Saturday, June 30, 2012

Getting Rid of Junk!

I have missed blogging so much! How did I while my time away when I did not have a blog? These past few days I have been possessed by an obsession to turn our new apartment into a home. Some of the hardest parts about moving in to our new place were decisions… where to place furniture, store things in, and most of all how to arrange my our kitchen. I have forgone blogging, working out, and cooking for an entire week to dedicate all my free time to the move… that never happens! Fortunately, my boy can cook and he made three incredible dinners: fajitas, pasta with tons of veggies, and ginger-soy sauce beef with rice. I, on the other hand, came home one night with greasy pizza and beer. That also never happens! But it was worth the sacrifice because our new place somehow slowly came together over the past few days and is feeling like home. There’s still some work to do, but we are close to being done.

It was surprising to realize how much stuff I have that I don’t really need. I don’t have too many clothes, shoes, or knick knacks but still there was way too much. When I first moved to this country, I came with one huge luggage and that was it. How did I acquire so many things over the past 5 years? I consider myself pretty frugal when it comes to shopping… my main indulgence are food ingredients at the farmer’s market which disappear within a week or so, kitchen utensil purchases that are all loved and used, and the occasional cookbook greed (which have dropped considerably after I discovered food blogs… thank you to all of you for the food inspirations!). Every now and then I would go shopping for workout clothes because these are what I wear all the time, except when I’m at work and am forced to dress somewhat nice.

So anyway, part of arranging all my things into the new apartment was getting rid of the ones that I absolutely do not need. Clothes that I haven’t worn in years: pants that are way too big, shrunken shirts, etc.; papers from college; binders; old lotions; sheets; trinkets; and so on. There were a couple of boxes for different purposes: Goodwill boxes, Plato’s Closet box (gotta get a little bit of money for some nice stuff, right?), friends-might-like-this/return-to-friends box, throw away box, and prize box (for my students).          

It felt GOOD to rid myself of all the extra stuff! However, there’s still a few that I’m iffy with letting go. These things I put in a semi-hidden corner and if they’re still not used within a year, they’re going away.

One of the other things I have let go of is my collection of bulk food in plastic bags! This was the perfect time to get air-tight containers and arrange everything nicely. I seriously spent two days of my free time organizing my spices, beans, lentils, flours, sugars, you name it, and arranging the kitchen the way I want it to look while taking into consideration efficiency for cooking and baking.

We do not have any decorations… just simple basic stuff that we need and I want to keep it that way. All decorations are cookbooks, novels, my teaching textbooks, DFJ’s chemistry textbooks, puzzles, and a few framed photos. That’s it, keeping it simple! Less clutter = less clean-up = WIN!

Now, on to cleaning DFJ’s old apartment and my old apartment… then some more organizing over here. Have a great Saturday everyone!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Grilled Pizza with Roasted Summer Veggies and Chimichurri

Yesterday has been a whirlwind of events!

Packing, moving, unpacking, and doing it again, and it's not done yet. This was the first thing I did yesterday morning (after breakfast with blog stalking, of course) and the last thing I did right before going to bed at 2 AM.

After some packing, I went to a very challenging yoga class that I enjoyed every minute of. Today was arm balance day and since the only arm balance I can manage to do as of present is the crow pose, a not so great one at that, it was hard to get into the side crow and one-legged crow poses. Gotta give myself a pat on the back for trying and for not getting mad because I can’t do it, just yet. I will keep working on it and will get there someday.

We went to my friend, Tuck's, very nice and well-attended memorial service. He was an amazing person and I feel privileged to have gotten the chance to know him. Thank you Tuck for always helping me out and for showing me what good work, family values, friendship, and being a good Samaritan means. You will live on in our hearts!

This pizza was what we had for dinner and it is the bomb!

Thank you Lexi for choosing, Mixed Grill with Chimichurri, for The Food Matter’s Project this week. At first, I wasn’t too thrilled when I first read through the recipe… it seemed like a lot of preparation and because of not thinking in advance, I had already gone to the farmer’s market and grocery store last Friday to buy the weekly supplies. The original recipe, which you can find at Lexi’s beautiful blog, called for eggplant, parsley, tomatoes, and chicken, all of which I did not have.

