Chocolate cake with espresso buttercream

Monday, December 4, 2017

In August we became a family of four but it didn’t start out that way. For the longest time, I was very happy with just ONE child. Working in the ICU, I had witnessed first hand mothers dying from complications of pregnancy and childbirth. FEAR has a way of paralyzing you. It’s a powerful force that cemented my decision. Why risk it when we were already blessed with a healthy child! I felt like we had won the lottery with our first born. He is a sweet and easy going boy that brings us so much joy.

I was happy with our family set-up. Traveling was a breeze. We could fit neatly in one row on an airplane. It was easy to wrangle one rambunctious toddler with two parents. The past few years were challenging but we had finally found our rhythm so why upset the balance.

Everything was chugging along just the way I imagined until last June when we went out to celebrate Father’s Day. There was an elderly couple and their son sitting next to our table. The couple must have been in their 70s and their son in his 30s. They started dinner at about the same time as we did. For the duration of dinner their son was on his cell phone while his parents quietly conversed with each other. My husband noticed me tearing up and badgered me until I caved in and told him how upset I was seeing his parents neglected. His cell phone was the object of his affection instead of his father.  A part of me panicked thinking what if that was us and our son in the future!

Since that night, my thoughts drifted frequently back to that scene. Then I remembered how alone I felt when my mother was battling uterine cancer and breast cancer. I had no one to confide in or share my burden with. I pretended to be strong for my mom but inside I was terrified of losing one of the greatest loves of my life. A friend could lend me her ears but it’s not the same as having a sibling to lean on.  While there's no guarantee that siblings would get along or become close, we are optimistic that we can raise our kids to love one another and take care of each other.

Thanksgiving came around and I thought about the holidays being more fun if there were two kids running around. Double the noise.  Double the mess.  But double the joy.  For the first time in a long time, a little voice started whispering the idea of a second child. I began opening up to Vu. We went back and forth about the pros and cons of having another addition to our family. Let’s just say the list of cons was a lot longer than pros. Both of us are older and working on our careers. We have no help and the cost of childcare in this country is abhorrent. Whatever amount of free time and sleep that we enjoy now would become non-existent. And of course the cost of raising another child, an additional $250,000, not including college! 

I had never imagined that the decision to have a second child would be one of the hardest decisions of my life. Against all odds, we decided to go ahead because life decision can’t really be based on a table of pros and cons. Ultimately our heart tugging won and we didn’t want to be in our 50s thinking about what could have been. I had a small window of time to get pregnant and we both agreed to be at peace with whatever the outcome was.

As luck would have it or fate as some believe, we got pregnant in that small window of time and welcomed our second boy, Dillon, in August. From the moment we heard Dillon's heart beating on the ultrasound to his first cry when he made his debut in the OR, we fell in love again. Things have been really hard but we’re taking it one day at a time. For those parents out there who are struggling, we feel your pain.  
In retrospect, we would have been happy with one child, two, or none at all but now that we’re a family of four, we can’t imagine our life any other way. 

To celebrate us all making it to three months, I made a chocolate cake. I reserve cakes for special occasions and this is definitely one of them.

When I was pregnant, I had the worst heartburn and couldn’t have chocolate or coffee. Now that my body has somewhat recovered, I’m enjoying chocolate in all forms. This simple cake totally hits the spot but leaves you wanting more because of the espresso frosting. I don’t know about you but chocolate and coffee are a match made in foodie heaven. Our friends and coworkers really enjoyed this cake when we made it for birthdays and potlucks.  We couldn’t be more excited to share this special occasion and recipe with you.

Chocolate Celebration Cake

⅔ cup of semi sweet chocolate chips
1 stick of butter
½ cup of sugar
2 medium organic eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
¼ cup organic milk
¾ cup all purpose flour
2 tbsp cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt

Espresso buttercream

¾ cup of semi sweet chocolate chips
1 stick of butter
¾ cup icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp espresso
Chocolate shavings (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and line two 6 inch cake pans with baking paper.

2. Place the butter, sugar, and chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a small pan of simmering water and make sure not to let the bowl touch the water. Stir the mixture until everything is  melted and smooth. Remove from heat and set aside.

