November 28, 2010

Pumpkin, Pecan & Cranberry Upside Down Cake

Hey everyone! Hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving! Since I'm too busy studying(more like playing) with my new Rosetta Stone French I'll leave you with a few pictures from the dessert I made for the big day...and a few I took in the back yard while I was impatiently waiting for it to cool. 
(Notice how the sugar and butter bring peace...)

Pumpkin, Pecan & Cranberry Upside Down Cake
(Adapted from Emily Luchetti)
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 cups cranberries
4 ounces (1 cup) coarsely chopped pecans, toasted
2 large eggs
1 cup pumpkin puree
6 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
Directions: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees . Line the bottom of a 9-inch square pan with parchment paper.
Melt the butter in a small saucepot over medium heat. Add the brown sugar and whisk until smooth.
Pour the brown sugar mixture into the bottom of the cake pan.
In a medium bowl combine the cranberries and pecans. Sprinkle them in the pan over the brown sugar mixture.
In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, pumpkin puree, and oil.
Sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Stir the flour mixture into the pumpkin mixture. 
Carefully spread the batter over the cranberry pecan topping. 
Place the pan on a baking sheet just in case the sugar boils over. Burnt sugar isn't the most pleasant smell.
Bake until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean, 35-40 minutes. 
Cool the cake for 10 minutes on a wire rack.
Place a large plate or platter on top of the cake. Invert the cake and plate together. Remove the pan. Carefully peel off the parchment paper. 
Make sure to eat this the same day or just the day after as the sticky caramel stuff tends to soak into the cake. 
Serves 8 to 10 people. 
Note: If you have raw pecans, just throw them on a baking sheet while the oven is preheating. Take them out when you start to smell them or until they're light golden brown, around 7-10 minutes.
 This cake is absolutely delicious. The pumpkin cake itself isn't very sweet so the sticky caramel gives it the perfect balance. A great nutty crunch(don't skip the toasting!) and the tartness of the cranberries puts it over the top. Stay tuned for updates on this recipe translated to a Christmas version. 

November 25, 2010

Holiday Gift Favorites of 2010

CucinaPro Fresh Pasta Machine
Who doesn't like pasta? Freshly made pasta has a completely different texture and silkiness that leaves dried pastas in the culinary dust. My goal for 2011 is to make my own fresh pastas and embrace my inner Italian grandmother. Dinner party anyone?

Sephora by OPI-18 Piece Mini Nail Color Set
From everyday use to more daring colors, it's a complete collection of every color you could possibly want! For the amount of bang for your buck, these would be perfect as stocking stuffers for your lady or wanna be lady friends alike.
Hugh Fearnley-Whittinstall is my new chef obsession. My addiction to this show began when I was staying in Melbourne. This English TV series is about Hugh's adventures in buying farmland and learning to be sustainable while using local and seasonal produce. His charm and witty commentary will provide hours of entertainment on those gloomy winter days to come. 

Beautiful and simple porcelain bowls. They come in every color but I love the soft pastels to make the food inside them really pop. An added bonus-they're dishwasher and microwave safe.

Enameled cast iron cookware for braising, stewing and soup making. Le Creuset has mastered the technology of even cooking over the surface of their pans creating a high quality product for a pretty penny. The classic red is my favorite but they come in all shapes and colors to match your kitchen!

Pearls and detailed ruby Pomegranate seeds? I don't think Anthropologie could have squeezed any more adorableness into this unique locket. Perfect for your most festive holiday outfit.

Punjammies by The International Princess Project
In light of the holiday season why not give your mom, sister, aunts, or girlfriends comfortable and beautiful pajama pants made by women in an after-care facility in India? These women have been rescued or escaped from a life of forced prostitution. The International Princess Project provides quality medical care, emotional safety, education and the tools to create a new way of life for each woman.

Barefoot in Paris: Easy French Food You Can Make at Home By Ina Garten
Nearly half of the recipes I make are written by Ina Garten. She's my food idol! Simple, no fuss recipes that ALWAYS turn out absolutely delicious. In light of my recent love affair with France during my travels, French food made simply at home is what I'm after and I know my home-girl, Ina, will deliver.

Pop's Stache
These unique drink identifiers are perfect for your next party. Have your guests throw them on their beer bottles and become a new character for the night. I'd bet life is more fun with a mustache.

