Celebrating in Style – Peach Tomato Mozzarella Crostini

My friend, Edwin, recently hosted a fancy dinner party for his birthday and asked me to make a summery, classy appetizer. So, when I saw this recipe for peach tomato mozzarella crostini from Joy the Baker, I knew I had the perfect dish.

It’s a very simple, but delicious appetizer. All you have to do is slice up some peaches, tomatoes, and mozzarella, toast some baguette slices, and then top the bread with the peaches, cheese, and tomato. And finish with a leaf of basil, a drizzle of balsamic vinegar, and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. This appetizer is very crisp and refreshing, which is perfect for summer. The peach adds a nice sweetness and twist to the traditional caprese mix. Be sure to use fresh peaches and tomatoes as well as fresh mozzarella. The freshness and quality of the ingredients definitely makes a difference.

Now, my friend Edwin is a very stylish, sophisticated guy. So it was no surprise that he planned an elaborate multi-course meal to celebrate his birthday. On the menu were peach tomato mozzarella crostini and broiled shrimp cocktail for appetizers, a quince and manchego endive salad, grilled asparagus with deviled quail eggs as a side dish,
and seared garlic peppered tuna with a wasabi honey lime sauce for the main course.
Broiled Shrimp Cocktail
Quince, Manchego and Endive Salad
Seared Garlic Peppered Tuna with Wasabi Honey Lime Sauce

The broiled shrimp with homemade cocktail sauce was a nice twist on traditional shrimp cocktail while the salad was a delicious combination of sweet from the quince paste and apples and salty from the manchego cheese. Although it did not live up to Edwin’s high expectations, the tuna was seared well, cooked but still raw in the middle, and tasted amazing with the wasabi sauce.

Quince Paste with Manchego Cheese

White Chocolate Raspberry Mousse Sponge Cake

We finished the meal off with slices of manchego cheese topped with quince paste (again an amazing mixture of sweet and salty) and Edwin’s birthday cake. Rachel, the designated cake baker, baked him a white chocolate raspberry mousse sponge cake that was light and airy, the perfect summery dessert.

That night, we ate a sophisticated and delicious meal that rivaled any of those fancy restaurants in the city. And the best part of it was that we had made it all ourselves in celebration of a dear friend. Now that’s a dinner that money can’t buy.

This post was Yeastspotted and submitted to Bake Your Own Bread.

Night at the Museum – California Academy of Sciences

Last Thursday, one of my favorite bands (Of Monsters and Men) was playing a special show at Nightlife at The California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. I was so excited to go since the tickets were only $12 and the Academy of Sciences is such a fun museum. A cross between a science museum and a natural history museum, its major attractions include an indoor rainforest, planetarium, aquarium, and rooftop garden that looks like it’s straight out of The Teletubbies.

Every Thursday night, the Academy of Sciences hosts Nightlife where they open the museum up to the 21+ crowd, serving beer and cocktails as you wander through the museum. (They do check IDs, which I learned the hard way when I tried to sneak in when I was 19. What a rebel I was. :P) I’ve been a couple times before, but always missed the planetarium shows. So once my friends and I entered, we made a beeline for the planetarium to get tickets for their show on the landing of Mars Curiosity. The planetarium is an amazing half dome screen with seats so comfy, it’s hard to not sleep in them (the only other time I actually saw the show, I ended up sleeping through it since the seats were so comfy and I was dead tired… oops!).

After the show, we wandered through the three-story rainforest, admiring the foliage on each level and the beautiful butterflies flying about.

Next, we walked through the massive aquarium that houses a huge variety of aquatic life, including jellyfish (of all different colors), beautiful coral reefs, and an albino alligator!

The California Academy of Sciences is a fun museum that caters to both adults and kids. And their Nightlife event is definitely a great night to spend with a date or hanging out with friends. As a kid, I had always wanted to be in a museum at night and thanks to Nightlife, I’ve finally experienced it as an adult. If you’re ever in San Francisco, you should definitely make sure to pay a visit to this awesome museum.

Q: How do you Impress a Master Cake Baker? A: With a Purple Ombre Cake

One of the best things about grad school so far has been the camaraderie amongst all of my classmates. We’re a class of 25 students, relatively large for our department. But somehow, nearly all 25 of us have managed to be friends and hang out with each other at least once a month. One of the main reasons why we hang out with such regularity is that we have created a tradition to celebrate each person’s birthday together with a homemade cake baked by my friend Rachel.

