Lemon and Mixed Berry Striped Cake

Last month I started cooking out of the Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh cookbook “Sweet” and it has been both fun and rewarding. If you missed it, check out my blog post.  Last week I was alerted that the US/Canadian version of the “Sweet” cookbook had some errors with oven temperatures and baking times. If you have a copy of the book, you can email sweet@tenspeed.com to inquire how to obtain a corrected copy when it comes out. In the meantime, there is a link to a document that you can print out to get the corrections.

My family celebrated Christmas on the Eve and my niece and I made the lemon and mixed berry striped cake for dessert. I call it the vertical cake. In my opinion, it is the most stunning dessert in the entire cookbook. A friend of mine had already made it for me for my birthday in November and now it was my turn.

There are three parts to the recipe. There is the cake, the buttercream, and the fruit purée that is used for the drizzle on top as well as in the buttercream. With my new mixer, prepping has gotten a lot easier with better results.  

I was impressed how light and airy the cake batter was. The batter is spread out as a sheet cake so it’s much easier than a layer cake. The cake is “trained,” meaning it is rolled up while it is still warm.  I suspect that if you didn’t do that, the cake would crack.  When it has cooled down it is rolled back out and cut into three even pieces and spread with buttercream. Starting with one piece, it is rolled and each additional piece is added.  

The large cylindrical cake is turned on its side where the remaining frosting covers the cake thoroughly. Finally, the mixed berry purée is drizzled on top.  

The cake doesn’t actually look all that impressive until you cut into it. It’s like magic and it tastes like magic too. No corrections needed on this recipe!  

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DIY: Chocolate Covered Strawberries


Chocolate covered strawberries are a beautiful thing. They are elegant looking, taste really good, and so easy to make. You don’t even need any fancy equipment. I taught my niece how to make them a few years ago and she elevated them by adding detail. This recipe and instructions to make two dozen chocolate covered strawberries is from @ilikeashley.

Ingredients

  • 2 dozen strawberries
  • 12 oz. bag of semi sweet chocolate chip morsels
  • 4 oz. white chocolate chip morsels
  • 1 tbsp & 2 tsp of vegetable shortening

Instructions

Rinse and pat dry each strawberry and line them up about one to two inches apart on a parchment or wax lined tray.

Find a bowl that fits on top of a pot about halfway deep. Fill about one third of the pot with water and heat on medium high. Add the 12 oz bag of semi sweet chocolate with 1 tbsp. plus 1 tsp. of vegetable shortening into the bowl. The shortening thins out the chocolate and gives the chocolate a nice shine. 

Using a wooden spoon, stir the chocolate as it melts. You are looking for the right balance of chocolate to shortening. Too much shortening could alter the taste of the chocolate and too little shortening will make it result in overly thick chocolate and more difficult to cover the strawberries. Once you are happy with the consistency, turn off the heat.  
Take one strawberry by the stem, dipping it into the melted chocolate and turning it around to ensure coverage. Let any excess chocolate drip back into the bowl. Lay the dipped strawberry back in its original space. 

Repeat until all 24 strawberries are covered with semi sweet chocolate. Place the tray of strawberries in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes so the chocolate can harden.

You can either save the leftover chocolate or discard it. Either way, wash and dry the bowl and wooden spoon. Place the bowl back onto the pot and melt 4 oz of white chocolate with 1 tsp. of vegetable shortening. 

Using the wooden spoon, stir the chocolate as it melts. The white chocolate should be a little thinner than the previous chocolate as it is used to finely decorate the chocolate. 
Transfer the melted white chocolate into a ziplock sandwich bag. Zip the bag close, but make sure to remove as much air as possible. Using a pair of scissors, cut a tiny tip off one of the bottom corners.  
Remove the tray of strawberries from the refrigerator. Taking the melted white chocolate, squeeze it through the small hole. With one hand, draw lines across the strawberries back and forth until you’ve decorated all 24 strawberries. It gets easier with practice and a lot of fun.
Place the tray back in the refrigerator for another 30 minutes. Once hardened and chilled, they are ready to eat. For both practical reasons and for a nice presentation, I recommend placing each strawberry in its own cupcake liner.  
That’s it! Easy, peasy!  

