Friday, January 29, 2010

Blondies with Chocolate, Dates, and Shredded Coconut

When it comes to food, I have no self control. I want I want I want. And then I want some more.

I've got a weak spot for uber rich desserts. The richer the better. Sometimes I hear people talk about a dessert, claiming it is so rich that they can only have a few bites. I could probably eat a whopping platter of the stuff.

Did you know that cats/felines cannot detect "sweet?" Yep, that's right. They do not have the T1R2 taste receptor that is one of the components of sweet. No wonder cats and I don't click (just kidding...maybe).

Today I made some sweet blondies for my favorite blondie's birthday. I added a mixture of chocolate chips, shredded coconut, and chopped dates to the batter. The dates and chocolate chips packed quite the sweet punch, and (gasp) I may have erred on the side of too sweet. If I just add a touch less sugar next time, no one would know, and the natural sweetness of the dates could really shine.

You ask me, "What is the difference between a blondie and a brownie?" According to cakespy,
"Generally, a blondie is accepted as a type of brownie--but not so much a brownie flavor, more like an identical cousin. An identical, albino cousin. Generally, it uses vanilla or butterscotch base instead of chocolate, and thus has a lighter hue which gives it its name. In our opinion, the finest blondies will have a texture (though not taste) halfway between a cakey and a fudgy brownie: that is to say, delightfully chewy, rich, and dense."

These blondies are super easy to throw together and you can choose whatever add-ins suit your fancy. Bourbon, walnut, and chocolate is another favorite combination of mine (just add an extra tablespoon of flour to soak up some of the bourbon). I must confess, however, that I made a minor mistake in the process. I was supposed to melt the butter but intsead I just used softened butter and creamed it together with the brown sugar. I'm assuming that my batch came out more like a cookie than a fudgey cakey texture, but either way these blondies are bomb!

Oh, and I may have purposely under-baked these, just a tad.

Fresh and hot out of the oven, the melty oozing chocolate just kills me.

Blondies with Chocolate, Dates, and Shredded Coconut
adapted from SmittenKitchen

1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted
1 cup brown sugar NOTE: If using dates, I might cut my brown sugar down by a few tablespoons.
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
A pinch of salt
1 cup flour

3/4 or 1 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup shredded coconut
3/4 to 1 cup chopped dates

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 8 by 8 inch baking pan.
2. Melt the butter and let cool slightly. Mix it with the brown sugar until smooth.
3. Add the egg, then the vanilla and salt.
4. Stir in the flour.
5. Add in the chocolate, coconut, and dates or any additions of your choice.
6. Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 20-25 minutes until set in the middle (Although a tad gooey is a-okay in my book).

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Meet my Dogs: Finnegan, Penny, Molly

Meet Finnegan. We call him Finn. Finn is the sweetest dog you will ever meet and maybe the laziest, too. Finn looooooves to lick.

He especially loves to lick sweaty feet and floors. He will just lick and lick and lick, making some pretty grotesque noises as he licks. If ever something happens to drop onto the floor, Finn will be there to lick it up. He knows the smell of peanut butter. Immediately he starts crying if a jar of pb is nearby. He also really likes to stand in front of the warm oven just when I need to open it. But how could I possibly get mad at him for being under my feet and in my way all of the time? He is just so darn loveable. All he wants is love. And when he sleeps, he sticks his tongue out. It's precious.

Meet Penny. Her name is Penny Lang. She is the color of a penny. Oh, Penny, you have so many different personalities. You have jumped through about 4 windows, you have eaten raw scones straight from the cookie sheet, you have gone through a few Prozac treatments, you are just insane. Insane, but so cute, so so so so so so cute. The best part of your day is when we load the dishwasher.

You just can't wait to lick all of the forks and plates and bowls as they go on in (don't worry, we do run the dishwasher after she helps us lick our plates clean). Some of my friends are scared to death of you, others just love you to death.

Meet Molly. Look, she is smiling! What a beaut! Check out them eyebrows. Molly, you have fallen in the pool, you have gotten stuck in between a gate, you will not stop following my mom everywhere she goes. Molly has been known to pick up some nasty treats on her walks, example: small animals, feces...Molly is a fighter, she had some tough kidney stones to deal with, but she came out stronger and healthier than ever. You go girl!

I love these dogs.

Celery Root and Apple Puree

There's nothing better on a chilly winter day than some warm, soft, mushy comfort food. This celery root and apple puree is a nice alternative to the classic creamy mashed potato dish (although them creamy mashed potatoes are mighty good!).