For every birthday since mine in October, Rachel has made a birthday cake. Somehow, she became the designated cake baker for our class. She’s made some pretty amazing cakes, including a banana chocolate chip cake (for yours truly), a peanut butter chocolate monkey cake (from smitten kitchen), a red wine chocolate cake, a super red velvet cake, and many more.

My birthday cake (aka the inaugural cake)

Peanut Butter Chocolate Monkey Cake!

So, when it was Rachel’s birthday last weekend, I knew I had to return the favor and bake her an amazing cake. Obviously, it couldn’t be just any old cake. It had to be beautiful, delicious, and most important, memorable. If you’re active on Pinterest, I’m sure you’ve seen this gorgeous purple ombre cake from rasberri cupcakes. The minute I saw it, I knew I wanted to make it. And Rachel’s birthday was the perfect occasion! Especially because she loves the color purple. 😀

4 shades of purple (instead of 50 shades of grey…bad joke i know)

I enlisted the help of my friend Lin because there was no way I could have done all the work myself. Steph’s recipe was actually very simple and straightforward. One of the more difficult steps was coloring the batter. Making darkest and lightest layers were fairly easy, but making the other two colors were a bit trickier since they were harder to distinguish from each other. We started with the darkest batter; however, we should have started with the lightest batter since it’s easier to make the batter darker rather than lighter. 😛 Another minor difficult we encountered was removing the parchment paper from the cakes. I allowed them to cool on cooling racks, but when I peeled off the paper, a substantial amount of cake came off with it. Luckily, the layers were fine and I got to taste test the cake from the bits of cake left on the paper.

      

Since Rachel actually likes currants, we followed Steph’s recipe to a T, using the blackcurrant jam as the filling between the cakes. However, I’m sure this cake would taste delicious with blackberry or raspberry jam. Or to make it a bit more colorful, you could use lemon curd or even mango curd (to make it more exotic). We also decided to make a blackcurrant buttercream from another of Steph’s cake recipes. The buttercream was a beautiful pink color and chockful of currants.

Topping the cake with frosting

The funnest part was decorating the cake. I let my creative self come out, which doesn’t happen very much when you work in a technical field :P. First, I spread on a thin crumb coat first and then covered that layer with more frosting. With lots of frosting leftover and a box of blackberries in the fridge, I decided to place dollops of jam along the outer edge of the cake, pipe dots of frosting on top, and top them with blackberries. The only trouble I ran into was that the frosting melted a bit on top of the jam. I also added a few raspberries to the center to add another pop of color.

The finished product! Looks a bit professional, right?

The most satisfying part about making this cake was seeing everyone’s reaction, especially Rachel’s, when she cut into it. I was worried about how the inside would look, since I had no idea until the cake was cut. Luckily, it was a major success!

The cake layers were gorgeous shades of purple and the cake itself was pretty delicious. However, if I were to be extremely critical, I would say the cake was a bit dry. That was probably because we had made the cake the night before so Rachel wouldn’t see it. I’d suggest if you can schedule it right, make the cake the day you’re planning on serving it. As I assembled the cake, I scraped up the bits that were stuck to the parchment paper for the sake of taste testing and thought the cake was pretty moist.

This cake is quite a bit of work, but it’s so worth it. I received many compliments and Rachel absolutely loved the cake, which was the sweetest reward. I’ve found that the most enjoyable things in life aren’t given to you as gifts or presents. Instead, you receive the most satisfaction and joy in making others happy.

Be Sophisticated with Cheese – Baked Brie en Croute with Raspberry Jam

In my last post, I talked about one of my friend’s birthday dinners. Now, if there was one dish that I would remake from that dinner, it’d have to be the baked brie with raspberry jam. It was a very sophisticated, but extremely easy dish. We just spread raspberry jam on top of a wedge of brie, wrapped it up in a piece of puff pastry, baked it for about 15 minutes, and then topped it with toasted walnuts. Apparently the fancy name for this dish is baked brie en croute.