 

DIY: Easy, Fresh, Pita Bread

What if I told you that you could make pita bread easily? More than likely, you have everything you need to make it already in your pantry. Not only that, but to eat warm fresh pita bread tastes so much better than what you can buy at the store.  
I recently discovered this recipe from the website Half Baked Harvest and have already made it a few times. The results are wonderful.  
Minimal ingredients are:

  • 1 cup hot water
  • 2 tsp active dry yeast
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp olive oil

Combine the hot water and yeast together in a large bowl and stir so that the yeast can dissolve. 
  Add the flour, salt, and olive oil to the bowl and mix together well with a wooden spoon.   
 Once it is well blended, turn the dough onto a floured work surface.   
 Knead the dough with your hands until it smooth and elastic, about ten minutes. Add a small amount of olive oil to a clean bowl and place the dough in the bowl and turn it in order to coat the dough in its entirety.   
 Wrap the bowl with Saran Wrap and let it rest for about an hour. The dough will rise and become springy.   
 Place the dough onto a floured surface. Divide the dough into eight even pieces and then put them back into the covered bowl. 
 One at a time, roll out the dough with a rolling pin to about 1/4 inch in thickness. If the dough gets sticky, add more flour as needed.   
 Heat up a flat griddle or an iron skillet to a medium high heat. Brush some olive oil on the heated pan. Place one of the rolled out pieces of dough onto the pan. If you have a large enough griddle, you can cook two at a time. Watch for bubbles to form on the dough, about thirty seconds and then flip over.   
 Grill for about a minute. Shortly after the edges of the pita bread begins rising off the pan, it will have created toasted spots and is ready to flip over again.   
 Grill for a final minute. The pita bread will puff up and you will know it’s ready. Repeat the process to make 8 pita bread.
 You will be amazed at the deliciousness of the pita bread as well as the nice chewy texture. I bought three different types of hummus from Trader Joe’s to dip the pita bread in. Of the garlic hummus, the beet hummus, and the tomato basil hummus, I enjoyed the latter one best.   
 

DIY: Red Hawk Potato Gratin

Who doesn’t like potatoes, cream, and cheese? If you are willing to fork out some cash for some Cowgirl Creamery cheese, I promise that you can produce a delicious potato gratin.  
Cowgirl Creamery in Point Reyes, California makes some of my favorite cheeses. The Marin County artisan business started in the 1990’s and has expanded to include a cheese shop in San Francisco’s Ferry Building. Although you can get their cheese at many Bay Area grocers including Whole Foods, they still make their rounds to Farmer’s Markets around the Bay Area including the Saturday market at Grand Lake in Oakland.  

Red Hawk is one of their most winningest cheeses and is the featured ingredient for this potato gratin recipe. Made from organic cow’s milk, Red Hawk is a triple-cream cheese that has been aged for four weeks and washed with a brine solution.  
This recipe for Red Hawk Potato Gratin is adapted from Cowgirl Creamery Cooks:
Ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium sized onion, julienned
  • 3 cloves garlic, diced
  • 3 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, sliced thin
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 10 ounces Red Hawk, cut into wedges (including rind)

 

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Heat a cast-iron skillet over medium heat and add butter and olive oil to pan. Add onions and garlic and sauté until soft (about ten minutes).

 
Turn off heat and add heavy whipping cream and half of the grated parmesan cheese.  Mix well.
 
Transfer half of the onion-cream mixture into a casserole dish, and layer half of the potatoes to the pan. Add half of the Red Hawk cheese wedges. 
 
Layer on the remaining potatoes, Red Hawk wedges, and the onion-cream mixture. Sprinkle with the rest of the Parmesan cheese.
 
Cover the casserole dish with foil and bake for 45 minutes. Remove foil and bake for another half hour or until the top is brown and bubbly.

  

The results are amazing.

Post Backpacking Meal: The Farm Table in Placerville

I just got back from a four day backpacking trip on a segment of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) starting from Sonora Pass to Ebbetts Pass, which is roughly 31 miles. My fitbit tells me I hiked about 40 miles!  

  
This was a daunting experience as I am coming back super tired. This time my injuries included a lot more mosquito bites including one above my eyelid and a blister on my hand from using tree branches as hiking sticks. It was totally worth the blister and I am now considering getting some real poles. I had three sleepless nights. I realize I am just not used to sleeping in a tent in the great outdoors. On day two, we endured a thunderstorm that included hail. It lasted roughly three hours where we had to hide under trees. Much of my items got soaked which meant a really rough night of sogginess. 

So what’s great about backpacking? Well, I do like a challenge! I love hiking in general and got to see such amazing scenery which some of would be impossible to reach in half a day. I got to see the mountains change colors in front of my eyes according to the sun. I enjoyed waking up in the mornings to breathtaking views with a cup of coffee in hand and having the warm sun beam down on me. 
 We counted nearly 100 varietals of wildflowers this time around.  
 We didn’t have gourmet food on this backpacking trip, but our first meal back absolutely was. On our drive home, we stopped for a late lunch/early dinner at The Farm Table in the town of Placerville.  The Farm Table is a restaurant and a market that specializes in house-made sausages and charcuterie. The lunch menu mostly consists of sandwiches. We each ordered a sandwich and a side.

