Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Snow on the Grapevine, just north of Los Angeles!

I've had a great winter break at home so far. It's been relaxing, and filled with family, friends, and baking... what more could a girl ask for?! Oh, presents, you're right. How could I forget? Those come tonight and tomorrow :) Anyways, here's a little recap of my break so far, with pictures and all.

I spent a day shopping in San Francisco with Emily on her 22nd birthday, went back to her house for dinner and dessert, and then took BART back into the city for a night out on the town!

Me, Michelle, and Emily

A few days later, I headed down to Newport Beach for Chrissy's Bachelorette party. Seven girls, including Chrissy's sister/maid of honor, bridesmaids, sorority sister, and former roommates watched the Boat Parade and went out to a couple bars in Newport. We all had a great time, and Chrissy was a really good sport for doing all the silly tasks we made her do while wearing a tulle veil and a "bachelorette" sash.

Chrissy, Jennifer, me, and Jamie

I've also spent a lot of time with my family. My aunt, uncle, and cousins from are visiting from Michigan, and my cousin Christine just got back from studying abroad in London. Since we weren't able to see them a few weeks ago for Turkey Day, we had Thanksgiving Part Two in Danville, which Christine (one of my inspirations for cooking!) planned and cooked.

All the cousins! Luke, Me, Christine, Matt, Andrea, Heather, William, and Kevin

Luke, Matt, Christine, Me, Kevin, Andrea, and Heather

Yesterday, all the cousins made our way to San Francisco on BART, with the new Academy of Sciences as our destination. Unfortunately, a few hundred other families had the same idea, and tickets were sold out when we arrived. We walked across the park to the De Young Museum, where we saw the beautiful 360 degree view of San Francisco on a clear day (see pictures below), ate lunch, and browsed through the art displays.

Hello, Golden Gate Bridge!

Luke, Andrea, Matt, Christine, Me, Heather, William, and Kevin

Matt, Andrea, Christine, and Uncle Bob

Huge satellite map of San Francisco

And I've put in plenty of time in the kitchen, baking cookies and desserts and planning for tomorrow's dinner for 18. I wanted to share one of the desserts I'm making for Christmas: Chocolate Walnut Biscotti.

This recipe has gotten amazing reviews on Epicurious: four forks (the highest rating) and over 200 positively glowing comments. I've only tried an itty-bitty corner piece myself, so the true test will be tomorrow after dinner, when these guys are served with coffee and hot apple cider!

Chocolate Walnut Biscotti Recipe

From Gourmet, December 1994


2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup walnuts, chopped
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips (optional; I didn't include)

1 tablespoon confectioners' sugar

Preheat oven to 350°F. and butter and flour a large baking sheet.

In a bowl whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. In another bowl with an electric mixer beat together butter and granulated sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs and beat until combined well. Stir in flour mixture to form a stiff dough. Stir in walnuts and chocolate chips.

On prepared baking sheet with floured hands form dough into two slightly flattened logs, each 12 inches long and 2 inches wide, and sprinkle with confectioners' sugar. Bake logs 35 minutes, or until slightly firm to the touch. Cool biscotti on baking sheet 5 minutes.

On a cutting board cut biscotti diagonally into 3/4-inch slices. Arrange biscotti, cut sides down, on baking sheet and bake until crisp, about 10 minutes. Cool biscotti on a rack. Biscotti keep in airtight containers 1 week and frozen, 1 month.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Deep Dark Chocolate Crinkles

These are the ultimate cookies for chocoholics. They're chewy and fudgy, with a thin crispy outer layer delicately dusted with powdered sugar. Butterless and flourless, this recipe hinges on high quality bittersweet chocolate and an egg-white meringue. My mom thought they were too rich - they should be named "For Chocolate Lovers Only". I don't think anything can be too chocolatey; I order double-chocolate-chip-with-chocolate-fudge-ice cream. Every time. This is an automatic new favorite for me!

From Bon Appetit, June 2008


Nonstick vegetable oil spray
1 1/2 cups bittersweet chocolate chips (about 9 ounces), divided
3 large egg whites, room temperature
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar, divided
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 400°F. Spray 2 large baking sheets with nonstick spray. Melt 1 cup chocolate chips in glass bowl in microwave, stirring twice, about 2 minutes. Cool slightly.

Using electric mixer, beat whites in large bowl to soft peaks. Gradually beat in 1 cup sugar. Continue beating until mixture resembles soft marshmallow creme. Whisk 1 cup sugar, cocoa, cornstarch, and salt in medium bowl to blend. On low speed, beat dry ingredients into meringue. Stir in lukewarm chocolate and 1/2 cup chocolate chips (dough will become very stiff).