The most satisfying part was making the first cut into the brie. As I cut through the puff pastry, the melted cheese oozed out along with some raspberry jam. The brie was so creamy and went so well with the sweet, yet tart flavor of the jam. Add that to the buttery, rich puff pastry and you’ve got a heavenly appetizer.

If you want to impress people at a fancy dinner party, definitely make this dish. It only takes 20-30 minutes total, but it’s so elegant that people will think you spent much longer making it.

Baked Brie en Croute with Raspberry Jam
Created from my imagination (but basically the same as this recipe from Simply Recipes)

1 sheet puff pastry, rolled out
1 wedge of Brie cheese
Egg wash (1 egg beaten with 1 tbsp. water)
Raspberry jam (if you don’t like raspberry jam, you could swap this with any jam or jelly you like – fig jam would be a delicious alternative!)
Walnuts for toasting
Water crackers, for serving

1. Preheat the oven to 350F.
2. Place parchment paper onto a cookie sheet and then lay out puff pastry.
3. Place brie in center and slather with raspberry jam.
4. Wrap puff pastry over brie.
5. Brush with egg wash and bake for 20-25 minutes or until puff pastry is golden brown.
6. While brie is baking, toast walnuts in the oven until slightly browned.
7. Take brie out of the oven and let cool for 5-10 minutes (or as long as you can resist!)
8. Top the brie with the toasted walnuts and serve with water crackers or slices of baguette.

This post has been Yeastspotted.

Forgetting the Focaccia – Olive Rosemary Focaccia

My friends and I recently moved into a new house and in the whole process, we somehow inherited a big jar of green olives. I think olives are one of those foods that everyone has a different attitude towards. Some absolutely love them, some are indifferent, and some completely abhor them. Like my friend Rachel. One day, she asked her boyfriend to pick up a loaf of bread. She told him any kind of bread would be fine. However, when he showed up with a loaf of olive bread, she exclaimed, “Not olive bread!”

Now, I don’t mind olives, but I definitely do not like them enough to eat a big jar of them. I’ll eat a few on a slice of pizza or eat the olive that comes with my martini, but they’re a little too salty for me to eat regularly. So when I saw that big jar of olives, I knew I had to find a recipe that used olives. Remembering that story of olive bread, I looked up recipes for olive bread and found a few for olive rosemary focaccia.

Focaccia is actually a very simple and straightforward bread, similar to pizza dough (according to wikipedia). You just make a basic dough, add in whatever herbs (or food) you want, roll the dough out, spread olive oil over it,  and press your fingertips into the dough. Super easy, right?

Even though it was super simple, being the klutz that I am, I encountered a minor problem. While baking the bread, I was distracted and left the focaccia in the oven for a bit too long. Too long as in, burnt the bread and had the smoke alarm go off! Luckily I made two loaves and baked the other one perfectly.

I made this focaccia for a friend’s birthday dinner being hosted at my new house (which was why I had been so distracted while baking the focaccia). Another one of my friends had planned the whole menu, which included baked brie topped with raspberry jam and wrapped in puff pastry, mushroom pasta, tuna stuffed bell peppers, and sauteed brussel sprouts with almonds. In addition to the focaccia, I contributed a quick, but fancy appetizer of figs drizzled with honey and topped with toasted walnuts.

Don’t those figs look so fancy?

Despite burning a loaf of focaccia (I had baked the first one and served it, but left the second one in the oven while I joined my friends for dinner – a very bad idea) and having the smoke alarm go off in the middle of dinner, my friend’s birthday dinner was a great success! The food was delicious and the company was great. We all make mistakes sometimes, some more than others (like me for example). But usually it all works out in the end. Besides, how else would you learn if you didn’t make mistakes?

The only real unfortunate thing about this bread was that it didn’t use nearly enough olives since I barely made a dent in my big jar sitting in the fridge. So, if anyone has any fun recipes that use a ton of olives, please let me know!