Because we spent so much money at the market, I thought it would be best to stick with what was already in the refrigerator and make it work. Then I read Jenna Weber’s post on Grilled Pesto and Goat Cheese Pizza and that was it. Sold!

Because I like making things from scratch and was determined to make grilled pizza, I had to make DFJ’s and my current favorite pizza dough, the Basic Pizza Dough recipe from America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook. Despite all the packing fiasco and the limited time we have, I made another grocery store stop for yeast (I thought we were out but it magically reappeared when I didn’t need it anymore), tomatoes, and parsley.   

While DFJ packed and packed (he had a late start) I happily kneaded the dough, made the chimichurri, and chopped the vegetables. When it was time to grill the pizza, I called for help and we both headed out to the apartment complex’s community grill. The pizza grilling process took longer than we expected because we were not patient and didn’t wait for the grill to heat up.

This dinner took a lot of time, but it was worth every second! Grilled pizza is so good that I am toying with the idea of purchasing our own grill, which is totally unreasonable right now. The other delicious factors about this pizza are: the chimichurri (an Argentine herb sauce), the roasted vegetable toppings, and the cheeses.

Basic Pizza Dough recipe from America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook.

Chimichurri was used as pizza sauce. I followed Mark Bittman’s recipe closely, which you can find here. The recipe recommends parsley but also said it is fine to use cilantro or basil or a combination of all three. I used parsley and about 1/3 cup of olive oil instead of 1/2 and loved it! This is what I’m going to do now every time I have leftover parsley. One of the best pesto sauces ever!  

Roasted vegetables comprised of the following: Walla-Walla sweet onion, portabella mushroom, red bell pepper, asparagus, zucchini, a zucchini-like summer squash, and tomatoes. Chop everything, place in a roasting pan, generously coat with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and roast everything but the tomatoes in the oven for 18 minutes, stirring halfway through cooking time. After 18 minutes, add the tomatoes and grill for 2 two more minutes.         

Cheeses: Panela Cheese and Gorgonzola.

Fresh basil placed on the pizza after it came out of the grill. Perfect finishing touch!

For pizza grilling instructions, check out Jenna Weber’s recipe.

Look at that perfectly cooked crust... I am dreaming about this pizza as I am writing this blog post. The combination of everything is just too wonderful for words. You gotta try this one guys!

Have a great week everyone and wish me luck… more packing and apartment cleaning awaits! 

Friday, June 22, 2012

Chocolate-Orange and White Layer Cake with Chocolate Buttercream and Vanilla Whipped Cream Frosting

Happy Weekend Everyone!

It was a busy day and it was go, go, go from the moment I woke up. We got the keys to our new apartment today and have officially started our move. Our leases for the current apartments we are living in are ending on the last day of June, which gives us a good time to move out and clean. I wanted to get a head start, so we are moving my stuff in first because I was better prepared for the move than my new official roommate is.  

As promised, here is the recipe for the three-layer cake that I made for DFJ’s birthday.

This was a citrusy three-layer cake that offered the best of both cake worlds, white and chocolate. The Simple Orange Cake layer is a classic white cake recipe… it embodies its name perfectly: a delicious, simple cake, with hints of all-natural, orange flavor. The Chocolate-Orange Pound Cake is nice and lovely… for the butter content that it has, it is light and elegant with the perfect touch of chocolate and orange.

Now then, let’s talk about the frostings on this cake. Two fantastic frostings! It was a wonderful combination of rich and sweet chocolate goodness from the Chocolate Buttercream and simple but classy Vanilla Whipped Cream.      

I have to admit, this cake required some labor of love, but it’s well worth it. The look of delight and cake bliss on our friends’ faces when they had this cake and DFJ’s never-ceasing approval made me so happy. I would gladly go through all this effort again!

Brace yourselves, it’s a long one!

Chocolate-Orange and White Layer Cake with Chocolate Buttercream and Vanilla Whipped Cream Frosting!

