Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Strawberry Shortbread Bars

If I'm baking with jam, I almost always use my tried and true favorite, apricot jam. But with an unopened jar of strawberry jam sitting in the cabinet, I was tempted to try something new. I adapted this recipe from Ina Garten's Raspberry Crumble Bars recipe, but with just a few tweaks here and there based on the ingredients I had on hand. Needless to say, these bars disappeared immediately. 

2 sticks of butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup of sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/3 cup all purpose flour, sifted
dash of salt
about 10 ounces of jam (any flavor)
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon of dried granola
1/4 cup of any chopped nuts

Using a mixer, cream the butter and sugar in a bowl, just until combined. Add the vanilla and mix. With the mixer running slowly, gradually add the sifted flour and salt. Keep mixing until the dough almost turns into a ball. Take 2/3 of the dough and press it onto the bottom of a baking dish (see below). (No need to butter the pan because the high butter-fat content will allow the bars to slide out easily.) Slightly push the dough up to the sides. Spread the dough with the jam, making sure to leave a small border on the edges. Spread generously! Mix and crumble the granola into the 1/3 remaining dough with your hands. Break pieces of the dough and sprinkle over the jam. Depending on the size of your baking dish, you will likely have leftover dough. Sprinkle the nuts over the crumble topping and bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes until the dough is light brown. Let cool completely before cutting them into squares. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Lit(erature) Luce

Reading for pleasure has become a thing of the past for me. But when I do find myself with an extra bit of time, these are some books that never cease to entertain me:

Sleeping with the Enemy [by: Hal Vaughan] - the scandalous true story of Coco Chanel's multiple affairs and involvement in WWII.
The Great Gatsby [by: F. Scott Fitzgerald] - a classic. I re-read this just in time for the movie this year. 
The Sweet Life in Paris [by: David Lebovitz] - a light read and a witty glimpse into ex-pat and pastry chef David Lebovitz's new life in Paris. 
Medium Raw [by: Anthony Bourdain] - this man can do no wrong. Never a sell-out, Bourdain takes you through his gritty and anything but glamorous chef-life before achieving fame for being his non-conformist self.
Bossypants [by: Tina Fey] - hilarious, embarrassing, and honest. Tina Fey's story of her awkward upbringing up to present day will make you "lol." 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Atwater Crossing Kitchen

Atwater Crossing Kitchen is quintessential LA. Future restaurateurs should take note because an outdoor restaurant concept like ATX is exactly what LA is lacking. My boyfriend and I had lunch at ATX over the weekend, and considering it is located adjacent to railroad tracks (hence, the name), we were pleasantly surprised at the sleek but comforting architecture and laid-back atmosphere. The communal tables, friendly staff, and easy-going mood was perfect for a Sunday lunch, and the food wasn't bad either. The flatbreads on the menu were very appealing, especially the Manchego-Jamón. But we gave the Zaatar a shot and surprisingly, my boyfriend, who is a harsh critic of Lebanese food, approved.

Front: Skewered Lime-Chicken Salad
Back: French Green Lentil Salad with Salmon

Monday, March 11, 2013

Let Luce Lately

Beautiful chandeliers and mood lighting at the Langham Huntington Hotel ballroom. 

Famous "#19" pastrami sandwich at Langer's Deli.

The larger than life piñata at Lotería in Hollywood.  

Adorable Hello Kitty sugar cookies at Aroma Café in Studio City.

Pistachio ice cream in a waffle cone from Sprinkles Ice Cream.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Cinnamon Apple Pop Tarts

I was never a big fan of the fruity flavored Pop Tarts. In fact, as a child, I would only nibble on the crusty edges and leave the fruit filling nicely intact. What can I say, I was more of the s'mores and chocolate flavor gal. But I recently crossed over to the dark side and made these apple filled tarts that taste like apple pie in a pocket, and now, I'm proud to say I'm a pop tart fruit convert for life.


one store-bought pie crust, thawed and cut into even-size squares

1 - 2 granny smith apples (depending on the size); cored, peeled and cubed into tiny pieces
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Combine all of the filling ingredients in a bowl. Let the mixture sit for a few minutes until the juices are released. Spoon a small amount onto a square, leaving the edges open. Place another piece of dough, similar in size over the filled square. Using a fork, press down on the edges to seal the pocket. Make sure to seal them really well because you don't want the juices to overflow and burn on the pan during baking. Repeat with the other squares. Poke holes in all of the squares and bake at 350 degrees on parchment paper for about 15 minutes until lightly golden brown. Let cool to room temperature.