Olive Rosemary Focaccia
Adapted from The Pioneer Woman and Epicurious

2 cups warm water
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons dry yeast
4 cups (about) all purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons olive oil
24 black or green brine-cured olives, pitted, halved (I used green olives and sliced them)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried

1. Dissolve sugar in warm water in large bowl. Sprinkle dry yeast over the water and let sit for 10 minutes or until foamy.
2. Add the yeast to 3 1/2 cups flour and salt and stir to blend well (dough will be sticky). Add in the chopped olives and some of the rosemary.
3. Knead the dough on a floured surface until smooth and elastic, adding more flour by tablespoonfuls if dough is sticky, about 10 minutes.
4. Form the dough into ball and place the dough into an oiled large bowl. Pour a little olive oil on top of the dough and evenly coat the dough with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a towel and let rise in warm area until doubled, about 1 1/2 hours.
5. Punch down the dough, knead it into a ball and return it to same bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in warm area until doubled, about 45 minutes.
6. Coat a baking sheet with 1 tablespoon oil. Punch down the dough and transfer it to the baking sheet. Roll the dough out into a rectangle with your fingertips or a rolling pin. Let the dough rest 10 minutes.
7. Drizzle 2 tablespoons oil over the dough and sprinkle the rest of the chopped rosemary on top. Let the dough rise uncovered in warm area until puffy, about 25 minutes.
8. Press your fingertips all over dough. (This was the funnest part! It made me feel like a kid again playing with playdough). Bake the bread  at 475F until brown and crusty, about 20 minutes. Serve the bread warm or at room temperature.

This post has been Yeastspotted and submitted to Bake Your Own Bread.

A Twist on Tradition – Mango Ginger Hand Pies

Hand pies seem to be all the rage lately, which is no surprise. I mean, just look at them! They are super cute and delicious! But because I like to shake up things and put twists on traditional desserts, I didn’t want to make the classical flavors of apple, cherry, or peach for my hand pies.

Instead, I decided to make mango ginger hand pies, drawing inspiration from a food truck I found in Austin that sold empanadas. One of the more exotic flavors was the mango and ginger empanada. I never tried it, but it sounded so delicious.

I followed the general directions of this recipe for peach and ginger hand pies from The Kitchn. However, I cheated a little by using store-bought pie crust. I encourage you to make homemade pie crust if you have time. It’s actually quite easy and fun, especially when you have to cut the butter into the flour. I modified the filling a little by adding in chopped candied ginger to amplify the ginger flavor. (But I left out the fresh ginger since I didn’t have any on hand). Depending on how much you like ginger, you can add a little or lot, or omit it all together.

So tiny and cute! They fit in the palm of your hand!

The most fun part of this recipe is making the little hand pies. Just cut out circles, fill them with the mango filling, and press and crimp the edges together. But be careful to not overfill them, which is very easy to do.

Filled, crimped, egg washed, and ready for the oven!

I baked these mango hand pies for my friends for dessert after dinner one night. I was actually really surprised they gobbled up all of the hand pies so quickly and exclaimed how delicious they were. To be honest, I was a little worried my friends might not like them since 1) I thought I had put in a little too much ginger and 2) no one had ever made this recipe before (or at least, no one had posted this specific recipe online).

Freshly baked mango hand pies!

Although my products don’t often turn out the same as those I see on food blogs, it’s reassuring to know that at least someone out there has successfully made the recipe at one point. But when you make up a recipe, you have no way of knowing how good it’ll be until you eat it. It gives me more appreciation for all of the people who write cookbooks. They must spend hours just troubleshooting recipes. Just like I am with my synthesis procedure for nanoparticles, which I can tell you from personal experience, is really a lot of hard work. I suppose the only difference between me and the cookbook authors is that their products aren’t toxic. 😛

Oh, and their products are much prettier and cuter, just like this little mango hand pie.

Mango and Ginger Hand Pies
Adapted from The Kitchn

1 pie crust (homemade or store bought)
2 ripe mangoes
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated ginger (or use candied or crystallized ginger instead)
2 tablespoons flour
1 egg plus water for egg wash
Extra sugar for sprinkling

1. Make pie dough from scratch or buy pie dough from the store (I used Trader Joe’s)
2. Peel and chop up the mangoes into small pieces. Mix the mangoes, sugar, ginger and flour. Let macerate for 15-20 minutes while you prepare the pie crusts.
3. Roll the pie dough out to 1/4 inches thick. Cut out small disks of dough using a biscuit cutter or a glass cup.
4. Fill each disk with the mango filling. Brush the edges of the disk with egg wash and press the edges together.
5. Place the pie onto a greased baking sheet and crimp the edges with a fork. Using scissors or a knife, cut three small slits on the top of each pie.
6. Chill the pies in the refrigerator for 15 minutes. When ready to bake, brush each pie with egg wash and sprinkle the top with sugar.
7. Bake the hand pies at 350F for 30-35 minutes or until the dough is lightly browned.
8. Cool the pies for 10 minutes, then devour!

