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.

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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.

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.

Dinner Partying it up – Japchae (Korean glass noodles)

Inspired by all these beautiful recipes I’ve seen on some of my favorite blogs, I decided to try to make some of them and throw a dinner party. For some reason, I have an inclination to cook Asian dishes more than other cuisines. So, on the menu were mostly Asian or Asian-inspired dishes: japchae (Korean glass noodles), chicken fried rice, mirin and honey sweet potatoes, bean sprout kimchi, pickled vegetables, and stuffed peppers with Thai curried rice.

I had originally planned to make a few more dishes, including miso glazed cod. However, halfway through making dinner, I realized I had definitely bit off more than I could chew. So I decided to save those for another dinner party and serve the dishes I was really dying to make, specifically japchae, which turned out to be the star of the dinner.

Korean cuisine is probably my favorite. I love it so much that I can never refuse an invitation to eat Korean BBQ or go to a Korean restaurant. However, it can be a bit pricey and I’ve recently realized that many Korean dishes are fairly easy, especially japchae. After hearing one of my friends proclaim her love for the noodle dish too, I decided that I had to give it a shot and make them for her.

The recipe is basically a stir-fry of sweet potato noodles and vegetables. Usually, beef is included, but since I didn’t have any at hand, I left it out. For my veggies, I used onions, carrots, shiitake mushrooms, bell pepper, zucchini, and spinach. But I’m sure you can use whatever vegetables you like. I didn’t actually follow the recipe that closely. Like I’ve said before, I like to play it by ear when it comes to cooking. So I don’t actually know how much of the ingredients I used. I just eyeballed it and put in however much looked right to me. Also, I was a little surprised to see that the sauce was only soy sauce with sugar. How can you get more simple than that for something so delicious?

My friends loved the japchae! As we ate, they gave so many compliments that I felt a bit silly accepting them, since the dish was so easy. This is definitely a dish that I will make again and again, and so should you! Not only is it super easy and straightforward, but also super delicious (and tastes just like japchae ordered from a Korean restaurant)! Now that I can make it myself, I will probably never order japchae at a restaurant again.

That’s one of the things I love the most about cooking (and baking) – it gives you the ability to be self-reliant and self-sufficient. Because you learn how to make things yourself, you no longer have to rely on other people to make it for you. It’s similar to that old adage: “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime.” Learning how to cook a dish will literally enable you to feed yourself for a lifetime.

Japchae (Korean Glass Noodles)
Adapted from Steamy Kitchen

1/2 pound dried Korean sweet potato noodles (I just used the whole bag)
2 1/2 teaspoons sesame oil, divided
1 tablespoon oil
3/4 cup thinly sliced onions (I used half an onion)
2 carrots, cut into matchsticks
2 cloves garlic, finely minced (I forgot this! whoops!)
3 stalks green onions, cut into 1″ lengths (I only added one stalk)
1/2 cup mushrooms, thinly sliced shiitake (I used a small bag of dried shiitake)
1/2 lb spinach, washed well and drained (I don’t think I used this much…)
2 tablespoons soy sauce (I tripled this)
2 teaspoons sugar (I tripled this)
1 tablespoon sesame seeds

Fill a large pot with water and boil. When water is boiling, add the noodles and cook for 5 minutes. Immediately drain and rinse with cold water. Drain again and toss with only 1 tsp of the sesame oil. Use kitchen shears to cut noodles into shorter pieces, about 8 inches in length. Set aside.

In bowl, mix soy sauce & sugar together. Add the cooking oil in a wok or large saute pan on high heat and swirl to coat. When the cooking oil is hot but not smoking, fry onions and carrots, until just softened, about 1 minute. Add the garlic, green onions and mushrooms, fry 30 seconds. Then add the spinach, soy sauce, sugar and the noodles. Fry 2-3 minutes until the noodles are cooked through. Turn off heat, toss with sesame seeds and the remaining 1 1/2 tsp of sesame oil. Enjoy!