January 13, 2011

French Almond-Pear Tart

I know, a bit late -- but happy 2011!!

While new beginnings and fresh starts are always lovely, I'll skip the whole "new year" cliche and get straight to business. I mean, resolutions schmootions...who has time for those things anyway? ;) Between 8 weddings and trips to LAS/SAN/HKG/DPS/NYC/ORD/YVR already on the books for this year, we're basically just focused on keeping our day jobs and staying sane. Besides, do you really want to hear all 20 of my titillating resolutions??

#1, be more patient
#2, wear sunscreen every day
#3, don't be afraid to speak up more often
#4, try to eat more vegetables
#5, learn how to drive stick shift
#6, ......

Just kidding.

Anyway, one resolution -- errrrr, goal -- for this year was to make one of those beautifully magnificent tarts that you always see in the window shops of French bakeries and patisseries. Simple, elegant and utterly satisfying, they never seem to disappoint in both appearance and taste (funny how that works, huh).

This one is no exception. The crust is perfectly crumbly, buttery and sweet -- like a shortbread cookie. And the pears, which are poached in sugar syrup laced with lemon and cinnamon sticks, yield a delightfully delicate and mild fruit flavor. The best part, however, lies in the almond cream. I've always loved frangipane, but this one is especially nutty, soft and rich.

Dang you, French people, for making me lose resolution #12: no second helpings of dessert! I guess while we're at it, no point in trying to keep the rest of my resolutions either...right? :D

French Pear Tart
Recipe from Dorie Greenspan

Sweet Tart Dough
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick plus 1 tablespoon (4 1/2 ounces) very cold (or frozen) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg yolk

Put the flour, confectioners' sugar and salt in the workbowl of a food processor and pulse a couple of times to combine. Scatter the pieces of butter over the dry ingredients and pulse until the butter is cut in coarsely - you'll have pieces the size of oatmeal flakes and pea-size pieces and that's just fine. Stir the egg, just to break it up, and add it a little at a time, pulsing after each addition. When the egg is in, process in long pulses - about 10 seconds each - until the dough, which will look granular soon after the egg is added, forms clumps and curds. Just before your reaches this clumpy stage, the sound of the machine working the dough will change - heads up. Press lightly into the tart pan.

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Butter the shiny side of a piece of aluminum foil and fit the foil tightly against the crust. Bake the crust 25 minutes, then carefully remove the foil. If the crust has puffed, press it down gently with the back of a spoon. Bake for another 3 to 5 minutes, then transfer the crust to a cooling rack; keep it in its pan.

Almond Cream
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
3/4 cup ground blanched almonds
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 large egg
2 teaspoons dark rum or 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Put the butter and sugar in the workbowl of a food processor and process until the mixture is smooth and satiny. Add the ground almonds and continue to process until well blended. Add the flour and cornstarch, process, and then add the egg. Process for about 15 seconds more, or until the almond cream is homogeneous. Add the rum or vanilla and process just to blend. If you prefer, you can make the cream in a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment or in a bowl with a rubber spatula. In either case, the ingredients are added in the same order. Scrape the almond cream into a container and either use it immediately or refrigerate it until firm, about 2 hours.

Poached Pears
3 medium pears, firm
1 lemon
4 cups water
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 stick cinnamon (optional)

Peel the pears, leaving them whole. Bring the 4 cups water, the 1 1/4 cups sugar, the juice of the lemon, and the cinnamon stick to a boil in a saucepan just large enough to hold the pears. Add the pears to the boiling syrup, lower the heat so the syrup simmers and gently poach the pears until they are tender when pierced with a knife, about 15 minutes. Cool the pears to room temperature in the syrup.

Assemble & Bake
Center a rack in the oven and lower the oven to 350 degrees F. Cut the pears in half (from blossom to stem) and core them. Make sure to pat them dry - really dry - so that their liquid won't keep the almond cream from baking. Fill the baked crust with the almond cream, spreading it even with an offset metal icing spatula. Thinly slice each pear half crosswise, lift each half on a spatula, press down on the pear to fan it slightly and place it over the almond cream.