Simple Orange Cake (Makes one 9-inch, round cake)
Slightly adapted from Alice Waters’ 1-2-3-4 Cake, The Art of Simple Food

1 ½ cups cake flour
2 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt

1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 cup ultrafine sugar
¾ tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp orange zest
1 tbsp orange juice, freshly squeezed

½ cup milk, (whole, 2%, 1%, nonfat, all are ok… I used 1%)

2 eggs, separated

tad of butter to grease pan

In a large bowl, whisk together the cake flour, baking powder, and salt.

In a separate large bowl, cream butter and sugar using an electric hand mixer. Add the vanilla, orange zest, and orange juice and mix well. Make sure to scrape the sides and bottom so everything is well incorporated.

Alternately stir in the flour mixture and the milk into the butter mixture, ending with the flour. Stir the last bit of flour into the batter until just combined.

Move the oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In a small bowl, beat egg whites with an electric hand mixer on high. Pour half of it into the batter and mix on low until well combined. Gently fold the other half into the batter using a thin spatula.

Pour the batter into a well-greased, 9 inch, round cake pan and bake for 30-40 minutes. Check and see if your cake is done by inserting a toothpick in the middle. If the toothpick comes out clean, your cake is done. 

Chocolate-Orange Pound Cake (Makes two 9-inch, round cakes)
Slightly adapted from Pascal Rigo’s Chocolate-Orange Pound Cake, The American Boulangerie

1 cup cake flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
2 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt

2 ½ sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
3 tbsp Greek yogurt
2 tbsp orange juice, freshly squeezed
1 tbsp orange zest
1 tbsp agave syrup

4 large eggs

generous 1/3 cup bittersweet chocolate chips, melted
2 tbsp cocoa nibs

tad of butter to grease cake pans

In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, and salt.

In a separate large bowl, cream the butter and sugar on low for 1 minute, using an electric hand mixer. Add yogurt, orange juice, orange zest, and agave and mix on low for another minute. Scrape the sides and bottom to make sure everything is well-incorporated.

Add a half cup of flour and one egg into the butter mixture and stir until well-combined. Repeat three more times adding a half cup of flour and an egg each time.

Slowly mix in the melted chocolate and cocoa nibs into the batter using a flexible spatula. Let the batter sit for about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, move the oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.    

Pour the batter into 2 well-greased, 9-inch, round cake pans and bake for 48-52 minutes. Make sure to rotate the cake pans midway through baking time. You will know your cake is done when a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

1 stick unsalted butter, softened
¾ cup powdered sugar
½ tsp vanilla extract
¼ cup bittersweet chocolate chips, melted and cooled

In a medium size bowl, beat the butter and sugar with an electric hand mixer until both are well-combined, light, and fluffy. Add in the vanilla extract and beat some more. Pour in the melted chocolate and continue beating until you achieve a smooth and thick consistency.

Vanilla Whipped Cream Frosting

1 tbsp ultrafine sugar
seeds from 1 inch piece of vanilla bean
1 cup cold, heavy cream

Put a stainless-steel mixing bowl in the freezer for 10-15 minutes.

In a small mixing bowl, rub the vanilla bean seeds into the sugar granules.

Pour the heavy cream and the vanilla-sugar into the cold mixing bowl. Mix with an electric hand mixer on high until the cream holds a soft shape or until stiff peaks form. You can flip the bowl upside down and the cream frosting will not fall out or even move (it’s pretty cool!). 

Assembling the Chocolate-Orange and White Layer Cake with Chocolate Buttercream and Vanilla Whipped Cream Frosting:

Place one Chocolate-Orange Pound Cake in the middle of a cake stand or whatever serving plate you have. Spread half of the Chocolate Buttercream Frosting on top with an icing spreader or a small, plastic spatula.

Carefully position the Simple Orange Cake on top. Spread the other half of the Chocolate Buttercream Frosting.

Carefully place the other Chocolate-Orange Pound Cake on top.

Spread the whipped cream frosting on top of the cake and around the sides. When spreading frosting on the cake, put a generous amount on your spatula and use long, single strokes. (Lots of small spreading over and over will cause cake crumbs to come up and you don’t want crumbs showing on top of your cake.)


Shave some dark chocolate on top of your cake.

