Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Spring is Back!

    Winter passed and I survived it! The weather was not that bad in the Northeast, relatively mild when I think back to the big snowstorms of 2010-2011.  But this Winter has been trying for me with family emergencies and pest issues at home. I've decided that canning jars are beautiful storage vessels that save food from pests as well as spoilage, while serving as inspiration for cooking. Those jars are now once again being used for preserving.  It's been awhile since my last preserving "frenzy."  Now that Spring is here and wonderful fruit is coming into season, it's hard to keep me from preserving. 

     Every month, my friend Hima at All Four Burners hosts the Can It Up challenge. It's fun! Please join if you enjoy preserving.  Part of the fun of preserving is the sharing. It's also fun reading what other canners/preservers are preserving and seeing their beautiful photographs of their delicious products. April's Can It Up theme was rhubarb.  Although I made a rhubarb chutney, the NJ/NY farm markets did not have rhubarbs yet.  In fact, I couldn't find rhubarb in the supermarkets until the last week of April.  So when May came along, I was still excited about rhubarb. I finally found fresh local rhubarb at the farmer's market in the second week of May. So when May's Can It Up theme turned out to be Strawberries, I had to combine strawberries with my rhubarb. To find out more about May's theme, come Here. The tartness of rhubarb combines so well with the sweet strawberries.  But really, even if my strawberries were not as sweet as I prefer, I still like the strawberry-rhubarb combination. It just smells and tastes fresh, like Spring.

     I don't have much shelf space, and I love trying different recipes, so I love Marisa McClellan's Small Batch ideas. I followed her proportions for Small Batch Strawberry Rhubarb Jam and made two batches. Her idea for cooking using a large skillet is perfect for small batch preserves. I found using a wide skillet definitely sped up the stovetop process versus my standard pot. I think I may use my big braiser for a bigger batch next time. Thanks, Marisa, for such a useful idea.  

     I made a batch of Strawberry Rhubarb jam with cardamon and another of Strawberry Rhubarb jam with rose water. Both smell like a fresh flower, not over that overwhelming floral scent, but that smell of a fresh Spring morning.  Plus both are delicious! My Mom isn't too crazy about jam because she doesn't eat much sweets. But Mom really liked my jam.  She especially like the one with the rose water. The taste of rose is light, nothing like that old perfume.  For full instructions, click on the link above.  For the cardamon one, I added a teaspoon or so of ground cardamon at the end of the cooking process.  I gave it one quick boil and stir, then turned off the heat and ladle the jam into the jars.  For the rose water one, I used a little over two tablespoons rosewater at the end of cooking and 1 1/4 cup sugar. Again, thanks to Marisa for the proportions.  I am looking forward to making more. I am thinking of sharing with friends from my professional women group that I started a few months ago.  And gifts for other friends, and a jar for myself ... Clearly, Mom wasn't the only one interested in the jam but pup didn't get any. 

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Pear and Persimmon Chutney for CanItUp

   I am apparently on a roll to keep myself busy by cooking/baking almost every day of December. After a busy day at work, I find the chopping, stirring, kneading kind of meditative, and the smell of the food helps to bring cheerful thoughts. I feel lucky to have friends who also enjoy cooking and baking.  I have been delighted to receive homemade goods from nuts to jam to marshmallow to bao (Chinese-style buns/breads).  I love the care and love that went into each of these gifts.  And I love that my friends chose the flavors for me that they knew I would enjoy.  I also gave out baked goods and preserves to some friends.  For those of us who love to cook and bake, it's truly gratifying to see the joy on others' faces as they open their gift bags and discover the baked goods.  I've been reading a lot in the papers, including the New York Times, about the lack of manners and how people don't thank others anymore. I've had a couple of bad experiences but for the most part, my friends have been so good as to write me notes or call to show their appreciation. It's especially nice when I can surprise someone with the goodies. 

   After the baked goods and other gifts I had to pack for friends and family, I finally got around to this month's Can It Up.  I have also contributed to December's Bundt-a-month with the decadent and oh-so-good Bourbon Dark Chocolate Bundt Cake. Bundt-a-month is hosted by Cake Duchess and Baker Street, both inventive and prolific bakers.  Hima of All Four Burners chose booze as the theme for December's Can It Up.  Hima hosts this year's Preserving challenge called Can It Up (used to be called Can Jam). Really, you can think of it as a can/preserve-along, like Knit-alongs.  It's fun and we do it for the camaraderie of others who preserve.  I love seeing what others come up with for each month's theme. For the ground rules, click here.  Here is my contribution to Can It Up - Pear and Persimmon Chutney. 