 There is a daily sausage sandwich and today’s was an Andouille sausage with roasted peppers with their homemade ketchup and bun. My friend ordered it with a side of potato salad.  
 Another friend had a caprese sandwich with fresh mozzarella and tomatoes. She added a cup of cold cucumber soup.
 I got a BLT which came with their homemade dry cured bacon. In addition, I requested a side of roasted vegetables with romesco sauce.  
 We shared a slice of almond torte which came with an apricot jam.  
 Everything at The Farm Table was fresh and delicious. We each thoroughly enjoyed our meal. I even bought some of their packaged items – bacon and duck confit. 

 Their dinner menu makes my mouth water.  If you have to drive through Placerville, take the opportunity to stop at The Farm Table for some awesome food.

DIY: Hawaiian Twist on Chex Mix

This is the second year that I made handmade gifts for the holidays. Previously, I gifted a delicious granola. This year, I decided on a furikake chex mix. Furikake is a bottled Japanese seasoning. I like the one made of roasted seaweed, sesame seeds, sugar, and salt. My sister in law has made it for parties. I have even purchased some at Jimbo’s, an ice cream shop in San Jose.

The traditional Chex mix is a savory mix of various snacks, but I love the furikake version which offers a sweet and savory mix of flavors. When you make it yourself, you get to put the snacks you like and avoid those snacks you don’t enjoy as much.

Here’s the list of ingredients needed:

1 box Rice Chex cereal
1 box Corn Chex cereal
1 box Kix cereal
1 bag of pretzel sticks
2 sticks butter
1 cup sugar
2 tsp. soy sauce
1 bottle Furikake
Additional roasted seaweed
3/4 cup corn syrup
3/4 cup vegetable oil
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I started by blending all the snacks I wanted to include and dividing it into two large tin foil pans.
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In a small saucepan, heat butter, corn syrup, soy sauce, and oil over medium heat. Once melted, remove from heat.
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Add sugar and stir until completely dissolved.
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Pour wet mixture over the snacks and mix well so that coating is evenly distributed.
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Season with furikake and roasted seaweed.
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Bake at 250°F for 1 hour. Mix and turn every 15 minutes.

After an hour, the coating should have hardened. Remove from oven and let cool before putting snacks in airtight containers.
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Manti: A Turkish Delight

Last night I was at a cooking party and the theme was Turkish food. When I learned of the theme, I immediately thought of making manti or meat filled dumplings. I found a recipe online and winged the instructions as I was making them. I had some trouble rolling out the dough, the manti needed more salt, and it seemed to have taken a very long time. Although everyone seemed to have enjoyed the dumplings, I wanted to improve my skills. Since I still had meat filling, I decided to give myself a manti mulligan and have a do over this evening.

Ingredients:
2 cups flour
2 eggs
1/4 cup of water
1/2 cup of ground beef
1/2 cup of finely chopped onions
8 oz of plain yogurt
1 clove minced garlic
salt and pepper
2 tbsp of your favorite chili oil

Directions:
1. To make the dough, pour two cups of flour and 1/2 tsp salt in a mixing bowl. Add 2 eggs and blend together with your hands. Once eggs are mixed in you, will need to add approximately 1/4 of water to get the dough to form a ball and not stick to your hands. If it gets too wet, add a little more flour. If it gets too dry, add a little more water. Once you get the dough to the correct consistency, cover your bowl with Saran Wrap and set aside for at least 30 minutes.
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2. Using a cheesecloth or a lot of paper towels, squeeze out the water content from the finely chopped onions. In a bowl, mix the onions to your ground beef and then season with salt and pepper.
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3. With some practice with my friend’s late father’s pasta maker last night, I did not have to pull out a rolling pin this evening. Divide the dough into four pieces using one piece at a time. Put the remaining dough back in the bowl covered with the Saran Wrap. This keeps the dough from drying out. Roll out the dough in a pasta maker on a thin setting or as thin as you can get with a rolling pin.
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4. On a floured surface, using a pastry cutter or a knife, cut the sheets into 1 x 1 inch squares.
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5. Fill each pasta square with a small dab of the meat filling.
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6. One at a time, take a meat filled square and pull each of the four corners diagonally to the center and squeeze the four sides closed. Place it on a floured baking sheet and repeat until done.
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Now that you’ve made 1/4 of your dumplings, repeat steps 3, 4, 5, and 6 until you’ve made all the dumplings.

7. Add the dumplings to a large pot of boiling water. Add 1/2 tsp salt. When all the dumplings float to the top, cook for another minute and then remove them from the water onto a large platter.
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8. Mix the minced garlic into the plain yogurt before spooning on the manti.

9. Drizzle your favorite hot chili oil on the manti.

10. Enjoy!
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The second time was a charm! The making of them was much smoother than last night. They were better seasoned as well. I love these little dumplings. I have been to a few Turkish restaurants in my life, but never had them as good as these homemade ones I made myself. I guess I’ll have to travel to Turkey to find better.