3. In a mixing bowl, sift flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

4. Transfer the chocolate mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment.

5. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

6. Add the vanilla and whisk to combine.

7. Fold in the flour mixture and whisk in the milk.

8. Divide the batter between two 6 inch cake pans, place them on the middle rack, and bake in the oven for 30-35 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

9. Cool the cake in the pan for 10 minutes then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

10. While the cake is cooling, make the buttercream. Place the chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over gently simmering water and don’t let the bowl touch the water. Stir the chocolate until melted and smooth. Stir in the espresso powder and vanilla extract. Remove from heat and set aside.

11. In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and icing sugar for 8-10 minutes until very thick and pale. Fold in the espresso chocolate mixture and whisk until well combined.

12. When ready to frost the cakes, use a serrated knife to level the cakes.  Place one layer on a cake pedestal. With an offset spatula, spread about ¼ cup of buttercream over the top.

13. Place the second layer on top of the buttercream, then spread the remaining frosting evenly on top and sides of the cake.

14. To make the chocolate shaving, use a vegetable peeler, scrape the blade lengthwise across the a block of room temperature chocolate. Top the cake and bottom of the cake with chocolate shavings.

1. For baking use good quality chocolate.
2. Make sure the cakes are cooled completely before you frost them or the frosting will melt.
3. The cake will keep in the refrigerator covered in plastic wrap for up to two days.

Cranberry and orange scones

Monday, November 27, 2017

Almost every Thanksgiving, I find myself with a lot of leftover cranberries. This stemmed from not making enough cranberry sauce one year and having to resort to canned cranberries which turned out terrible. Since then I always buy two bags of cranberries in case I have to make another batch of cranberry sauce on the fly. With my leftover cranberries, I would make cranberry and orange scones the following morning for out of town guests. 

These are not your typical dry, dense scones but more airy and moist. A drizzle of orange glaze adds a beautiful flavor to them.  Fresh cranberries make these scones a bit tart but a knob of butter and spoon of jam should mellow out the tartness.  They're perfect with a cup of coffee or tea.

Cranberry and orange scones
2 ½ cups of flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
¼ cup sugar
½ tsp salt

8 tbsps cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 cup fresh cranberries
Zest of 1 medium to large orange (reserve 1 tsp for the glaze)
1 cup of organic heavy cream and extra for brushing
2 cold, small organic eggs
1 tbsp sanding sugar

Orange glaze

1 tsp of orange zest
2 tbsps freshly squeezed orange juice
1 cup of icing sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. In a mixing bowl, whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

3. To make the dough, in a food processor, add the flour mixture and butter pieces and pulse about 10 times to combine.  Don't over process them.

4. Transfer the flour mixture back to the mixing bowl, add the cranberries and gently toss to coat.

5. In another mixing bowl, add heavy cream, egg, and orange zest and whisk to combine.

6. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture.  Pour the cream mixture into the well and use a wooden spoon to work the cream into the flour mixture, rotating the bowl and use a folding motion as you go, not a stirring motion.

7. When the dough begins to come together, use a spatula or your hands to gently work the dough into a ball. Add in one teaspoon of cream at a time if there’s a lot of loose flour in the bottom of the bowl until you fully incorporate them.

8. Transfer the dough onto a floured surface and gently pat it into a 7 to 8 inch circle. Use a chef knife to cut the circle into 8 wedges.

9. Place the scones on the lined baking sheet about 1 inch apart. Brush the top with cream and sprinkle with sanding sugar.

10. Place the sheet on the middle rack and bake for 10 minutes. Rotate the pan and bake for another 10-12 minutes until golden and a toothpick inserted into the center of a scone comes out clean.

10. Let the scones rest on the baking sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack.

11. To make the orange glaze, in a small bowl, whisk together orange juice, zest, and icing sugar until smooth.

12.When ready to serve, drizzle the glaze on the scones.

Notes: these scones are better eaten the day of or stored in an airtight container until the next day. Rewarm them in the oven if you plan on eating them the next day. You can also freeze the unbaked scones in the freezer for up to a month.

