difference. Unfortunately work kept me really busy so I had to sneak out a couple of times under the guise of a bathroom break to fill a plate with food from the potluck buffet. It was worth it. The scones were just as good as I remembered and I tried every flavor – chocolate chip, blueberry, raspberry lemon, orange cranberry, and cinnamon. I don’t know which was my favorite, but I ate five of them between 8:30 and 11:30 AM with absolutely no shame. So good. And for lunch I had a plate of melt-in-your-mouth homemade meatballs and Chinese chicken salad. After eating all of that I was pretty uncomfortable for the rest of the day, but I have no regrets. My co-workers make some really great food and I don’t get a chance to eat it every day. And I think my brownie bites and snickerdoodle blondies were a hit because I didn’t have a single one to take home with me at the end of the day. That was nice. However, the holiday celebrations aren’t over – in fact, they’ve just begun! Here’s my schedule for the next week. Yikes!

Thursday, 12/15 – Holiday lunch with my co-workers at Ruby’s
Friday, 12/16 – Another potluck (I’m making several batches of cookies)
Friday, 12/16 – Arthur Murray Christmas party (I’m making a pecan pie)
Monday, 12/19 – Deadline for mailing my annual holiday care packages
Wednesday, 12/21 – Yet another potluck (I’m making chili for this one)
Thursday, 12/22 – Holiday lunch at Mrs. Knott’s Chicken Dinner Restaurant
Friday, 12/23 – First day of the Boeing holiday shutdown