The recipe comes from Ina Garten's Back to Basics cookbook. Everything that I have made from this book has come out superb: brownie pudding amazingness, baked sweet potato fries, confetti corn salad, mustard roasted fish, spanikopita...and I've been eyeing and oogling over the all of the soups in this book.

I think I could eat bowls and bowls of this stuff! I love the zingyness of the apples, the fresh taste of the fennel and celery root, and the smoothness of the potato. The whole house will smell like a warm bowl of heaven.

Just before serving, garnish the dish with some fennel fronds and a sprinkle of sea salt to wow your fellow eaters.

Celery Root and Apple Puree
from Ina Garten's Back to Basics

serves 6-8

1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup large-diced fennel bulb, tops and core removed
2 pounds celery root, peeled and 3/4 inch diced (I used 2 celery roots)
8 ounces Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and 3/4 inch diced
3 Golden Delicious apples (I used one Granny Smith in replace of 1 of the Golden Delicious), peeled, cored, and 3/4 inch diced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup good apple cider
1/4 cup heavy cream (I just used low fat milk and was very satisfied)

1. Melt the butter over medium heat in a shallow stock pot or large saute pan. Add the fennel, celery root, potatoes, apples, 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper. Saute the vegetables, stirring occasionally, until they begin to soften, about 4 to 5 minutes (I had to use two pans because all of my veggies would not fit).

2. Add the cider and tightly cover the pot. Simmer over low heat for 30 to 40 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are very soft. If the vegetables begin to burn or seem dry, add another few tablespoons of apple cider or some water.

3. When the vegetables are cooked, add the cream (or milk) and cook for 1 more minute.

4. Transfer the mixture to a food mill fitted with the coarsest blade and process (or you can use a food processor for smoother texture). Taste for salt and pepper and return to the pot to keep warm.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Epitome of Cookie- Big, Soft, Chewy, Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

When I'm craving a cookie, I'm craving a damn good cookie. A big, soft, chewy cookie with lots of chocolate chips, or lots of raisins, or lots of walnuts. LOTS. I feel cheated if there are only 2 or 3 chocolate chips floating among a sea of dough. No, there must be an abundance. After all, picking out the choco chips/raisins/nuts/etc. is the best part about eating the cookie (next to a tall glass of milk)!

These oatmeal raisin cookies are the epitome of good cookie for me. The oats provide so much texture and there are soo soo soo many raisins/choco chips. I absolutely looove walnuts with this mixture, too.

Today I went cookie crazy and made some homemade oreos, too.

So, whose ready for some cookies?

The Epitome of Cookie- Big, Soft, Chewy, Oatmeal Raisin Cookies
recipe from the one and only SmittenKitchen

makes about 18 cookies

1/2 cup butter, softened
2/3 cup brown sugar, packed
1 egg
1/2 t. vanilla
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. salt
1 1/2 cup rolled oats
3/4 cup raisins
1/2 cup walnuts
1/2 cup chocolate chips (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Cream together butter and sugar. Add the egg and vanilla.

3. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Add this to the butter mixture.

4. Stir in the oats, raisins, nuts, and if using, the chocolate chips. Either scoop onto a parchment lined cookie sheet and freeze for 25 minutes (or until it gets semi-hard/cold), or just freeze the dough for 25 minutes and then scoop it out onto a cookie sheet (Deb from SmittenKitchen finds that the cookie will be thicker when baked from the cold. I trust her.).

5. Bake it straight from the freezer for about 12 minutes. The edges should be golden and the tops should look slightly undercooked. Let them cool and enjoy!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Thumbprint Cookies

Today I woke up when it was pitch black, the wind was howling, and pouring sheets of rain managed to break my umbrella. As my day progressed, I sat down on a chair and some sharp object of destruction crept up on me and ripped a hole in the derriere of my jeans. Later, I sloshed through a grove of wet, sticky mud which managed to get all over my rain boots (at least this can wash off).

I walked home up a bazillion steep hills while carrying 3 huge textbooks, a messenger bag, an extra coat, and a wet, broken umbrella. After shoving mounds of chocolate chips down my throat and collapsing onto my cushiony desk chair in my warm house, I feel slightly better. Slightly.

Thumbprint cookies. Reminiscing about these thumbprint cookies makes me feel a bit better, too. I made these back down in sunny Los Angeles just before I drove back up to rainy Berkeley. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely LOVE being back in Berkeley, I could not be happier, but today is just one of those days.

Whether it is sunny or rainy, snowy or hail-y, these cookies with hit the spot.

When making thumbprint cookies, you literally push your thumb into the ball of dough, making a small indent that cannot wait to be filled with goodness!