Put the crust on a lined baking sheet, slide the sheet into the oven and bake the tart 50 to 60 minutes, or until the almond cream puffs up around the pears and browns. Transfer the tart to a rack to cool to just warm or to room temperature before unmolding. Right before serving, dust the tart with confectioners' sugar.

Continue reading for recipe...

December 31, 2010

Pumpkin Belgian Waffles

Well, that was fun :)

I'm talking about the most glorious time of the year: holiday parties, peppermint-flavored everything, Christmas lights and shopping, family gatherings, gluttonous "let loose - it's the holidays!" type of dinners (my favorite), out-of-town visitors and Napa excursions, and THREE separate pumpkin waffle brunches.

Wait, did you just catch that? Three back-to-back brunches of pumpkin waffles?? Yeah, apparently there's no such thing as variety in the Choi household. But hey, I'm a firm believer that if you've found something that works...keep it coming! :)

Not only do these waffles work -- but they've been tested to perfection (90+ times!) via this blog. That's right, an entire blog dedicated to pumpkin waffles...ummmmm, who's the obsessed one now? Anyway, this recipe yields a wonderfully spicy waffle with a bold pumpkin flavor. Depending on how you cook them, they can turn out either light and crispy [less batter with a longer cooking time] or a bit thicker and chewier [more batter with a shorter cooking time]. I prefer the former, but both versions are pretty tasty.

Although our pumpkin intake was just a teensy bit overkill this Christmas season, I think we've discovered a new annual (pumpkin) tradition. And the best thing about traditions is that they're frequented often :D

Hope everyone had a great holiday...2011, here we come!

The Ultimate Pumpkin Waffle
Recipe from PumpkinWaffles

1/4 cup light brown sugar
3 Tbsp. cornstarch
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 3/4 tsp. cinnamon
2 tsp. ginger
1/4 tsp. cloves
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
2 large eggs
1 cup whole milk
1 cup canned solid-pack pumpkin
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted and warm

1. Lightly oil the waffle iron with vegetable oil, and set it to the desired temperature.

2. Combine brown sugar and cornstarch in a large bowl. Whisk together to break apart the cornstarch. Add the remaining dry ingredients, and whisk to blend.

3. Separate eggs: yolks go in a medium sized bowl and whites get set aside in a smaller bowl.

4. Add pumpkin and milk to the egg yolks. Whisk to blend and set aside.

5. Whip egg whites with a hand mixer on high until stiff peaks form – about 1 1/2 – 2 minutes. Set aside.

6. Pour melted butter into the yolk/milk/pumpkin mixture. As you pour, whisk to combine.

7. Add the pumpkin mixture to the dry ingredients, and mix them together until just combined. A little lumpiness is fine. That will smooth out when the egg whites are added.

8. Slide the whipped egg whites out of the bowl and onto the mixture you just prepared. Gently fold them in until no white bits are obvious.

9. Once the waffle iron is heated, you’re ready to pour the batter. For my belgian waffle maker (
All-Clad), I use 1/3 C batter per section. Cook time is around 4 minutes and 30 seconds. Continue reading for recipe...

November 24, 2010

Matcha Green Tea Shortbread Cookies

As we enter into this holiday season of celebrating and giving, I can't help but reflect on all the things that I'm thankful for. So much has happened since last Thanksgiving -- including a new place to call home, new travel memories, two new jobs, new friendships, a new car, and new opportunities for loved ones -- that I still can't believe we packed it all into just one year.

On numerous occasions throughout this year, AC and I have talked about how incredibly blessed we are. To live near family, to be able to go to work every day, to have so many college friends live close by, to see loved ones thrive and succeed in new places, to have plenty of food to eat (sometimes too much!) and a warm bed to sleep in every night...the list goes on and on. And while I don't want to bore you with all the little details of this list, somewhere a bit further down on it are these lovely matcha green tea shortbread cookies ;)

Remember my matcha green tea obsession last year? Well, like most things in life -- it comes and goes in cycles. And lucky for us, my matcha craving came back...just in time for the holidays!