Place 1/2 cup sugar in bowl. Roll 1 rounded tablespoon dough into ball; roll in sugar, coating thickly. Place on prepared sheet. Repeat with remaining dough, spacing 2 inches apart. Bake until puffed and tops crack, about 10 minutes. Cool on sheets on rack 10 minutes. Transfer to rack; cool.

Christmas Cookies

Peanut Butter Hershey's Kisses

Gingerbread Men

UCLA Butter Cookie

Very Dark Chocolate Crinkles

Monday, December 15, 2008


I've made this recipe twice now, once just for myself and again for our holiday party. Some of our guests were shocked that I had made hummus from scratch; they said they never would have thought to make it. Well, the secret is out: homemade hummus is way better than store-bought, and it's incredibly easy to make. You basically just throw everything in the food processor and whirr it together until it's light and fluffy. My Cuisinart is miniature, so I blended in two batches.

This is a great traditional hummus recipe to use as a foundation, but you could easily add some other flavors by adding roasted red bell pepper, basil, or olives. I'll definitely try a red pepper variation next time!

By Mark Bittman, from The Best Recipes in the World

Makes 8 or more servings.


2 cups drained well-cooked or canned chickpeas, liquid reserved
1/2 cup tahini (sesame paste), optional, with some of its oil
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus oil for drizzling
2 cloves garlic, peeled, or to taste
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon ground cumin or paprika, or to taste, plus a sprinkling for garnish
Juice of 1 lemon, plus more as needed
Chopped fresh parsley leaves for garnish

Put everything except the parsley in a food processor and begin to process; add the chickpea liquid or water as needed to allow the machine to produce a smooth puree.

Taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve, drizzled with the olive oil and sprinkled with a bit more cumin or paprika and some parsley.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Holiday Party!

Emily, Jamie, me and Chrissy

My roommates and I hosted our second annual Holiday Party at our apartment last night. It was so good to hang out and celebrate the holidays, the end of finals, and Emily/Chrissy/Maggie's birthdays. After a little scrambling around the kitchen an hour before the party started, we put on our heels, poured champagne cocktails, and took some pictures in front of our very festive red wall.

Chrissy, my former roommate who graduated this spring and is getting married in January, came early in the morning to help us plan, shop, and clean before the party! It's always so great to see her and all spend time together.

For drinks and hors d'oeuvres, we chose both new and tried-and-true recipes. Everyone made their specialties: Emily's Brie with Cranberries, Jamie's Peppermint Chocolate Fudge, Chrissy's Bean Dip, and my own Hummus. For the drinks and other hors d'oeuvres, we all pulled out our laptops and searched Epicurious and food blogs for new recipes.

I'll post all the recipes within the next few days. Now that I'm on Christmas break, I have lots of time to relax, update the blog, go to some farmers markets... but first on the list, sleep in! See you tomorrow afternoon.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Classic Cranberry Sauce

Deliciously tart and so easy to make, you'll never need (or want) to open a can of the weird jellied stuff again.


1/2 cup water
1/2 cup orange juice
1 cup sugar
12-oz bag fresh or frozen cranberries (3 cups)
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated orange zest
Suggestion: dash ground cinnamon, ground nutmeg, and ground cloves

Bring water, orange juice, sugar, and spices to a boil, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Add cranberries and simmer, stirring occasionally, until berries just pop, 10 to 12 minutes. Stir in zest, then cool.

Herbed Oyster Stuffing

Can be assembled (without oysters and not baked) 2 days ahead and chilled, covered. Bring to room temperature and stir in oysters before baking.

From Gourmet, November 2002

Makes 8 to 10 servings.


2 loaves Italian or French bread (1 lb total), cut into 3/4-inch cubes (12 cups)
1/2 lb sliced bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil (if needed)
2 medium onions, finely chopped (2 cups)
1 1/2 cups chopped celery
3 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme or 1 tablespoon dried thyme, crumbled
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh sage or 2 teaspoons dried sage, crumbled
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2/3 cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
18 oysters, shucked, drained, and chopped (3/4 cup)
2 1/4 cups turkey giblet stock or low-sodium chicken broth

Preheat oven to 325°F.

Spread bread cubes in 2 shallow baking pans and bake in upper and lower thirds of oven, switching position of pans halfway through baking, until golden, 25 to 30 minutes total. Cool bread in pans on racks, then transfer to a large bowl.

Meanwhile, cook bacon in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until crisp, about 10 minutes. Transfer to paper towels to drain, reserving fat in skillet.

If bacon renders less than 1/4 cup fat, add enough oil to skillet to total 1/4 cup fat. Cook onions, celery, thyme, sage, garlic, salt, and pepper in fat in skillet over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer to bowl with bread cubes, then stir in bacon, parsley, butter, and oysters. Drizzle with stock, then season with salt and pepper and toss well.