   Every Fall, I know that I will be getting persimmons because my parents know that I like persimmons and they always get a lot for me whenever they see it at the market.  I am lucky that way.  Aren't persimmons beautiful? I love its orange color.  It's so evocative of Fall/Autumn.  There are many varieties of persimmons but the most commonly available commercial ones are the hachiya and the fuyu.  Basically, the hachiya belongs to the astringent category and must be eaten only when fully ripe (almost mushy to touch) or the high tannin will leave quite an astringent quality on your tongue. I've made that mistake before! The fuyu belongs to the nonastringent category of persimmons. It's like an apple and crisp even when ripe. 

Pears are also very much a fruit of the Fall season. I love pears, which remind me of the occasions of sweet juice dripping down as I tried to catch every last drop. 

   I was inspired when I read Marisa's post about persimmon chutney in a creative e-spread she did in collaboration with others. Here is the link to her inspirational spread:  

   For this month's preserve, I used Marisa's recipe as base and riffed off of that. I used what I had and added the note of booze.  As I was pouring out my apple cider vinegar, I saw that it was running out. Oh so sad, but I have a stash of white vinegar so I added the white vinegar to get the right amount of acid in the recipe.  I used my persimmons and pears, and the last tablespoon of bourbon that I had! I think this would be lovely on crackers, cheese or as a side for dinner. Or add to a chicken, turkey or ham sandwich. This is making me hungry thinking about it. 

With the fruit that I had and Marisa's recipe as inspiration, this is the result:

Pear and Persimmon Chutney


3 cups peeled and chopped persimmons (about 4 medium Fuyu persimmons)
3 cups chopped pears (unpeeled and about 2 big Anjou pears)
Half of red onion, chopped
2 tablespoon flame raisins
1 tablespoon bourbon
3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon grated ginger or more to taste
1 ts salt
2/3 cup light brown sugar
Pinch of ground allspice


1. Soak the raisins in the bourbon. Then peel and chop the persimmons. Chop the pears with skin on. Chop the onion. 
2. Put persimmon and pears and onion into a wide heavy-bottomed pot. Add in vinegar and sugar.  Cook on medium-high heat until it boils, then lower heat a little. Stir frequently.
3. Add in raisins and bourbon if any was not soaked by raisins. Add cloves, grated ginger, salt and allspice. Cook and stir for about 35-45 minutes to the right consistency (thick sauce).  Taste and add more spices to your taste. 
4. Add some chili if you like heat in your chutney. 
5. Turn off heat, put into jars and add lid. Process in water bath for 10 minutes. 

Yield: Four 1/2 pint jars


Sunday, December 23, 2012

Holiday party: Bourbon Dark Chocolate Bundt Cake

   I recently went to a good friend's home for a Holiday party and brought along with me a bundt cake that has become my favorite.  I've made many bundt cakes now but this cake really shined and may have aided in gaining me new friends!  

   I often clip recipes that look interesting to me from the New York Times as well as from various food magazines. Now I've got blogs to bookmark online too! So many recipes and so little time. I like recipes that look easy to do and sounds like the food will be tasty, but I also like challenging recipes for the days when I want to learn new skills.

   One of the recipes I clipped from several years ago that I've been wanting to try is Melissa Clark's Whiskey-soaked dark chocolate bundt cake. I am glad this month's bundt-a-month theme is Boozy December because this recipe is perfect for that! To learn more about bundt-a-month, see and Cake Duchess.  Back to my bundt, Melissa Clark writes good recipes - easy to follow, interesting flavor profiles and delicious results. This particular recipe always sounded intriguing to me. If you've followed my blog, you know that chocolate is one of my favorite foods.  But more than the fact that I love chocolate, chocolate goods are one of those items that almost always bring a smile to a gift recipient. I know that not everyone loves chocolate or cocoa. (Gasp!) But I have found that to most people, chocolate represents a kind of luxury. So for me, my various chocolate baked goods have been welcomed gifts to friends and colleagues.

   When I was thinking about what to bring to my friend's party, I thought I can't go wrong with chocolate.  Problem was other than my friend, her husband and children, I don't know the others at her party. I decided to take a gamble and go with Melissa's Whiskey-soaked dark chocolate cake. Wow, was I glad I did! The recipe sounded luxurious and simple enough to do, even after work one night. I was tired but determined to get a cake baked for my friend's party.  As I was mixing the bourbon with the cocoa and espresso powders, I was struck by just how much whiskey this recipe called for! I've read other similar recipes, like one for Kentucky Bourbon cake, but all called for half the amount of alcohol.  I mean, just look at that deep dark color of the sauce.  I could smell the bourbon from afar! 