This is the ultimate guide to making your own pickles, lox, and jams. I'm a sucker for anything pickled or vinegar filled. I'm pretty sure I could live on just pickled vegetables alone...(oooh diet book idea!). Just think, if you give this as a gift, maybe your friend will make you something in return! Easy how-to steps to delicious homemade recipes. 

November 24, 2010

Pumpkin Spice Cocktail

It's official, the holidays are here. Although this time of year is supposed to be a big celebration with family and friends, it's usually pretty stressful. We could all use a cocktail to celebrate the season or rather, pick our spirits up after a long family filled day(as much as you might love them...). Here's a recipe I concocted while playing with my parents' booze collection...Good luck to you all this holiday season and Happy Thanksgiving!

Pumpkin Spice Cocktail
2 oz vanilla vodka
1 oz orange juice
1 oz pumpkin puree 
1/2 oz honey water (equal parts honey and water)
a pinch of pumpkin pie spice (or a mixture of ground cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and clove)
For Garnish:
Whipped Cream
Cranberries or cinnamon stick

Throw all the ingredients into a martini shaker with a handful of ice. Shake until the shaker is too cold to hold onto then pour into a glass of your choice. Garnish with a dollop of whipped cream and a cranberry or cinnamon stick. 

November 17, 2010

Thankful & French Apple Cake

The holidays are upon us and in my opinion, there's no better way to celebrate than with food, family, and friends. I'm lucky enough to have a huge family who enjoys each others' company(for the most part) and thankful that they appreciate food just as much as I do. There's no doubt there will be over 6 different desserts to choose from at our family's Thanksgiving dinner(not including some chocolate koalas with macadamia nuts I picked up in Australia). Even so, I'm a baking fiend and will be adding my own contribution to the dessert buffet. 
This recipe kind of scared me at first since it has 3 tablespoons of rum and not much batter. I'm not one for booze in my cakes. Just ask my Paris travel companions about my first baba au rhum experience...gagging ensued and I stole my mom's profiteroles covered in chocolate. To my pleasant surprise, you couldn't necessarily taste the alcohol but it did give the cake a certain je ne sais quoi. The type of flavor your guests will ponder, "why is this dessert so deliciously different?" but never put their finger on it. 
The finished product is extremely light, not overly sweet, and tart from the green apples. I refuse to put spray-bottle whipped cream on anything so I subdued some fresh cream into peaks as fluffy as clouds with some brown sugar. After trying about 10 fingers worth of whipped cream(What? I had to make sure the sweetness level was right!) I heaped it onto the warm cake with a sprinkling of cinnamon. 

French Apple Cake 
(Original recipe by Dorie Greenspan, adapted by David Lebovitz thennn me) 
3/4 cup flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
4 large apples (I prefer tart Granny Smiths)
2 large eggs, at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons dark rum
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon almond extract(I'm just obsessed with apple and almond together)
8 tablespoons butter, salted or unsalted, melted and cooled to room temperature
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons brown sugar
ground cinnamon (for garnish)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. 
Heavily butter an 8 or 9-inch spring-form pan and place it on a baking sheet. 
In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. 
Peel and core the apples, then dice them into 1 inch pieces. 
In a large bowl, beat the eggs until foamy then whisk in the sugar, then rum, vanilla and almond extracts. Whisk in half of the flour mixture, then gently stir in half of the butter. Stir in remaining flour mixture, then the rest of the butter.
Fold in the apple cubes until they're well coated with the batter and scrape them into the prepared cake pan and smooth the top as best you can with a spatula. 
Bake the cake for 50 minutes to 1 hour, or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Let the cake cool for 5 minutes, then run a knife around the edges to loosen the cake from the pan and carefully remove the sides of the pan. The cake is rather delicate with all the apples so cut carefully and serve with your choice of topping. ie. Whipped cream, ice cream , or as David suggests, creme fraiche. 
Thank you all for reading and following my blog! Hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving! 

November 15, 2010

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

It's my first day back in the States and I spent the day cooking, relaxing, and slightly recovering from jet lag. I already miss the late summer nights where the sun sets at 9pm. But I can't complain about the beautiful Southern California weather. 70 degrees and sunny, $#%* I love San Diego. 