Transfer stuffing to a buttered 3- to 3 1/2-quart shallow baking dish. Bake, covered, in middle of oven 30 minutes, then uncover and bake until browned, about 30 minutes more.

Sweet Potato Puree with Brown Sugar and Sherry

Who knew? Red-skinned sweet potatoes are yams, the real deal. Apparently tan-skinned sweet potatoes are just posers. When roasted, the flesh of the red ones turns BRIGHT, beautiful orange. You could totally eat it like a baked potato; in fact, I'm planning on trying it sometime this week.

Apparently, there was a lot that I didn't know about sweet potatoes. For our Thanksgiving yams, my mom and I were aiming for something a little less sweet than the traditional marshmallow-topped dish. While searching for a new yam inspiration online, I discovered that there are so many different ways to prepare them, and barely any include marshmallows. A few blogs even called the (what I thought was) traditional marshmallow yams "tacky."

I found this recipe on and decided to try it out. Although my brother was skeptical about the lack of marshmallows, he's now a believer that yams can be enjoyed without those pillowy white sugar cubes.

Can be made 2 hours ahead (let stand at room temperature). Recommended method of re-heating: warm over medium-low heat in saucepan, stirring often. My method of re-heating: microwave. Works every time.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.


2 pounds medium-size red-skinned sweet potatoes (yams)
2 pounds medium-size tan-skinned sweet potatoes
10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) butter, room temperature
1/4 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
5 tablespoons dry Sherry

Preheat oven to 425°F. Pierce all sweet potatoes in several places with fork. Bake until tender when pierced with knife, about 55 minutes. Cool slightly.

Cut potatoes in half lengthwise. Using spoon, scoop potato pulp into large bowl. Add butter and brown sugar to potatoes. Using electric mixer, beat until smooth. Beat in Sherry. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer to large saucepan.

Garlic Mashed Potatoes with Chives

This recipe makes gorgeous, rich mashed potatoes studded with festive red and green flecks. I realized at the last minute that I used all the sour cream in the Pumpkin Cheesecake, so I improvised and used plain yogurt, which worked just fine.

From Bon Appetit, September 2003

Makes 6 servings (I doubled the recipe).


1 head of garlic
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 1/2 pounds red-skinned potatoes, half of them peeled, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 cup whipping cream
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
2 tablespoons sour cream
1/4 cup chopped fresh chives

Preheat oven to 425°F. Cut top 1/4 inch off head of garlic to expose tops of cloves. Place in small baking dish. Spoon oil over; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cover dish tightly with aluminum foil. Bake until garlic cloves are tender, about 45 minutes. Squeeze garlic cloves from skins and mash in small bowl.

Cook potatoes in heavy large pot of boiling salted water until very tender, about 18 minutes. Drain; return to pot. Stir over low heat to allow excess water to evaporate. Add whipping cream, butter, sour cream, and roasted garlic and mash together. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in chives and serve.

Ambrosia Macaroons

I made these coconut-based treats for my Papou (Greek for "grandpa") on Thanksgiving because my mom said that he loves macaroons. But when he showed up at our house that evening, he brought a half-squished package of Twinkies. Luckily, it was a joke (at least we think it was...), and after we successfully hid his dessert of choice, he tried a macaroon and gave it a thumbs-up.

Coconut takes the main stage in this recipe, and it got great reviews at the Thanksgiving dinner table. I mean, people even ate them after the year's biggest meal, and if that doesn't say something, I don't know what does. Unfortunately for me, I'm not a huge coconut fan... at least they look pretty in these pictures!

From Bon Appetit, December 2008

Makes about 45 macaroons.


1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons finely grated orange peel
3 large eggs
24 ounces sweetened flaked coconut (about 6 cups firmly packed)
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted

Position rack in center of oven; preheat to 325°F. Line 3 large rimmed baking sheets with parchment. Using electric mixer, beat butter in large bowl until smooth. Add sugar and salt; beat until blended. Beat in orange peel, then eggs, 1 at a time. Mix in coconut. Drop batter onto sheets by tablespoonfuls, spacing 1 1/2 inches apart.

Bake macaroons, 1 sheet at a time, until golden on bottom and browned in spots, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool completely on sheets.

Using fork, drizzle chocolate over macaroons. Chill on sheets until chocolate is firm, about 30 minutes.

Pumpkin Cheesecake

This is my Thanksgiving dessert of choice two years and running.