I started to get worried because my friend really doesn't drink and I wasn't sure if her friends drank.  I may not get invited back for another party...

   I need not have worried because everyone at her party Loved the cake!   It was a cold windy day with some snow flakes floating in the air. I carried that cake and gifts through NJ Transit train then the NYC subway to my friend's home. Once there, my friend had lots of yummy savory items for us to enjoy.  She made delicious chicken wings and pernil.  Other friends had brought along little cupcakes and cookies for all the kids to enjoy.  We laughed and we ate.  We had coffee, talked, laughed and ate more. My new friends all generously told me how they loved the cake.  And I did too.
  I followed Melissa's recipe pretty closely (full recipe by clicking here). I used Valhrona cocoa powder and King Arthur Flour's espresso powder because that's what I had left from my other chocolate baked adventures. My cake was done in less than an hour so make sure you start checking your cake after around 50 minutes. I've read a lot of people say how hard it is to get the cake to come out of the bundt pan in one piece and I used to have the same problem.  My best solution has been the oil spray with flour.  Baker's Joy has it and so does Spectrum oil.  I've found it at Trader Joe's and Whole Foods, and of course, at baking supply shops. The oil spray works like wonder for the bundt pan. Just spray all over the pan. If you have just oil spray, not one with flour, you can then dust your pan with flour, or in this case, cocoa powder after thoroughly spraying pan with oil.  Just tip pan around and turn it over to dump out extra powder. Also I used honey bourbon so I called my cake Bourbon Dark Chocolate Bundt Cake. 

   Whatever you called this cake, it is moist on the inside but the crust has a little crunch. It's not too sweet and it has a clear mocha taste.  Personally, I like cakes that are not too sweet so I actually went back for more slices. Just a fair warning, you can also taste the bourbon.  I don't think the alcohol is overwhelming, it adds to the depth of flavor. But this cake is not your usual store-bought chocolate cake, which I find is more sugar-sweet than anything else. This cake beautifully blends the alcohol and espresso with the chocolate into a decadent treat that you want to go back for again and again. Thanks Melissa for such a great recipe.  

   We ate so much of it that I do not have an extra slice to show you! 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Holiday Edible Gifts: Chocolate Straws

   It's that time of year when many households are baking for dinner parties, gifts and just plain eating.  I decided that this year I will mainly give edible and homemade goods as gifts. For some, knowing that there is something they really want, I added non-edible gifts. This year I am proud of myself for not just making the gifts, but importantly, packing and mailing the goods in early December. The packing and mailing part had been my downfall in past years. I would buy nice gifts but then have to go back to the store, which is quite unpleasant with the crowds this time of year, to get packing material. Once packed, I still have to somehow get to the post office in time and get on line to mail that package and those cards. Then days go by and January inches closer... The trials and tribulations of gift-giving but I truly enjoy giving gifts to my friends and family, especially when I know that there is something that can make their day.  

   I'll share some goodies that have received good reviews already. For example, these Chocolate Blocks got reviews of "yummy" and "can I have more?" from little ones. King Arthur Flour's recipes have been great. I'll write more about another one of their chocolate recipes that received rave reviews.  First, I'll tell you about these Chocolate Straws that I made.  The recipe is by Julia Moskin of the New York Times. This recipe is just perfect for this time of year when you've got so many tasks to complete.  You can do this in a relatively short time and put them in pretty or plain long cellophane bags and finish with a pretty ribbon. At least that's what I did. 

   I used Trader Joe's puff pastry and let it sit overnight in the refrigerator to thaw. They were pretty easy to work with the next evening.  I rolled out puff pastry, then while they go back in the fridge, I started grating the chocolate. You can use a box grater or use a serrated knife to grate the chocolate. When Williams Sonoma had a sale, I could not resist and went into the store. I got one of my favorite tools, the microplane zester. This one, however, is different from the basic and original one I got years ago. This one can create slightly wider strips, more like ribbons.  It looks like this and worked like wonders on the chocolate without creating a mess. See the shavings of chocolate?

I combined bittersweet chocolate with turbinado sugar for a deeper flavor. The turbinado sugar has a light, almost molasses flavor. Good puff pastry has lots and lots of butter but these Chocolate Straws really come out light, flaky and full of good chocolate goodness.   I was going to sprinkle some sugar on these once they come out of the oven for a little sparkle but it was getting late so I didn't do it this time. They would make nice bites for a dinner party as well.