We made these the other day when a couple of friends came over for an "Asian themed" dinner. While they seemed to enjoy the meal thoroughly, their hands kept reaching for these cookies. Incredibly stunning, healthy (what? antioxidants!) and GREEN, these treats taste even better than they look. Like any respectable shortbread cookie, they're delectably crumbly and buttery. But their unique matcha green tea flavor is what really makes them shine. Subtle, delicate, and not too sweet -- no wonder why they won Golden Scoop's Best Bakery Recipe award!

Have a great Thanksgiving, everyone! We're so thankful for love, family, friends...and of course these delightful cookies. What about you?

Matcha Green Tea Shortbread Cookies
Recipe from Lovescool

3/4 cup Confectioners sugar
5 oz Unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1 3/4 cup All-purpose flour
3 Large egg yolks
1.5 TBS Matcha (powdered green tea)
1 cup Granulated sugar (for coating)

* Preheat the oven to 350F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.
* Whisk the confectioner’s sugar and green tea together in a bowl.
* Add the butter and green tea/sugar mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix until smooth and light in color.
* Add the flour and mix until well combined.
* Add the egg yolks and mix just until the eggs are fully incorporated and a mass forms.
* Form the dough into a disk and chill in the refrigerator until firm (about 30 minutes).
* Roll the dough out to ½” thickness.
* Cut the dough with a cookie cutter.
* Toss each cut cookie in a bowl of granulated sugar to coat.
* Place the sugar-coated cookie on a parchment lined pan. Bake at 350F for 12-15 minutes, or until slightly golden around the edges.
Continue reading for recipe...

November 21, 2010

(Momofuku Inspired) Bacon-Sriracha Brussels Sprouts

I know it's hard to believe, but we actually do eat more than just cupcakes, cookies, and carbs in this house. It's just that blogging about vegetables is so boring...I mean -- arugula or baby spring greens? balsamic or ranch dressing?? -- how's that for an exciting afternoon read?

So while I usually try to keep our adventures in salads and steamed broccoli to a minimum, I couldn't let this bad boy pass by. Especially when it involved a craaaazy looking stalk of brussels sprouts and bacon: the antithesis of anything bland, boring and healthy. Plus (and this is probably the real reason why we made this), after our last encounter -- ok, disaster -- with this lovely vegetable, some sort of brussels sprout redemption was desperately in order.

I can't believe I'm saying this, but these brussels sprouts were like candy. Yes, better than any late-night chips, ice cream or popcorn snack we've ever had; addicting in so many ways. Perhaps it's because they hailed from the recipe files of the infamous David Chang, or maybe it's because of all the flavor that came from the bacon drippings, or the subtle but fiery kick from the sriracha sauce, or how tender and caramelized everything became -- regardless, I have officially converted into a true brussels sprouts lover :D

Now how's that for a little brussels sprouts redemption? ;)

Bacon-Sriracha Brussels Sprouts
Recipe adapted from David Chang

1 pound fresh Brussels sprouts
3 T olive oil
1/4 pound thick-cut bacon (about 4 slices)
Butter (optional)
Sriracha hot sauce
Lemon or lime
Salt and pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
2. With a knife, trim the hard, woody ends of the sprouts, then slice in half lengthwise through the core. Place in a roasting pan.
3. Pour olive oil over brussels sprouts and toss until evenly coated.
4. Cut the bacon into small chunks and place over brussels sprouts. Add 1-2 slices of butter, if desired.
5. Bake for around 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Brussels sprouts should be tender and slightly browned.
6. Add a few squirts of sriracha hot sauce (depending on how hot you like it) and a squeeze or two of fresh lemon/lime juice. Season with salt and pepper, if necessary.
Continue reading for recipe...

October 29, 2010

No Knead Sourdough Bread

Start calling me Martha...because I just made my own bread! :D

Maybe it's because I've never ventured into the terrifying world of yeast before, or perhaps it's because I just love the idea of homemade bread (I mean really, how resourceful am I???), but this was by far the tastiest and most exciting "cooking experiment" I've ever done.