If you refrigerate your cake, let it sit at room temperature for at least an hour before serving. I found that I liked the texture of the cake better this way, it was softer and spongier and the frosting was nice and soft.

Bake this cake for a special someone or just throw a party so your family and friends (and of course, you too!) can eat cake. This cake will definitely make your party! Everyone who had a piece of this cake at DFJ’s birthday party loved it and I promise that you will too.

 Hope you all enjoy this weekend!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A Week of Summer Vacation

DFJ’s birthday always happens to fall on the week right after school ends. There is a downside to this: making birthday plans on the last week of school is an added stress to the craziness of the week. The upside: we get to celebrate his birthday and the beginning of summer for me, which means that it can turn into a week-long affair.

Last week was my real summer break because I started teaching summer school this week (so far it's going good...). It was a special week and I feel like it was too good to keep to myself, so allow me share it with all of you.    

I pretty much just laid back and relaxed… made chocolate-cherry panini for breakfast, got some reading time in, wrote a blog post, made birthday week plans, did a little bit of packing, and ended the day with a quick workout.

Made DFJ some special blueberry buttermilk pancakes (recipe from Alice Waters’ The Art of Simple Food), eggs, and bacon for breakfast.

Took DFJ to a golf course and even played 9 holes with him. It was my first time and although I was extremely horrible, we both had a great time.

Dinner at Tagaris Winery. Great atmosphere, good food, good wine, and a handsome date.

Happy Birthday, D!

DFJ and I went on the Manhattan Project B-Reactor tour. This was the facility that produced all the Plutoniom-239 for nuclear weapons used in World War II. The reactor core was impressive. It is a powerful machine that converted uranium into deadly plutonium-239, built by hand on the site by brilliant scientists, hardworking manpower, and support staff. However, it is very sad to know how many lives were destroyed by this plutonium used to power the atomic bomb that was exploded on Nagasaki, Japan on August 9, 1945.       

We had this pancake sandwich for lunch and took naps. Then we signed the lease for our new apartment that we’re moving to in a couple of days. Yikes! I have not fully packed yet and so not ready for cleaning two apartments.   

I went on a long walk while on the phone with my mom and headed towards the gym to go to my friend, Roslyn’s, Sh’Bam class. Dang, she’s good! I had so much fun! After getting some dance exercise I did some quick weight-lifting and walked back home… that was when I listened to my voice messages and found out that my friend, Tuck, passed away. Devastating. DFJ met up with me on the walking path and we walked some more… I was in a state of disbelief. We then went to Baskin Robbins to get some Baseball Nut, Tuck’s favorite ice cream flavor. He and I planned on getting together for some ice cream this summer, but now I will have to settle for enjoying Baseball Nut with memories of him.

We had another easy day… I made some phone calls to get more information about what happened to my friend. Workouts and baking are always great therapies for me during sad times and distress. So, DFJ and I went on a run and I took my sweet time baking one layer of his cake when we got home. Early that evening, I went to Happy Hour Yoga at my studio and enjoyed a nice, juicy class.  

I started the day right by baking the second layer of DFJ’s cake and leaving him to take it out of the oven to go off to a great yoga class. Right after class, I went to the Farmer’s Market and bought some delicious goodies… radishes, beets, onions, zucchini, peas, cherries, and eggs. When I got home I did some paperwork organizing and more packing. Ugh! This is only the beginning and it seems like it will never end.

In the afternoon, I made two different batches of frosting for the cake. Then we prepared for a night of pizza, beer, and cake by going on a quick run and circuit workout before meeting up with great friends to celebrate DFJ’s birthday.

We went to Ethos Bakery, owned by my friends Angela and Scott. This bakery is something else… check out that huge wood-fired oven and the mouth-watering pizzas. Everything was delicious! Each time I go to Ethos for pizza, I am reminded of Angela’s passion and genuine concern for quality and what good food should taste like… fresh, local, homemade, organic, and wood-fired! 

The cake… I used a pizza stone as a cake stand and pitched toothpicks around the cake to put the foil tent over so the cake is well-covered as it travelled from the apartment to Ethos. Obviously, I need to invest in a cake stand and a cake carrier. The cake was delicious nonetheless and everyone loved it. Recipe share coming soon!