3/4 cup powdered sugar, sifted
2 tablespoons of the released juices from the filling mixture

Whisk the glaze ingredients until evenly combined and no lumps remain. The glaze should be fall off the whisk in ribbons. Add more powdered sugar or liquid to achieve your desired consistency. After the tarts have cooled, drizzle them with the glaze and let it set for a few minutes before eating. 

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

When Life Hands You Lemons, Make Cake!

My closest friends know that I am obsessed with lemons. I eat them whole and especially love the rind. I even eat the lemon slices restaurants use as a drink garnish. So when I stumbled upon this amazing Lemon Yogurt Cake recipe, it was a no-brainer. The best part about this cake is the lemon syrup that gets poured on the cake while it's still hot from baking. And even though I omitted the confectioners glaze, this cake was very moist and the perfect accompaniment to late afternoon tea. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Here, There, Everywhere

Hand-brewed coffee, latte and buttery brioche with strawberry jam at Sqirl.

Shoe splurges for Mom and I.

An indulgent lunch from Würstkuche in Downtown LA. Top to bottom: Louisiana Hotlink, Pheasant, Sun-dried tomato and mozzarella würst, and Belgian fries. 

Valentine's Roses.

One bite, and these cheese-guava churros and hot chocolate from Churros Calientes will transport you from Santa Monica to Spain.

Chocolate Éclairs

Is there a dessert more French than éclairs? I think not. As you can tell by the lack of uniformity among my éclairs, this was my first shot at this equal parts beautiful and delicious pastry. I grew up eating my mom's homemade éclairs, which closely resemble powdered sugar-dusted profiteroles. And though mom was skeptical when I told her I wanted my éclairs to be long and chocolatey instead of round and sugary, I quickly got her stamp of approval after her first bite. 

Créme Anglaise (adapted from Gale Gand's recipe)
2 cups milk (any percent will do, but whole milk is ideal)
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
6 egg yolks (use the whites for meringue!)
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

In a medium saucepan, bring the milk and vanilla to a boil over medium heat. Once the mixture reaches a boil, immediately remove it from the heat and let it sit while you prepare the rest of the ingredients. In a bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the cornstarch and whisk until there are no lumps. Quickly whisk in 1/4 cup of the milk mixture. This will temper the eggs and prevent curdling. Whisk in the remaining milk mixture. Strain the mixture back into the saucepan and cook over medium-high heat. Make sure to whisk constantly. Don't stop! Whisk until the mixture is thickened and once it reaches a slow boil, remove it from the heat and add the butter. Let it cool slightly. Transfer to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Make sure to put the plastic wrap on the custard to prevent skin formation. Refrigerate for a couple hours. 

Pastry Dough
1 cup water
1 stick unsalted butter
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 eggs
dash of salt

In a saucepan, bring the water, butter, salt and sugar to a rolling boil over medium-high heat. When it reaches a boil, remove the pan from the heat. Add the flour and stir vigorously until everything is incorporated. Again, stirring vigorously (or using an electric mixer), add the eggs one at a time. Stir very aggressively to avoid "cooking" the eggs. The dough should be very sticky and loose. Using a pastry bag or snipped ziplock bag, pipe long flat lengths of the dough on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake at 425 degrees for about 15 minutes. Then, reduce the heat to 375 degrees and bake for 20-25 minutes more. When the éclairs are done, leave them in the oven with the door open. Do not touch the éclairs until they have cooled to room temperature. This is key! Cutting into the éclairs too soon will cause them to deflate. 

Chocolate Glaze
4 ounces of semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup heavy cream

Melt the ingredients in a bowl on a double boiler until smooth. You can also microwave.

Once the pastry has cooled to room temperature, cut each éclair halfway lengthwise and generously spread the cooled pastry cream. Do not overstuff the eclairs. Dip the tops of the eclairs in the melted chocolate. Enjoy with a cup of tea. 

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Avocado Chocolate Mousse

Who would have thought two of my favorite ingredients - chocolate and avocado - would be compatible for each other? I guess opposites do attract after all. While this was unthinkably easy to whip up and a healthy alternate dessert, it certainly has a cactus-y note that may be too pungent for some (including boyfriends). But a couple spoonfuls in, I was hooked. Of course, this will never compare to a classic chocolate mousse that's made with fatty eggs and milk. But if you dare, give this guilt-free concoction a shot. Recipe below. 

Avocado Chocolate Mousse Recipe

2 very ripe avocados (un-ripe avocados will result in a lumpy mousse)
1/4 cup melted semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup agave nectar syrup
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
a splash of almond milk (or regular, soy, or coconut milk)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
dash of salt

Blend all of the ingredients together in a food processor until very smooth and creamy. There should absolutely be no lumps. Scrape down the sides of the processor periodically to ensure it is perfectly smooth. Pour into ramekins and cool for a few hours. Bon appetit!


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