Like most Cooks Illustrated recipes, this one did not fail. Its author took the insanely popular NYTimes No-Knead Bread recipe (Jim Lahey) and further improved/expanded on it. Though the original NYTimes recipe spread like wildfire when first published, many critics complained that it lacked flavor. To address this, white vinegar and beer are added to the dough for a more tangy, yeasty flavor. The result? A delectably sour, chewy bread with great texture.

Here's the kicker -- the recipe itself only involves around 5 minutes of actual effort; time does all the rest of the work. And while that may sound glorious, it's also torture....especially towards the end, when the smell of freshly baked bread permeates throughout your house like a drug. The anticipation, however, is worth it. Nothing tastes as heavenly as a crusty, chewy loaf of bread straight out of the oven.

No longer will I need to run out to the store for a loaf of bread....20 hours and a little flour should now do the trick! ;)

No Knead Bread
Recipe from Cooks Illustrated, January 2008

3 cups (15 oz) unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading
1/4 tsp instant or rapid-rise yeast
1 1/2 tsp table salt
3/4 cup + 2 Tbls water (7 oz) at room temperature
1/4 cup + 2 Tbls mild lager (3 oz) at room temperature
1 Tbls white vinegar

Whisk flour, yeast, and salt in large bowl. Add water, beer, and vinegar. Using rubber spatula, fold mixture, scraping up dry flour from bottom of bowl until shaggy ball forms. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 8 to 18 hours.

Lay 12- by 18-inch sheet of parchment paper inside 10-inch skillet/pan and spray with nonstick cooking spray. Transfer dough to lightly floured work surface and knead 10 to 15 times. Shape dough into ball by pulling edges into middle. Transfer dough, seam-side down, to parchment-lined skillet and spray surface of dough with nonstick cooking spray. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until dough has doubled in size and does not readily spring back when poked with finger, about 2 hours.

About 30 minutes before baking, adjust oven rack to lowest position, place 6- to 8-quart heavy-bottomed Dutch oven (with lid) on rack, and heat oven to 500 degrees. Lightly flour top of dough and, using razor blade or sharp knife, make one 6-inch-long, 1/2-inch-deep slit along top of dough. Carefully remove pot from oven and remove lid. Pick up dough by lifting parchment overhang and lower into pot (let any excess parchment hang over pot edge). Cover pot and place in oven. Reduce oven temperature to 425 degrees and bake covered for 30 minutes. Remove lid and continue to bake until loaf is deep brown and instant-read thermometer inserted into center registers 210 degrees, 25 to 30 minutes longer. Carefully remove bread from pot; transfer to wire rack and cool to room temperature. Best eaten right away.
Continue reading for recipe...

October 24, 2010

Boston Cream Pie

Some things just don't need an explanation.

Especially when there's cake and presents involved :)

Yup, it's birthday time...Round 2! 60 and fabulous -- that's my mom!! :)

Happy birthday, mother! Looking forward to celebrating many more birthdays with you in the years to come...
Continue reading for recipe...

October 18, 2010

Meatballs in Chipotle Sauce

It doesn't get much better than this. I'm talking warm SF indian summers, autumn vegetables and heirloom tomatoes, a slightly slower pace of life, and of course this unforgettably fiery, smoky, chipotle meatball sauce.

I say unforgettable for two reasons. When I first had this, I couldn't stop thinking about it and had to stalk my coworker for weeks upon weeks to get the recipe. And when I finally got around to making these meatballs a couple of years later for my (spice adverse) parents one hot summer evening, I accidentally added 2 or 3 too many chipotle chiles to the sauce. Oopsies. Although -- between excessive gulps of water and relentless beads of sweat dripping down their foreheads -- they kept gasping, "this is good steph, this is good", I can't imagine how their mouths must have felt if I even thought it was a bit spicy. LOL. I giggle every time I think of that incident :D

Anyway, I can assure you that I did not OD on the chipotle chiles this time around. Although, don't be fooled -- the smokiness from the chipotles is what really sets this sauce apart from anything else. The addition of cumin adds even more depth, and grated parmesan cheese offsets both savory flavors with a subtle saltiness. The meatballs are also worthy of mentioning. Rather than pan fried, they're cooked directly in the chipotle sauce which keeps them ultra moist and tender. Nothing about this resembles your typical flat, boring tomato sauce...which is fantastic, because AC doesn't like red sauces (see what I have to live with??).