DFJ and I hiked the Manastash Ridge. It was a killer uphill all the way to the top! I do not remember the last time my butt was kicked this hard on a hiking trip. When we got to the top, it was well worth all the effort because the view was gorgeous. We walked along the ridgeline trail for another mile just because. It was quite a long way, but it was lovely… desert lovely. Snacks were enjoyed under the shade of a big tree with the sounds of birds chirping everywhere around us. Hiking on the steep downhill was scary… I chose to walk on the weedy and bumpy off-trail because I am deathly scared of tripping and slipping to my demise. When the savior off-trail tracks disappeared I was left with no choice but to take careful steps down the scary, sandy trail… with some crab-walking going on. If you could’ve seen me, you would’ve thought I was the most pathetic looking creature. What is it with me and downhills?!?

We drove to the pit and enjoyed an hour of floating in the water and basking in the sun, and hang time with family friends and their beautiful little girls. Then I was off to my friend, Hayley’s, bridal shower. It was lovely and I am so proud of having a wonderful friend like her. Kevin is a lucky man!

We hung out with our friends’ little girls for a little bit before heading up to Bill and Sally’s for a nice Father’s Day brunch. The rest of the morning was spent visiting and catching up on what’s going on. Bill and Sally are very dear to me and every now and then I reminisce the good old days of living in their farm.    

This was the highlight of the visit… Sally’s super-cute parrot who believes that Zoe is her Momma! Can you believe how well-behaved Zoe is? She just lets the parrot cuddle against her and has no thoughts of devouring her, whatsoever. Such a sweet, sweet dog!

When we got home, the rest of the day was spent planning for summer school lessons, blogging, cooking, and reading my latest book.  

Do take note that this week is not a typical one… it sounds too wonderful to be true, doesn’t it? I savor these moments in my life… being with special people that I love, making food, eating good food, getting a good workout, and putting all my worries aside for the time being. 

The passing of my friend last week reminded me how important it is to take time to let the people you love and appreciate know how you feel because you never know what could happen tomorrow.     

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Chocolate-Cherry Panini

I love cherries! Growing up in the Philippines, my image of cherries were the canned Maraschinos. I thought they were terrible until I moved to the US about five years ago and discovered real cherries. The wonderful folks I lived with for a couple of years here and whom I consider my American family own fruit orchards… cherries, apples, pears, peaches, nectarines, apricots, you name it, was plenty. During summers, we’d have buckets of cherries and I would eat a whole bowl of cherries in one sitting. Life is a big bowl of cherries!

Cherry… this beautiful, fleshy, stone fruit is as lovely as its name. My favorite kinds are the Rainier, Bing, and Tieton. So naturally, these cherry varieties were what I used for this week’s Food Matter’s Project recipe that I am hosting, Chocolate-Cherry Panini. I chose this recipe because it is simple and is something that everyone would love. This can be served in a variety of ways… for breakfast with a big glass of milk or a cup of coffee, an afternoon snack with iced tea, or dessert with ice cream on top. Also, because of how creative FMP members are I am sure heavenly twists will come about. I have toyed with the idea of making a cherry compote and chocolate sauce to spread on toast. However, because I love cherries too much, I decided to stick with the original recipe so I can fully appreciate the real taste of cherries.

As good as I thought the panini was, I am not a big fan of eating toast and ending up with sore gums. Grilled bread grating against my overly sensitive gums takes away the pleasures of eating. Another thing I wasn’t so thrilled about was the use of dark chocolate. Don’t get me wrong, I love dark chocolate and would gladly eat blocks a block of it any time of the day. Somehow, the combination just didn’t work very well for me.  

Because it seemed impossible for all three things to not turn out amazing/awesome/wonderful (really how can bread, cherries, and dark chocolate go wrong?) it was worthy of another try… and this time I was in love.

In my opinion, this is definitely the way to go. Rich, fluffy, buttery pancakes with melted semi-sweet chocolate chips and fresh sweet cherries. Pure summer breakfast bliss!