And guess what? This dough is exactly the same dough that I used to make my apple tart! It's like when you see a spread in a magazine where the same skirt or jacket can be worn for work, weekend, and a night-out-on-the-town. Crazy, I know, but true. Even though I used the same dough recipe, I can really taste a harder, crumblier tart shell crust in my apple tart and a softer, chewier, cakier cookie dough in the thumbrpint cookies. Isn't it amazing how different the same thing can turn out when paired with something new?!

And the best part? I get to fill these babies with anything I want! Not only have I been on a Meyer lemon kick lately, but Nutella is now my new obsession. So, I chose to do variety of fillings--Meyer lemon curd (homemade of course), Nutella (the store-bought kind of course), and I threw in some fig/walnut jam as well as some strawberry jam. Mmmm mmm mmm now I can have one of each because of course, I must taste them all!

And look, this Nutella one came out looking like a little Hershey's kiss, cute!

Thumbprint Cookies
(NOTE: this is the same "Sweet Tart Dough" used to make my apple tart)

makes about 30 cookies

Beat together until creamy:
8 Tablespoons (1 stick)
1/3 cup sugar

Add and mix until completely combined:
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg yolk

1 1/4 cups all-purpose unbleached flour

Mix well, stirring and folding, until there are no dry patches. Chill for a bit, maybe 3o minutes to an hour.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Take your dough out of the refrigerator and roll into little balls about the size of a large walnut in its shell (1-inch?). Fill a shallow bowl or plate with about 1/2 a cup of:
granulated sugar

Roll each ball into the sugar.

Press your thumb gently into the top of each ball until a small indent forms. Bake for 12 minutes, remove from the oven, and fill the indents with:
lemon curd
jam (If using Nutella or chocolate kisses, wait)

Bake for another 5 minutes, or until light and golden. Let them cool. Now you can fill them with:
Nutella (I just plopped some in with a spoon)
Hershey's kisses

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Meyer Lemon Yogurt Cake

Pucker up and get ready for some Meyer lemon madness. I've been busy with Meyer lemon yogurt cake, thumbprint cookies filled with Meyer lemon curd, Meyer lemon sorbet, and Meyer lemon marmalade => I think I'm in love.

According to Alice Waters' book Chez Panisse Fruit, Meyer lemons "...are sweeter than other lemons, and...a hybrid of lemons and mandarins...they are juicier and their skin is more tender (than other lemons)..."

These lemons have super soft and smooth skin, my cheek yearns to nuzzle with one!

What I love about this Meyer lemon yogurt cake is how moist and wholesome it tastes. Just let the cake sit and linger on your tongue for a few seconds, you'll see how it makes you want to close your eyes and sway from side to side. Four of us finished more than half of the loaf in one sitting. This is good stuff!

If you've got an overabundance of Meyer lemons, check out this website for some tantilizing Meyer lemon recipes.

AND...if you're feelin' frisky, this yogurt cake also likes the addition of berries or poppyseeds!

Meyer Lemon Yogurt Cake
recipe adapted from Ina Garten

makes 1 loaf pan's worth of cake

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1 cup plain yogurt (I used non-fat)
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
2 t. Meyer lemon zest (from 2 lemons)
1/2 t. vanilla
1/2 cup vegetable oil

1/3 cup lemon juice
~1/3 cup sugar (I used a little less than 1/3 cup)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a loaf pan and line with parchment and then grease and flour the pan.

2. Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt.

3. In a separate bowl, whisk together yogurt, sugar, eggs, zest, and vanilla.

4. Mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Fold in the vegetable oil.

5. Bake for 50 minutes.

6. While the cake bakes, cook your lemon juice with your sugar until the sugar dissolves and the mixture runs clear. Pour it over the cake.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

African G-nut (aka Peanut) Stew

Bored of your regular cooking repertoire? Tired of cooking/eating the same thing all the time? Need ideas for a healthy, hearty vegetarian dinner that comes together in just minutes? Let's take a little journey to Africa shall we?

Here is a stew that is so hearty and filling and stick-to-your-stomach good (and good for you, too!). In Africa, peanuts (or “g-nuts,” short for groundnuts) are featured in many meals. Today I have paired the nut with a sweet potato, carrot, onion, green bell pepper, and garbanzo bean stew. You can add whatever vegetables and beans and other goodies that you like--eggplant, peas, tomato, spinach, cauliflower, chilies, pineapple, tofu (or chicken or lamb).

I made some cornbread and sliced up cucumbers to go along with the stew, but it would also be lovely served over rice.

What I love about this stew is that it can be made for one or a few people or multiplied and made for a large crowd. This definitely makes my comfort food list...warm, mushy, hearty stew, and makes great leftovers, too.