3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs
1/2 cup finely chopped pecans
1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1 1/2 cups fresh or solid pack pumpkin
3 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
3 8-ounce packages cream cheese, cut into bits and softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon bourbon or Frangelico

2 cups sour cream
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon bourbon or Frangelico, or to taste
12-16 pecan halves for garnish

Crust: In a bowl combine the cracker crumbs, the pecans and the sugars. Stir in the butter and press the mixture into the bottom and 1/2-inch up the side of a buttered 9-inch springform pan. Chill crust for 1 hour.

Filling: In a bowl whisk together pumpkin, egg, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, salt and brown sugar. In a large bowl with an electric mixer cream together cream cheese and granulated sugar, beat in cream, cornstarch, vanilla, bourbon or liqueur and pumpkin mixture. Beat filling until smooth.

Pour filling into crust. Bake cheesecake in the middle of a preheated 350-degree oven for 50-55 minutes, or until the center is just set, and let it cool in the pan on a rack for 5 minutes.

Topping: In a bowl whisk together sour cream, sugar and bourbon or liqueur. Spread sour cream mixture over top of cheesecake and bake for 5 minutes more. Let the cheesecake cool in the pan on a rack and chill it, covered, overnight.

Remove the side of the pan and garnish the top of the cheesecake with pecans.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

I hope you're having a great Thanksgiving day filled with family, friends, love, and, of course, food! This year, I was in charge of "re-vamping" our traditional family feast. I'm trying out new recipes, and so far (fingers crossed) everything has turned out great! Here's the menu:

Emily's Baked Brie with Cranberries
Artichoke Dip
Salted Nuts & Grapes

Yiayia's Salad

Diestel Turkey
Homemade Wheat Bread
Herbed Oyster Stuffing
Garlic Mashed Potatoes with Chives
Sweet Potato Puree with Brown Sugar and Sherry
Green Beans with Ginger Butter
Traditional Cranberry Sauce

Pumpkin Cheesecake
Ambrosia Macaroons

Here's a little preview:

I'll put up recipes for all the dishes tomorrow!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Girls' Night Out: Father's Office & Ugo Wine Bar

Since it's my roommates and my last year of college, we decided to make a list of everything we absolutely must do before we graduate. Things that we've wanted to do since freshman year, but just haven't found the time. Things that we're old enough to do, now that we're all 21. Things that anyone and everyone living in Los Angeles should do at least once. So, now that our time together is quickly approaching (sadly), we're going to do it all!

Having a burger and a beer at Father's Office was one of the first things on our list, so last weekend, we went out for a much-needed girls' night. And, in an effort to cross everything off the College To-Do List as efficiently as possible, we looked up the closest wine bar in the area. We found Ugo, an elegant yet unpretentious wine bar with plenty of delicious choices.

Father's Office is a bar with two locations (Santa Monica and Culver City) that's famous for its wide selection of beers on tap - there are probably about 30 at any given time. When we arrived at the Culver City Office for a late dinner, we were quickly ushered inside by a bouncer who first asked, "Have you been here before? (Yes for Emily and Christina, no for Jamie and me) Do you know how this works? Order at the bar, no waiters, seat yourself." We all ordered the famous Office Burger, and each got a different beer (after sampling a few each). Then came the daunting task of finding a table for four. We did a few laps around the restaurant, and decided that the picnic-type tables on the patio were our best bet. When Christina got her food and was worried she'd have to eat it standing up, we decided to get a little more aggressive and ask to share one of the tables. Fortunately, the people we asked were really nice and we squished in next to them (we paid it forward at the end of our meal when another group asked to sit down at our table)!

Jamie and me

Emily and Christina

Our burgers, hailed as the "best in Los Angeles" by many credible sources, were incredible, if a little expensive (around $12). Topped with blue and gruyere cheeses, carmelized onions, and arugula, this burger is the definition of gourmet. Yum! Unfortunately, I couldn't get a decent picture with the dim lighting. Personally, I thought the garlic fries were a little disappointing, but others thought they were fantastic. These fries were very thin and crunchy; I like mine a little meatier. The garlic aioli dip served on the side was tasty, but rich.

Our beers of choice, light to dark

A close-up of my beer... I forget the name!

After dinner and a beer, we took a cab less than a mile to Ugo Wine Bar. Once there, we loaded up "wine cards" at the bar with $10. With a wide selection of wines from all over the world, you can use your card to sample an ounce of wine from a bottle under nitrogen pressure. Each bottle of wine is marked with a different price per ounce, ranging from less than a dollar to over twenty dollars (yikes!). We were all able to sample about four different wines that caught our eye. It's a really fun idea for low-maintenance wine tasting with friends (or on a date!).

Wine dispenser, presented by Christina the hand model

Emily and Jamie

Me and Christina

My glass of wine and wine card