  • Flour, for rolling
  • 1 pound puff pastry, preferably made with butter
  • 2 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely grated (use a Microplane or rotary cheese grater)
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted


Heat oven to 375 degrees, or 350 degrees with convection. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats.
Lightly flour a work surface. Use a rolling pin to roll the pastry into a long rectangle, about 8 inches wide, turning over a few times to distribute the flour evenly. Patch any cracks with warm water and roll smooth.
Combine chocolate and sugar in a bowl and set aside.
Turn the pastry so the long side is facing you. Using a ruler or straight edge, trim off edges so the rectangle is smooth and straight. Cut the rectangle in half, top to bottom, into two smaller rectangles of equal size. Refrigerate for 20 minutes
Brush both rectangles with melted butter. Sprinkle the chocolate-sugar mixture evenly over one rectangle and place the other on top, butter side down. Use the rolling pin to roll out and press the two layers together.
Using a ruler (if desired), cut into strips about 8 inches long and 3/4- to 1-inch wide. Lift up a strip by the ends, gently twist it two or three times, and place on the prepared pan. Press the ends flat. Repeat, leaving about 1/2 inch of space between straws.
Bake until light brown and crisp, 18 to 22 minutes, rotating the pans in the oven after 10 minutes. Cool on a rack.
About 1 dozen straws

Tuesday, December 4, 2012


   If you've been reading my blog, you'll notice that chocolate is a familiar topic. In my world, you just can't go wrong with chocolate, the result of the magical transformation from the cacao bean.  Really, cocoa in general. From chocolate chili waffles to chili to the most recent chocolate blocks, a little chocolate and/or cocoa added depth to the food. Now that it's Holiday baking time and I have to think of delectable gifts to send to recipients who'll appreciate homemade food, I've been thinking a lot about truffles. Some of the best chocolate truffles I've ever had were not expensive yet had just the right creamy middle and a lusciousness as it melted on my tongue. 

   I researched online and in my many cookbooks to find just the right recipe to try. I don't want to spend all day on it or bother with tempering the chocolate. It's my first time making truffles so I thought I would find recipes that are easy to do but delicious. That's the way to gain confidence to harder recipes. The first recipe I tried is a vegan one because I had to mail out a package for a vegan giftee. I have a tendency to come up with lovely ideas for gifts for the Holidays but get sidetracked by work or life in general. Then there's the gift wrapping, boxing and actually mailing it part. This year, I am determined to send my packages on time before I get overwhelmed and give up. That is, I'd end up going on Amazon to get a deal or give the gift certificate.  Now, I am not against giving gift certificates if you know for sure that the recipient can use it. I find that many people give gift certificates without thought of whether the recipient can use it. For example, giving someone a restaurant gift card for a restaurant nowhere near where recipient lives!  But I digress. While I still had the enthusiasm for making Holiday gifts, I went right into it this weekend.

   There were not too many vegan truffle recipes that I could find and did not involve too many ingredients. I did, however, get this month's Whole Living magazine and was happy to find a vegan dark chocolate recipe there. In fact, I was thrilled because it involved all ingredients I already have at home. Here is their full recipe:  Dark Chocolate Truffles

  I used Trader Joe's semi-sweet (65% cocoa) chocolate callets. Unfortunately, my local Trader Joe's no longer stock these.  They are great for these project - no chopping chocolate chunks. For the cream portion, this recipe cleverly used coconut oil. I used what I had on hand, which was the Nutiva coconut oil. I was a bit afraid at first of the coconut scent overwhelming my little nuggets of chocolate goodness. But no worries, they just had a hint of coconut flavor.  I started the process in the night and ended up putting the bowl into the refrigerator. Next time, I won't do that. It really hardened the chocolate. Although the chocolate came back to room temperature after sitting on the counter for some time, it ended up with a hard top shell. That kind of ruined my lovely creamy truffle but I tried to minimize rolling that top shell in.

   I rolled some of them in unsweetened, medium shredded coconut flakes but some just refused to stick on so I thought it would look prettier if I sprinkled on powdered sugar. Ta-da! A little snow on the dark chocolate truffles. I rolled the other half in Valhrona cocoa powder. Why not go for the best when you are making truffles, right? These had a dark chocolate flavor and creamy middle. 

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Holiday Gifts: Chocolate Blocks with peppermint

     One of the joys of being an aunt is creating new traditions with the little ones. As an aunt, I've found that cooking and baking with my nieces is our bonding time. My little nieces generally love to help me with making Thanksgiving dinner. I usually cook the potatoes then let them take turns mash the potatoes. They love it. This year, I thought I'll do something extra special. I read about chocolate stirrers on the webs somewhere and then found the King Arthur Flour's blog about Cocoa Blocks.  I thought it sounded easy enough to do and we all love chocolate. It's such a beautiful idea - make fudgy chocolate blocks then stir the chocolate into hot chocolate milk! Perfect to do together and these make great gifts.