Please pardon the burnt pancakes… this is only my third time using my cast iron skillet and I am still figuring out how to not undercook or overcook things in it. Fortunately, the burntness just added character to the taste… not bad at all. Promise!     

How to Make a Chocolate-Cherry Pancake Sandwich

pancake batter (whatever favorite recipe you have… I made Alice Waters’ Buttermilk Pancakes, with a cup of blueberries)
butter, to grease skillet
sweet cherries, pitted and halved
semi-sweet chocolate chips

Prepare all ingredients and have everything set out for efficiency.

Heat a cast iron or non-stick skillet over medium heat. When the skillet is hot, put ¼ tablespoon butter in the pan. Pour ½ cup of pancake batter and wait for a couple of seconds until the bottom side is done and then flip the pancake. When the other side is done, move the pancake to a plate (underside up) and place chocolate chips on top. Make sure to move fast so that chocolate chips will melt on the still-hot pancake surface.

Place pitted and halved cherries on the pancake.

Fry another pancake and put it on top (topside up).

Serve immediately. Perfect even without extra butter, maple syrup, or honey!  

Here’s Mark Bittman’s original recipe as it appears in The Food Matters Cookbook.

Chocolate-Cherry Panini
Mark Bittman, The Food Matters Cookbook

Makes: 4 sandwiches              Time: 30 minutes

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened
8 slices bread, preferably whole wheat 
1 cup halved pitted dark or sour cherries
4 ounces bittersweet chocolaye, chopped

1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Butter 4 slices of the bread on one side with half the butter and lay them, butter side down, on a baking sheet. Spread the cherries evenly over the bread and sprinkle with the chopped chocolate. Close each sandwich with a second slice of bread and butter the top sides. Cover the sandwiches with a second baking sheet, weigh down the sheet with something heavy, like cast-iron skillet or some cans of tomatoes, and let sit for 5 minutes.

2. Remove the weight and top baking sheet. Bake the sandwiches until the bottom of the bread is browned lightly, about 5 minutes, then turn and cook for 5 minutes on the other side. Cut each sandwich in half and serve warm.

Chocolate-Cherry Panino. Dessert--or breakfast--for one. Assemble one sandwich by filling 2 slices whole wheat bread with ¼ cup cherries and ½ ounce chopped chocolate. Put 2 teaspoons butter in a skillet set over medium heat. When the butter melts, put the sandwich in the skillet, cover it with a plate, and weigh down the plate as described above (or simply press down on it gently). Cook until the bottom of the bread is browned lightly, 2 to 3 minutes, lift the sandwich from the pan, add another teaspoon butter, let it melt, then return the sandwich and repeat on the other side. Eat immediately.

Hope everyone loved the Chocolate-Cherry Panini recipe!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Good Night, Tuck

To my friend and coworker Tuck, thank you for helping me out all the time... all the time.

…correcting the spelling of my last name for my work email address.

…cleaning my very messed up home laptop.

…buying me ice cream at Baskin Robbins and introducing me to Baseball Nut.

…helping me pick the best point and shoot camera for the budget I had in mind.

…taking care of my classroom iPad and account.

…explaining over and over again how to use the projector, connect it to my laptop, use the microphone and speakers for different functions that I needed it for, and even delivering it to the areas in school where I needed it.

…spending the better part of your work day fixing my work laptop that crashed for some unknown reason.

…teaching me how to edit movies.

…remotely fixing whatever computer problems I have from your office and doing that creepy thing where my mouse moves around without me touching it and I just sit and stare as you close windows from elsewhere and magically restore my computer to its original working status.

Thank you for being incredibly patient when I came running to you with all these technical problems even though you’ve walked me through it before.

Thank you for the jokes that I sometimes got and sometimes didn’t but made me laugh anyway. Your quirky personality and your genuine niceness never failed to make my day. I will miss your yelling at me for hanging up on you every time I pick up the classroom phone when you call, seeing you in the hallways, hanging out with you at parties eating shrimp cocktail and nuts, and Baskin Robbins times. We were going to hang out this summer, but you unexpectedly said goodbye too soon… I didn’t know the last day of school was the last day I would ever see you.    

Love, M.