Monday, March 31, 2014

Chocolate Chunks Pecan Cookies!

More rain to California! Unfortunately hearing its going to rain on the day you're about to go hiking is not the best of news. I've been craving a good hike for the last couple of weeks and certainly didn't want to give up the opportunity... so when I woke up and realized the rain hasn't started yet, I thought perhaps there is a chance I can squeeze it in before it comes. Luckily since I have to wake up at the ungodly hours of 6am during the week, waking up at 6:30am is like a dream on the weekend so after accessing the sky and the weather gods, my friend and I decided to chance it. If it rains, we'll turn back. Turns out, we hiked the entire trail and had lunch before any water fell. 

I was pleased. Not only did I get an awesome hike in but I got an awesome meal afterwards. Food after hiking is always like the best thing that's ever happened to you since birth. Okay... maybe a bit of exaggeration but that only shows you how much I love food. 

Once the rain started though, there was nothing that says relaxing than being indoors with a hot cup of tea or hot beverage curled up with a book or baking in the kitchen. I decided since it was early enough, I could probably do both. What a perfect way to spend a Saturday afternoon. Gosh I sound like a retired 70 year old lady...which is why I can't wait! Some people dread being old but I'm looking forward to being 70... if I get there that means I've made it! Everything: whatever it is, whoever I'll meet, whatever I've made myself, its all done! Now I just sit back and enjoy the show. 

For the time being, I think its safe to come back to reality. So here is a warm cookie recipe to share for when you are spending a cold afternoon indoors or needing to curb a cookie craving.  

Chocolate Chunks Pecan Cookies!
makes approx 36-40 cookies, roughly 120 calories via myfitnesspal

Ingredients:
  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 cup brown sugar 
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 cup flour
  • 2 cups chocolate pieces (I used white chocolate chunks and dark chocolate chips)
  • 1 1/2 cup chopped nuts (pecans, macadamia, walnuts, etc)
Procedure:
  1. Whisk together flour, cornstarch, baking soda, and salt. Set aside
  2. Mix together with mixer, butter, brown sugar, and sugar until pale and fluffy. Mix in eggs one at a time and then add in vanilla. Mix until combined. Slowly incorporate the dry ingredients.
  3. Stir in nuts and chocolates
  4. Bake at 350 F degrees for 8-10 minutes or until the edges are light brown.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Wanderings (eyes) - March 2014 Hatchery Box!

Through reading one of the blogs I follow (Lovin' From the Oven), I came upon this niffy little subscription box of tasty treasures known as Hatchery. Then upon more research aka Google, I realized there is a whole world of monthly box subscriptions from cosmetics to puppy chow, there is a box for everyone and a box of everything!  

Here is a little background in case anyone who's never heard of these monthly box subscriptions before (like me): the subscriptions range from about $20-$80 a month depending on the program/company and each month you get a box of goodies in the mail, generally samples and tad bits of products that fits the genre of that particular subscription. It's a rather brilliant idea, sometimes we just want small samples to try things out, test the water if you will. Anyways not to get carried away, lets get back to this particular box.

Curious and quite intrigued by its contents, I decided to give Hatchery a try. Their cute packaging might have had something to do with that too but for $20 a month, its not that bad. So what is in the box of goodies? From what I have gathered through numerous blogs reviewing it, each month you'd get about 5-6 sample sized items of artisan ingredients or condiments. Its a pretty neat program, they go around different places gathering goodies from all over the country and then you get the sample sized version for trying. If you happen to like something, then you can purchase the full sized version on the website and if not, well its a small size so you won't feel like the rest will go to waste because there may not be leftovers. This not only allows the kitchen enthusiast like myself to try things I'd otherwise not come across, but it allows the small businesses to get more face time across the country. Each box also comes with a tasting guide that describes each of the ingredients, its origins, where to get more, and recommended recipes for each item. All the items are neatly wrapped and stuffed into a lively bright red box so you can't miss it!

Now what are we waiting for!? Let's see what's in the box for the month of March shall we? 
For my very first box, I recieved:
  • Strawberry Chipotle Jam (Potlicker Kitchen, Bethal VT)
  • Causey's BBQ Sauce (Causey's BBQ, Atlanta GA)
  • Ohia Lehua Honey (Big Island Bees, Captain Cook, HI)
  • Jalapeno Garlic Olive Oil (Calivirgin, Lodi CA)
  • Original Blend Spice Rub (Ole Man's, New Orleans LA)
  • Fuego Salsa (La Fundidora, Brooklyn NY)
There will definitely be future posts for when I play with these but for the time being, here is some eye candy. Though all of the stuff combined is probably not valued to $20 but if you think about it, you're also saving yourself time because under normal circumstances, how long would it take you to hunt down all these things and it'd cost you way more if you wanted to try them because you'd have to get the actual size. I also like having small samples sizes because it allows me to try more different things without having to "finish" a certain product first before venturing out to another new product.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Chocolate Peanut Butter Filled Cookies!

There comes a time when no matter how much we try, we are forced to grow up and though reluctant to do so, I have reached a new milestone, buying my first car!

I should be excited because everyone else around me seems to be...but personally its the most stressful and daunting thing I've ever been faced with... well okay maybe not to that degree but it has become somewhat stressful as the only thing I know about cars is that it has wheels and it moves faster than walking on two legs. It takes me from point A to point B (with the occasional unexpected C and D when I make the wrong twist and turns) and that's the extent to which I care for them (sorry car lovers, that's just the honest truth).