Soon after waking up, I discovered a decent supply of Bacon. American Bacon(I think the word Bacon deserves to be capitalized, all the time). The rest of the world doesn't know what they're missing out on. As much as I tried to crisp Australian bacon, it never, ever, was the same. They might as well call it Canadian. 

I thought I'd take advantage of my parents' bountiful kitchen and yard full of produce. Plus, I've nearly missed the fall season completely while traveling in Australia, so I decided to make my ultimate fall meal. Stick to your ribs, earthy fare...with Bacon.

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup
1 Medium Butternut Squash 
1 Medium White Onion
Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper
3 Slices of Bacon, cut into small chunks
1/4 Cup Dry White Wine 
1 Cup Chicken Stock
1/4 Whipping Cream (or half and half)
1 Cup Hot Water (maybe more if needed) 
1/8 tsp. Freshly Ground Nutmeg
Creme Fraiche or Sour Cream (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Peel, deseed, and cut the butternut squash into roughly 1 inch pieces. Chop the onion into quarters and then cut each quarter in half. Place them on a parchment or silicone lined baking sheet and drizzle generously with olive oil and a good sprinkling of kosher or flaked sea salt and pepper. Toss to coat each piece then throw them into the oven to roast for 50-60 minutes or until the edges of the vegetables are beginning to brown. 
When the roasting is about half way complete, chop your Bacon slices and put them into a large sauce pan. Cook over medium heat until crisp then pull them out to drain on a paper towel, leaving the bacon drippings in the pan. 
When the vegetables are finished, plop them into the pot and turn the stove up to high heat. Add the white wine and let the liquid reduce down until its nearly gone, about 3-4 minutes. Next, add the chicken stock and nutmeg then turn off the heat.
In a food processor or blender add the mixture(make sure you don't over-fill your blending machine of choice, we're adding more liquid! Do it in batches then combine later if needed.) and blend until smooth. While the machine is running, add the cream then pour the hot water in. If your soup looks too thick, keep adding hot water until it's to your desired consistency(I like mine pretty thick). Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper if needed. 

Ladle them into bowls with a dollop of creme fraiche or sour cream and don't let those bacon pieces go to waste! Sprinkle them on for some added saltiness and crunch. This made about 4 cups of soup, about two servings by itself.

I served mine with a salad and crostini topped with goat cheese, cranberry and cinnamon (Costco holiday cheese special...Just spread it on some hearty bread and broil for about 5 minutes until the cheese is lightly browned and the bread is toasted!). My perfect fall meal! It's good to be home. 

November 13, 2010

Banh Mi: Vietnamese Sandwiches

My obsession with Vietnamese food is definitely not a secret to my close friends and family. It began after moving to San Francisco where Vietnamese restaurants are as common as hole in the wall taco shops in Southern California. I've already expressed my love for pho and bun bowls but what I crave most is Banh Mi or simply-Vietnamese sandwiches. The combination of ingredients has changed the way I think about matching flavors in my cooking. The salty pork, sweet and sour pickled carrots, the spice from the chiles offset by the cooling cucumbers, and the herbal notes from the cilantro make this one of the most complex, delicious tasting sandwiches in the world. My local Vietnamese hole in the wall, Irving Cafe & Deli, is one of the places I miss the most when I'm out of the city. I tried my best to replicate the perfection of their sandwiches here in Melbourne and it turned out pretty well! 

I used an Asian barbecue marinade mix since I'm not staying here for much longer and didn't want to stock up on a bunch of new bottles and spices. This one was absolutely perfect for these sandwiches and can be found in most grocery stores on the international food isle. 

Vietnamese Sandwiches
For Pickled Carrots: 
1 Large Carrot, shredded (you can shred to whatever size you like or chop into match sticks)
2 tsp. Superfine Sugar (more, depending on how sweet you want it)
2 tsp. Salt
2 Tbs. White or Rice Vinegar

For pork:
1/2 lb. Deboned Pork Leg or tenderloin if you're fancy, cut into thin, bite-sized pieces
1/2 packet of Mama Sita's Barbecue Marinade Mix
2 Tbs. Vegetable oil

For the rest of Sandwich:
3 Baguette Sandwich Rolls--You want some that are slightly crusty on the outside, soft on the inside
1 English Cucumber, sliced on a diagonal
1 Serrano Chili, thinly sliced (optional)
1 Bunch of Cilantro
Cracked Black Pepper
Fish Sauce for drizzling on top (optional)