Another dish that I like to make is this "G-nut Special Sauce and Sweet Potatoes" from Vegetarian Times Magazine. I have made this dish over and over and just love it!

African G-nut (aka Peanut) Stew
based on the recipe from blogger Field to Feast

serves 4

2 Tablespoons vegetable or canola oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large leek, white part only, cleaned and sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon of fresh ginger, grated
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 medium sweet potatoes, diced
1 carrot, diced
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 cups veggie broth
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 15-oz can of garbanzo beans
1/2 cup peanut butter
cilantro or parsley, for garnish

1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, leek, garlic and ginger and cook for 5 minutes. Stir in the ground cumin and ground coriander and cook for 1 minute. Add the sweet potatoes and carrot and cook, stirring occasionally, for another 5 minutes.

2. Add the salt, vegetable broth, green pepper and garbanzo beans. Bring the stew to a boil, then cover and reduce to a simmer. Cook for 8-10 minutes, or until the sweet potato and carrot are soft. Mix in the peanut butter and cook for a final 5 minutes. If you want a thinner or thicker stew, you can add more peanut butter or, alternatively, more broth.

3. Serve the stew hot, with the toasted peanuts and cilantro or parsley as a garnish.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Nutella-Stuffed French Toast

Nutella-Stuffed French Toast. Do you see it? Do you see the oozing chocolate hazelnut spread? Do you see how perfectly golden the rustic Italian-style bread becomes when I dip it in an egg/milk/vanilla/cinnamon batter and cook it on the skillet? Do you see how the dusting of powdered sugar gives this 'twist on a classic breakfast' that finishing touch? People, this is Nutella-Stuffed French Toast. Can breakfast really get any better than this?

Nutella-Stuffed French Toast
inspired by World Nutella Day

-Bread (challah bread, sourdough, brioche, cinnamon raisin bread, regular sandwich bread...)

-1 egg
-milk (I just eyeballed it, maybe it was about 1/2 to 3/4 cup?)
-a pinch of salt
-a dash of vanilla

-butter or earth balance spread

-powdered sugar

1. Take one slice bread and spread it fairly generously with Nutella. Take the other slice of bread and spread with a thin layer of jam, I like to use raspberry jam. Press the two slices of bread together like a sandwich.

2. Using a fork, whisk together your egg, milk, salt, cinnamon, and vanilla. Dip your sandwich into the batter on both sides.

3. Heat a skillet and place a bit of butter in the pan. Fry your sandwich until gorgeous and golden on each side (aka about 1-2 minutes per side?).

4. Dust with powdered sugar and enjoy with fresh fruit and a tall glass of milk (or milky coffee...yum!).

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Warm Tortilla with Cheese and Egg

Oh brother. How I spoil you.

You are my little experiment. I like to test my recipes and make you eat them. Not so bad, right?

I made you the most rockin' lunch today and you know it. It starts with a warmed tortilla, topped with cheese and a fried egg. I threw together some tomato, avocado, and red onion and splashed it with lemon juice, salt/pepper, and a sprinkle of cayenne. A dash of some hot sauce and boy are you set! The warm, slightly browned and crunchy yet soft tortilla is out of this world! Cheesy? You betcha. Eggy? Uhhuh. Colorful? Duh.

Yes, there is a bit o' butter and cheese and egg, but you get your protein, your whole grain carbs, and your vegetable/fruit serving. It fills you up and tastes so so so finger lickin' good. You can eat this like a pizza or cut into bite-size pieces. Warning: It can get messy!

Warm Tortilla with Cheese and Egg

tortilla (I used a whole wheat tortilla)
a bit o' butter
salt and pepper
salsa or hot sauce

red onion
lemon juice
salt and pepper
cayenne pepper

1. Spread the tortilla with a bit o' butter on both sides. Heat a non-stick skillet to med-high heat. Place your tortilla on the skillet and cook for about 1-2 minutes or until browned. Flip and cook the other side. Take it off the heat and put some cheese over it. Keep in a warmed oven while you make your egg.

2. Fry your egg, scramble your egg, cook your egg sunny-side up, over-easy, poached, whatever way you like.

3. Place the egg atop your tortilla and cheese and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

4. For your "salsa," chop up your tomato, red onion, and avocado, sprinkle with salt pepper and a dash of cayenne and squeeze some lemon juice over.


Sunday, January 3, 2010

Chicken Marbella

Chicken Marbella. A classic dish from the Silver Palate Cookbook, definitely one of my favorite go-to references for a good ol' American meal.