Fig and goat cheese tart with thyme and hazelnut

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Hey there! It’s been awhile since we posted a recipe. Life got a bit busy. Actually a LOT busy since we became a family of four in August. More on that later!

For now I want to share a fig recipe because it’s National Fig Week! If you’ve been following the blog for a while, you know how crazy I am about figs. I love figs in desserts and in a snack but once in a blue moon I love a savory fig dish. The sweetness of fig paired with the tang of goat cheese makes this tart a perfect light lunch. It is super easy to throw together because the recipe uses store bought puff pastry. These days we rely on quick meals to get us through the day with both of our boys keeping us super busy. You can enjoy the tart by itself or with a light salad of some peppery greens like watercress or arugula. Enjoy!

Fig and goat cheese tart with thyme and hazelnuts

About 10 oz of puff pastry
6 ripe figs
2 tbsps goat cheese
½ tsp thyme leaves
1 tbsp honey
2 tbsps toasted hazelnuts
Egg yolk for brushing
1 tsp sanding sugar
All purpose flour for dusting
Extra honey and thyme leaves for serving

1. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. Lightly dust a pastry board or work surface with flour and roll the pastry out into a 9x7 inch oval.

3. Carefully lift the pastry onto the baking sheet, taking care not to stretch the dough.

4. Leave a one inch border, prick the pastry with a fork, and pop it in the freezer for 15 minutes.

5. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

6. In a bowl, mix the goat cheese, honey, and thyme leaves together until well combined.

7. Slice the figs into circles.

8. Remove the puff pastry from the freezer.

9. Spread the goat cheese mixture over the pastry, leaving a one inch border around the edges.

10. Arrange the fig slices on top of the goat cheese.

11. Fold the edges of the puff pastry over the fig slices and press gently to seal.

12. Brush the edges with egg wash and sprinkle the sanding sugar over the edges.

13. Bake the tart in the middle rack for 20-25 minutes until the tart becomes light golden and juices start to run from the figs.

14. Remove from the oven and let it cool slightly before serving.

15. When ready to serve, sprinkle the toasted hazelnuts on top and garnish with additional thyme leaves and honey.

Cookbook Review: The Cottage Kitchen

Sunday, October 22, 2017

I was really looking forward to cooking from The Cottage Kitchen by Marte Forsberg because of her beautiful work as a photographer.  Given her Norwegian root, I was interested in her Norwegian recipes.  Her grandma’s caramel pudding was delicious and was similar to other flan or creme caramel that I had before.  I thought serving it with whipped cream was interesting but it definitely tasted better without it.  The Norwegian waffles turned out delicious but they were more on the dense side instead of light and airy.  The meatballs with parsnip and cardamom puree was the one recipe that really caught me by surprised.  The recipe used rolled oats and I don’t usually make meatballs with oats but I guess the concept is similar to using bread crumbs.  The parsnip and cardamom puree was so flavorful and I would want to have this with meatballs instead of the regular mashed potato.  Her mother’s recipe for pancakes which reminded me of crepes.  I ate them with blueberries and they tasted kind of bland so the next time I had them with a strawberry jam which turned out more flavorful.  Overall this is a beautiful book but it lacked the deeply rooted Norwegian recipes that I was hoping to try.  The Nordic Cookbook or Fire and Ice would be a better choice if one was interested in Nordic cuisine.   

*I received this book to review complementary of the publisher     

Cookbook Review: Cherry Bombe Cookbook

Sunday, October 8, 2017

I was excited to review the Cherry Bombe Cookbook given the preface that all the recipes are contributed by some of the most interesting chefs, bakers, food stylists, pastry chefs, and creatives on the food scene today.  Having not read the magazine, I had no preconceived notions of the cookbook.  The book includes 100 recipes from 100 contributors and I only recognized a handful of the names like Jeni Britton Bauer, Melissa Clark, Jessica Koslow, Padma Lakshmi, Elisabeth Prueitt, Chrissy Teigen, Molly Yeh, and Aran Goyoaga.  