     If you follow the recipe, it would come out looking like this. But be sure to set it aside overnight Or for several hours to firm up. I let it cool at room temperature. The little ones will keep asking, "When can we continue? Is it ready yet?" every hour but resist. It will cut much better once you give it enough hours to firm up. It really does work to dip knife in hot water, then wipe knife and cut into blocks. 

     As additional fun, I had the little ones break up some candy canes from their Halloween stash. It was oh-so-much fun for them, using a little wooden mallet to break up the candy canes. I wrapped candy in foil or paper towel first so as not to have the pieces fly everywhere.  Or you can simply purchase Peppermint Crunch or the Peppermint Snow. It won't be as much fun and you won't be able to take out frustration the same way, but sometimes the easier way is just as good. 

     This is the Chocolate Blocks with the peppermint.  Most of the peppermint is on the bottom. I thought it would look nice and help the truffle-like bottom to be a tad less sticky. Overall, the little ones loved stirred it into hot milk for hot chocolate and they also ate it like fudge. The peppermint added a light minty flavor. It's creamy and definitely a comfort against the cold wintry weather. 

From King Arthur Flour Company's recipes:
(Their website is wonderful. You can click and use either volume or ounces or grams measure.)


1) Line an 8" x 8" pan with parchment paper or aluminum foil.
2) Heat the cream and condensed milk over low heat until steaming. Remove from the heat and add the chocolate; allow it to gently melt.
3) After about 10 minutes, return the chocolate mixture to low heat to completely melt the chocolate. Whisk vigorously until the mixture is thick and shiny. Add a few drops of flavoring oil if you like; hazelnut, coffee, or vanilla are popular flavors.
4) Pour the chocolate mixture into the pan; shake the pan gently to level. Sprinkle with cocoa, if desired. Set aside overnight to slowly set up.
5) Run a knife around the edge of the pan and turn out onto a clean cutting surface.
6) Slice into 1 ¼" cubes. Heat a knife in hot water and wipe dry before each cut, for smoothest cuts.
7) Stick a wooden stick into the center of each block.
8) Roll in cocoa or crushed peppermint candy, if desired.
9) Wrap in waxed paper, parchment, or plastic wrap to store.
Yield: about 3 dozen blocks.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Apple and Olive Oil Cake #Bundt a Month

   I read that November 15 is National Bundt Day. It's like the birthday for the bundt cake! I am a few days late for the bundt day but hey, better late than never! Life has been a little crazy around here but I had to find the time to bake this bundt cake. It's getting close to Thanksgiving, less than a week to go, so might as well think of it as a make-ahead Thanksgiving dessert. The seemingly energetic bakers Lora of Cake Duchess and Anuradha of Baker Street are hosting Bundt-a-Month. I am always happy to be able to use my beautiful bundt pan and this month's Bundt a Month theme is spice.  I like spices because I grew up with spices in all kinds of dishes, from savory to sweet. 

   When I saw that the theme is spices, I knew that I wanted to have cardamon in the cake. Not only do I have ground cardamon left from a canning project a couple months back, but I also that cardamon gives everything a clean taste.  I also wanted to use apples or pears because it is that time of year! I searched and found the Molly O'Neill recipe on the New York Times website for Olive Oil and Apple Cider Cake. It has the right proportions for my pan. I get lazy and don't want to re-calculate measurement so that it'll be right for my big bundt pan. This one sounded right for my needs but I made my own modifications. 

   I stopped by the farmer's market and got some fujis and suncrisps. I may have added in an empire as well. I added in cardamon and cinnamon while cooking down the apples. I also left many pieces of apples in the apple sauce. 

As the batter baked into a beautiful bundt, my house smelled of baked apples with a touch of cinnamon and cardamon.

   The original recipe can be found on the New York Times website: Olive Oil and Apple Cider Cake.  It's a wonderful recipe - easy with few ingredients. I wanted the apple to shine so I am calling mine Apple and Olive Oil cake.  I added in a teaspoon and half of ground cardamon and a teaspoon of cinnamon while the apples were cooking down into applesauce. I sprinkled it with confectioner sugar after it cooled a bit. This cake would be great with some whipped cream or more of the applesauce over a slice of bundt. The beauty of the bundt pan is that it makes simple delicious cakes look so pretty.