Just be warned, this makes a lot. We've been swimming in meatballs for the past couple of days...which is actually a really good thing if it's not too hot outside and you have plenty of water to chug! ;)

Meatballs in Chipotle Sauce
Recipe adapted from Meg, an old coworker and friend

1 lb ground pork
1 lb ground beef
1/2 tsp ground cumin
4 garlic cloves, chopped
3 eggs
1/4 C bread crumbs
salt and pepper

4 canned chipotle chiles, in marinade
6 medium tomatoes, roasted and peeled
1 C chicken broth
6 garlic cloves
1 tsp cumin
1 T dried oregano
6 oz tomato paste
1/8 C grated parmesan cheese
salt and pepper

Combine the pork, beef, ground cumin, garlic, eggs, bread crumbs, and salt & pepper to taste. Mix well. Shape the mixture into medium-sized meatballs. Cook the meatballs in the chipotle sauce for about 30 min.

To make the chipotle sauce, puree the chiles, tomatoes, broth, paste, garlic, cumin, and oregano. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil.
Continue reading for recipe...

September 18, 2010

Lemon Cheesecake Bars

I hear (or so I've been told) that "life events" come in waves. Engagements, weddings, golden birthdays, promotions, 10 yr HS reunions, babies, etc -- they're all starting to trickle in lately. Not that I can complain. Who doesn't love birthday cakes? Or an excuse to see old friends? Or all the free booze at weddings (best life event ever!)??

Anyway, one of our friends recently hit a huge milestone that definitely warranted celebration -- becoming homeowners in Alameda! Though this actually happened late last year, they just had their housewarming party the other weekend (better late than never, right?), and we were tasked with bringing a dessert.

I decided to make these because they are #1 relatively quick and easy and #2, deliciously tart and creamy. Call me crazy but when it's hot outside, the last thing I want to eat is something heavy, rich, and chocolate-y. These dainty cheesecake bars are refreshingly light and simple, and make the perfect finger food. The buttery graham cracker crust offsets the smooth tart filling wonderfully, and the fresh berries add a bit of "summer" to each bite.

Speaking of which....when did it suddenly become Fall?? Next thing I know, we'll be 50.

Lemon Cheesecake Squares
Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit, July 2009

9 whole graham crackers
6 tablespoons butter

1 8-ounce package cream cheese, room temperature
1/3 cup sugar
1 large egg
3 tablespoons sour cream
2 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 1/2 teaspoons finely grated lemon peel
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Fresh berries
[note: you can also double the filling to make it more like a cheesecake, rather than cheesecake bar cookie]

For crust:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Fold 16-inch long piece of foil to 8x16-inch strip; place in 8x8x2-inch metal baking pan, leaving overhang on 2 sides. Repeat with another sheet of foil in opposite direction, lining pan completely. Butter foil.

Place graham crackers in heavy-duty plastic bag. Using rolling pin or mallet, crush crackers finely. Melt butter in medium skillet over low heat. Remove from heat; add crumbs and toss to coat. Press crumbs evenly onto bottom of prepared pan. Bake crust until deep golden, about 12 minutes. Cool crust while preparing filling.

For filling:
Using electric mixer, beat cream cheese and sugar in large bowl until smooth. Beat in egg and sour cream, then lemon juice, lemon peel, and vanilla. Spread batter over crust.

Bake cheesecake until slightly puffed and set in center, about 25 minutes; cool completely in pan on rack. Chill cheesecake until cold, at least 2 hours. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover; keep chilled.

Using foil overhang as aid, lift cheesecake from pan. Cut into 16 squares; arrange on platter. Top each square with a small dollop of whipped cream and berry on top. Chill until ready to serve, up to 3 hours. Serve chilled.

Continue reading for recipe...