The cookbook is very straightforward in term of recipes but I wish there was a bit more information as to why these women are at the top of their games.  I wanted to know more about their stories and why these recipes are so meaningful to them rather than just a snippet about the recipe.  With regard to the recipes, the beet ricotta dumplings really stood out so I tried it first.  They were light and pillowy as promised and so tasty.  Another recipe that I really liked was the easy crab roll with avocado.  I didn’t have any hot dog buns but brioche bread which turned out really good.  The last recipe that I attempted was the red cabbage salad with sesame anchovy dressing which was my least favorite recipe.  I liked the salad dressing minus the anchovy.  Overall I really enjoyed the Cherry Bombe Cookbook and learning about these inspiring women and can’t wait to try more recipes from it.       

*I received this book to review complementary of the publisher        

Cookbook Review: The Essential Insta Pot Cookbook

Monday, October 2, 2017

I received The Essential Instant Pot Cookbook from the publisher to review but I have to preface this review that I do not own an Instant Pot and can only comment on the recipes but not the result of the recipes.  With seven chapters of recipes, there’s plenty to try from the breakfast, beans and grains, soups and chillis, beef and pork, poultry, vegetables and side dishes, and desserts.  

From the breakfast section, the lemon-poppy seed breakfast cake jumped out at me because I wouldn’t have thought it was possible to make cake this way.  Recipes that I thought were fillers include hard boiled eggs, omelette, oatmeal, and porridge.  The beans and grains section didn’t have that many interesting recipes except to cook risotto using an Insta Pot would be a huge time saver instead of standing by the stove stirring and babysitting the risotto.  The soup section was also pretty meh. The meat chapters definitely had more appetizing recipes like the arroz con pollo, dijon chicken and wild rice pilaf, pomegranate walnut chicken, and Korean braised short ribs.  My favorite chapter from the book would be dessert.  I’m fascinated that one can make cake in this particular fashion.  The carrot cake and Meyer lemon ricotta cheesecake recipes would be fun to try.  Overall this book has many gorgeous photographs with well written instruction but not that many recipes that really stood out.  
*I received this book to review complementary of the publisher           

Crepes with strawberries and mascarpone

Monday, August 14, 2017

I was always fascinated with crepes but never attempted to make it at home until our honeymoon in Paris. Everywhere we walked there was a crepe stand around the corner. We saved a lot of money and time grabbing crepes for breakfast and lunch on the way to the museums or sightseeing and splurged on dinner. My husband gravitated toward the savory ones while my sweet tooth always won.

Since our honeymoon eons ago, we love alternating crepes for breakfast with our other French favorite, French toast. Continuing our obsession with strawberries and basil from a tart that we shared a while back, we decided to bring these flavors together for the filling of our crepes. This breakfast is perfect for summer when strawberries are at their peak season but you can replace the strawberries with stone fruits like cherries, peaches, and plums. Even though this recipe seems a bit involved, it’s quite simple and anyone can make it!

Crepes with strawberries and mascarpone

½ cup all purpose flour
¾ cup organic milk
½ cup organic heavy cream
½ tbsp sugar
Pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 organic egg
Melted unsalted butter

Mascarpone creme

¼ cup mascarpone
¼ cup organic heavy cream
1 tbsp honey and extra for serving
½ tsp vanilla bean past
1 pint of fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced
2 tbsps baby basil leaves

1. In a mixing bowl, whisk flour, milk, cream, sugar, salt, vanilla extract, and egg until smooth. Leave the batter in the fridge for 30 minutes to rest (you can also keep it refrigerated overnight if you wish to prepare it for the next day).

2. Brush a nonstick 8 inch crepe pan or skillet with melted butter and heat over medium-high heat.

3. When hot, ladle about ¼ cup of batter and swirl the pan/skillet so that the batter coats the base evenly.

4. Cook for 1-2 minutes until golden, then flip and cook for another minute on the other side until pale golden.

5. Remove the crepe from the pan, place on baking sheet, cover, and keep warm with a clean tea towel. Repeat the process with the remaining batter.

6. Whisk the mascarpone, heavy cream, vanilla, and honey until well combined.

7. Divide the crepes among serving plates, spread with mascarpone cream, extra honey, and basil leaves.

8. You can store leftover crepes in the freezer and rewarm when ready to serve.