Whether you are a chicken novice or a chicken expert, you simply cannot go wrong with Chicken Marbella. Marinated overnight (or for a few hours) with olives, prunes, capers, oregano, Bay leaves, garlic, olive oil, and red wine vinegar, the chicken soaks up all of the sweet, salty, herby flavors. And the best part? Right before you bake the chicken, you sprinkle with brown sugar and pour a dry white wine all over and around the bird. Bellissimo!

My mom is the queen of making dry chicken, so it will always be my goal to NOT make dry chicken. Whatever it takes, as long as the bird is under my watch, it must not be dry.

One trick that I learned to prevent drying out the chicken is to first pound out your breasts. This helps to tenderize the meat and also keeps the pieces the same width all around so they cook evenly. Another key to prevent your chicken from being dry is to find a good marinade and to marinate overnight. Your chicken and your marinade must get to know each other very well if you want them to cooperate.

I like to serve this chicken with a nice grain--rice, cous cous, risotto, quinoa, barely..., some sort of roasted veggie assortment or sauteed spinach, and fresh bread (check out my challah bread!). This chicken also goes very well with my hearty grain soup with beans and greens.

I just love this marinade, and you can often spot me dipping my bread in the juices, sopping up as much of the sweet but savory and winey juices as I can! And substitutions are definitely a-okay here: think artichoke hearts instead of capers, figs instead of prunes, basil and parsley instead of oregano...I have also made a vegan/vegetarian version using tofu instead of chicken. With tofu, it is especially important to marinade overnight to bring out the best flavor possible.

Chicken Marbella
from the Silver Palate Cookbook


  • 2 chickens, 2 1/2 lbs each, quartered, bone-in, skin-on (If you are lazy like my fam., just buy the individual pieces: breasts, thighs, whatever you like. Or, you can be way cooler and more economical than me and butcher your chicken.)
  • 1/2 head of garlic, peeled and finely purĂ©ed (sometimes I just mince the garlic)
  • 2 Tbsp dried oregano
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup pitted prunes
  • 1/4 cup pitted Spanish green olives
  • 1/4 cup capers with a bit of juice
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 2 Tbsp fresh Italian parsley or cilantro, finely chopped


1 (Optional: Pound your chicken breasts to a nice even consistency) In a large bowl combine garlic, oregano, salt and pepper to taste, vinegar, olive oil, prunes, olives, capers with caper juice, and bay leaves. Add the chicken pieces and coat completely with the marinade. Cover and let marinate, refrigerated, several hours or overnight.

2 Preheat oven to 350°F.

3 Arrange chicken in a single layer in one or two large, shallow baking pans and spoon marinade over it evenly. Sprinkle chicken pieces with brown sugar and pour white wine around them.

4 Bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour, basting frequently with the pan juices (I check it about every 20 minutes, but I'm kind of obesessive). The chicken is done when thigh pieces, pricked with a fork at their thickest point, yield clear yellow juice (not pink).

5 With a slotted spoon, transfer chicken, prunes, olives, and capers to a serving platter. Add some of the pan juices and sprinkle generously with parsley or cilantro. Serve remaining juice in a gravy boat.

Serves 5.

Brunch Brunch Brunch!!

January in Los Angeles—warm, sunny, perfect. January 3rd, the Beckerman family could not have asked for a more perfect day to gather friends and family together for a booming brunch in honor of the birth of baby Mika.

Check out these gorgeous flowers!

And no brunch can be complete without some bubbling mimosas!

Bagels, of course.

Cheese soufflé. Wow. Enough said.

A lovely and light salad: spicy arugula, slivered pears, pine nuts, goat cheese.

There were so many people and so much food it was ridiculous (This is why I wear dresses, people. I can just let it all hang out and no one has to know!).

My job? Pastries, of course. I prepared a selection of homemade croissants, meyer lemon and fresh cranberry scones a la SmittenKitchen, and two choices of mini muffins, browned butter blueberry crumb and buttermilk meyer lemon poppy seed:

Brunch is always a winner in my eyes-- tons of salads, cheeses, breads, and munchies, and lets not forget pastries, fruit, coffee, drinks, and dessert. Go on and invite your friends over for brunch! Make it a potluck and have each guest bring their best dish. Then sit back, schmooz, and soak up the sun (or if you are somewhere where it actually gets cold, then well, stay inside and warm your tootsies!).

P.S. If you have dogs (or any pets), make sure that you keep your pastries up where they cannot reach. Penny the dog snatched a raw scone off one of the cookie sheets. Sneaky sneaky. I guess that was partly my fault for leaving the tray on a chair. This must mean that she approves of my baking, right? Or that she will eat anything in sight. Actually, her favorite is licking the dirty dishes in the dishwasher. Mmmm.