Fancy it up – Raspberry Goat Cheese Swirl Brownies

My friends and I love throwing themed dinner parties. Not only do they give us the opportunity to cook delicious food, but they also give us a great excuse to dress up. 🙂 A few weekends ago, we decided to host a fancy wine and cheese party since my friend Rachel had a gift certificate for French cheeses that was about to expire. She ordered several different types of cheeses, including Camembert, Roquefort, and Brie.

Our spread consisted of over ten cheeses, including a heart shaped Neufatel and ash covered goat cheese, several appetizers, and tomato basil fondue. And lots of wine. 🙂 All of these cheeses were delicious, except for the Roquefort in my opinion (but that’s probably because I’m not a fan of blue cheese). Because it was so hard for us to choose a favorite, we spent the evening tasting each cheese over and over again.

Knowing that there would be plenty of cheese and appetizers, I decided to bring a dessert. But I wanted to make one that used cheese in an untraditional way. So when I saw this recipe from Love and Lemons for raspberry goat cheese brownies, I knew I had the perfect dessert! The original recipe comes from The Kitchn, a website that I frequent daily, and calls for 2:1 ratio of goat cheese to cream cheese. However, upon reading the comments, I decided it was smarter to switch the ratio to 1:2. After all, even though it was a cheese party, my friends might not have liked eating goat cheese for dessert. 😛

I only made a quarter of the original recipe (half of Love and Lemon’s adapted recipe). Because I didn’t have any fresh or frozen raspberries on hand, I used raspberry jam instead and swirled dollops of it into the batter. The brownies were both fudgy and cakey and the cream cheese and goat cheese batter was delicious. The goat cheese was very subtle, adding only a slight tang to the cream cheese.

My friends agreed that the goat cheese wasn’t overpowering and added a nice, fancy twist to the traditional cream cheese brownie. The raspberry jam also adds beautiful streaks of bright red to the brownies, but to be honest, I couldn’t really taste the jam.

Good wine, good cheese, and good friends. Sometimes that’s all you need for a perfect Friday night. Hosting that wine and cheese party added a nice little kick to our normal schedule. Just like the subtle tanginess that goat cheese gave to those brownies.

Raspberry and Goat Cheese Swirl Brownies
Adapted from Love and Lemons and the Kitchn (I made 1/2 a batch of these)

Brownies
5 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1/4 cup milk
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1/2 cup flour
1/8 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

Raspberry Goat Cheese Swirl
2 ounces goat cheese, softened
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
1 egg
1/8 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Raspberry jam (I was lazy, but you could use fresh raspberries)

1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF and lightly grease a 9×13-inch baking pan. (Since I made a small batch, I used a smaller pan).
2. Melt the chocolate and butter in a glass bowl placed over a simmering pot of water. Make sure the glass bowl does not touch the water. (This is the double boiler technique). I was lazy and used the microwave, but be careful if you do this, you don’t want to burn the chocolate!
3. When the chocolate is completely melted, remove from the heat, whisk in the milk, and cool for about 5 minutes. Stir in the sugar and vanilla. Stir in the eggs one by one.
4. Add the flour, baking powder, and salt and fold in until just combined. Pour the batter into the greased baking pan.
5. Using a stand or hand mixer, beat the goat cheese with the cream cheese, butter, egg, sugar, and vanilla extract until light and fluffy.
6. Drop dollops of the goat cheese mixture and raspberry jam on top of the brownie batter, then swirl through the batter with a knife. Be careful not to swirl too much!
7. Bake for 30 minutes or until just barely set. The top will be just turning light brown and the sides of the brownies will pull away from the pan. Let cool for at least 10 minutes before slicing.
According to the Kitchn, “the flavor and texture of these brownies really bloom when you let them rest overnight.” So try to make these the night before and resist eating them right away.