After shredding the carrots add the salt and let sit while you chop the pork. Squeeze the liquid out of the carrots and add the rest of the ingredients. Let sit for at least 45 minutes. 
Preheat oven to 200 degrees. After cutting the pork, coat with 1/2 packet of marinade mix. Let it marinate at room temperature 30 minutes before cooking. Add the 2 tablespoons of oil to a wok or large frying pan. Cook the pork pieces on medium high heat until just cooked and still tender, around 6-8 minutes if your pan is large. 
While the pork is cooking, throw the baguette rolls into the oven to warm. To assemble the sandwiches slice the rolls in half leaving one side still attached, spread a thin layer of mayonnaise, top with 1/3 of the pork, three or four pieces of cucumber, a couple slices of chili pepper (or more if you can handle it), a few sprigs of cilantro, and the pickled carrots. Finish with a crack of black pepper and a drizzle of fish sauce for even more umami flavor.

November 9, 2010

What's Cookin' in Melbourne-Lamb Chops with Mint Pesto and Creamy Polenta

Lamb Chops with Mint Pesto (adapted from Claire Robinson)


  • 3/4 cup packed fresh mint leaves, from about 1 large bunch
  • 2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
  • 1/2 lemon, zested, plus 1-2 tablespoons of lemon juice
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoons water 
  • Freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • lamb rib chops, Frenched (bones cleaned)


Put the mint, pine nuts, zest, and a pinch of salt in the bowl of a food processor or mortar and pestle. Pulse until finely chopped. While mixing, add the lemon juice and slowly drizzle in the oil until thick and smooth. Add the water until a thick but spreadable paste forms; continue adding water until desired consistency. Taste pesto and season with additional salt and pepper, if needed.
Generously drizzle the lamb chops with oil, sprinkle with minced garlic, and season well with salt and pepper. Allow lamb to marinate while coming to room temperature for 30 minutes. While the lamb is marinating, prepare the polenta according to the package directions. I used chicken stock and a generous handful of pecorino romano cheese in mine (you can also use parmesan). Most polentas take about 20 minutes to prepare. Preheat a grill or grill pan over medium-high heat.Grill lamb, turning once, 2 to 3 minutes per side for medium-rare; remove to a serving platter and let rest for 5 minutes before serving.
Put a heaping spoonful of polenta onto your plate and top with the lamb and mint pesto. Enjoy!

November 4, 2010

Cravings and San Diego Pizza

Moving from San Diego to San Francisco only presented one semi-large problem for me: Mexican food. Going from eating a burrito or two a day in San Diego to trying countless flavorless, rice and lettuce filled burritos in San Francisco really posed a challenge for me. Luckily, after two years I've found a taco shop here to tide me over and my cravings have changed from Mexican to Vietnamese. But let me tell you, it took a year of withdrawals to get over my Mexican addiction. To this day, whenever I fly back into San Diego, I request(more like demand) to  head to El Indio, my favorite place for chicken burritos EVER, straight from the airport and my parents are usually happy to comply. :)
Since getting to Melbourne, I haven't really had any cravings for food that I miss. Melbourne has such an awesome and diverse food culture and hadn't left me dissatisfied, until yesterday. I'm not sure what brought it on but I got a fierce craving for Pat and Oscar's San Diego pizza. This pizza is the ultimate California style pizza mixing international ingredients and flavors with innovative topping ideas. This particular pizza has a mix of Italian pesto, California avocados, traditional mozzarella, salty Greek feta, and red onions for a bit of color. I decided to make a home-made version to bring back those flavors. I made it easy for myself by buying a pizza base(although it would be much better if I had my hands on some actual pizza dough) and jarred pesto. 
San Diego Pizza (Inspired by Pat and Oscar's Restaurants)
1 Frozen or Fresh Pizza Base
1/3 Cup Basil Pesto
1/4 Cup Shredded Mozzarella Cheese
1/4 Cup Feta Cheese 
1/2 Avocado sliced into thin strips
1/2 Small Red Onion thinly sliced
Small Handful of coarsely chopped cilantro(optional)

Directions: Slather the pizza base with the pesto, leaving about 1/2 inch along the edges for the crust. Top with mozzarella, crumbled feta, avocado slices, red onion, and cilantro(if using). Bake according to pizza base instructions. Usually around 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes. Enjoy!