Ask me about cooking and what type of different kitchen gadgets there are, etc, oh man that'd be my excitement but car shopping... drag...unfortunately because all of the cars in my family except my car has driven their last leg and as I commute the most (nearly 100 miles a day), it made sense that I am the one who takes the leap for the new car and leave my dear old car at home for whoever wants to just drive it around town. My car (who I've named Carlos because he is a car and sometimes slightly loco) is 22 years old with 260k+ miles on it, which means in human years, its 120 with barely any ability to see or hear... still it runs and I am so reluctant to let it go, perhaps because he's my very first car or because we've been through so much together...

Despite this, I decided to make a list and drag myself to a few dealerships to test drive some vehicles to see which ones I liked and to get an idea of how cars move nowadays. A lot has changed in the past 22 years since the making of my car. I have to admit, some of those cars felt pretty good. 

That said, customer service wise, it was hit and miss. The first place I stopped at was awesome, if anyone knows they want to get a Honda and in the south bay area, go to the dealership in Morgan Hill and find Brian, he was extremely helpful and friendly. If anyone looking for a Toyota, don't go to the one in Gilroy. Not only were they unhelpful, they were almost trying to convince me to just go away. Just because I am a girl in her twenties looking at cars by myself does not mean I am not looking to buy or cannot afford a car so don't treat me like I'm a waste of time/effort. Terrible.

I have to say, as a girl, customer service will make or break the deal. We women are emotional creatures, get on our happy side and you are set. Get on the bad side and suffer the wrath! I may or may not still be a little bitter about the way the dealership treated me... needless to say I didn't even get to test drive from another dealership after that trip because I was so upset. I went home and decided I needed something to cheer me up so I went to the place that makes me most excited and happy, the kitchen! Whipped up some delicious cookies!


According to my brother they taste like a Reese's Peanut Butter cup but in the form of a cookie, can't go wrong there! All you peanut butter+ chocolate lovers out there, this is a must try! Its crunchy on the outside and smooth and creamy on the inside... heavenly...

Chocolate Peanut Butter Filled Cookies
(from Magic in the Middle Cookies from Six Sisters Stuff)
makes approx 26 cookies, 141 calories/cookie via myfitnesspal

Ingredients:
for chocolate dough
  • 1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt (pinch)
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar + extra for rolling the cookies in
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup of butter (1 stick)
  • 1/4 cup peanut butter (creamy)
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg + 1 yolk
for peanut butter filling
  • 3/4 cup peanut butter (may be creamy or chunky)
  • 1/4 powder sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
Procedures:
  1. In a mixing bowl, mix together flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt
  2. In another mixing bowl with a mixer, cream together sugar, butter, and peanut butter until light and fluffy. Add in vanilla and egg, beat to combine. Stir in dry ingredients (i used a mixer to mix it in)
  3. For filling: mix peanut butter and sugar, roll into 1" balls (I didn't bother with rolling them, I kind of just pinched them into 1/2" blobs, it came out fine)
  4. To shape cookies: scoop approx 1 tbsp cookie dough, roll into a ball, flatten slightly, make indentation with thumb for filling, place filling into groove, fold the dough around the filling, roll into ball. Roll in some sugar, flatten slightly into cookie shape. Repeat
  5. Bake at 375 F degrees for 7-9 minutes

Monday, March 10, 2014

Rice Pilaf!

Have you ever noticed that when things are working out perfectly that the sun shines brighter, the air is more fresh, the clouds fluffier, food tastes like magic, wind is more refreshing and so forth... on the other hand when things take a slight dip towards the other way... well no matter how bright the sun is shining, something seems to be missing.

That's life for you, a bit of sweet and a bit of bitter. But without the bitter how would we know what is so sweet. If it were up to me, I'd prefer more sweet than bitter but life is funny that way, you don't get to pick but you do get to decide what you make of it. 


So sometimes life throws you a curve ball ...or two, doesn't mean you should stop playing. Of course that doesn't make it any less discouraging, especially when it happens. Picking up the pieces is hard but no one but yourself can do that. Two options: stop playing or keep going. Neither decision will change what's already happened, so what's it going to be?

I pick keep going but I definitely won't be moving very fast. There is something about this time of year that I am always hit with some type of a curve ball, right in the chest, it is definitely getting to be a bit overwhelming and cumbersome. 

I guess when you want strawberries and life hands you lemons, instead of making some sweet strawberry jam, you make lemonade instead. Its just a matter of adjusting to a result you don't quite have control over, its not the end of the world...though sometimes you wonder...


Can't say anything is constant in life anymore. As you get older, things just keep coming at you. Long gone were the simple days of cartoons, toys, and what did you bring for school lunches. One thing I know that will remain constant, at least for now, is my love for cooking. Something about it always provides comfort. I know for certain that I love food and I'm sure it loves me back (because bits and pieces of it are clinging onto some parts of me inside that no matter how much running/hiking I do, it won't let go!)  

With that bit of life ramble said, here is my experiment on a rice pilaf. I was craving this a few days back so here it is:


Rice Pilaf
adapted from Alton Brown: Rice Pilaf and Rice Pilaf with Carrots and Parsley
200 calories per serving based on 5 servings 

Ingredients:
  • 1 cup basmati rice (I used brown basmati rice from Trader Joe's)
  • 2 cups of water or stock ( I used chicken stock)
  • 1/2 tbsp butter
  • 1/2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 3/4 lb of carrots (approx 2 large), peeled and thinly sliced
  • salt to taste
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped flat leaf parsley 
  • 1/4 cup hot water (to steep saffron)
  • pinch of saffron (optional: I bought some at Trader Joe's for $6)
  • 1/2 cup of mushrooms, chopped
  • 1 tsp cumin (optional)
  • 2 tsp brown sugar (optional)
Procedures:
  1. Rinse rice or soak for 30 minutes to remove any starch. Drain through strainer
  2. Heat stock or water to bare simmer
  3. Steep saffron in hot (but not boiling) water, set aside
  4. Heat butter and oil in a saucepan (approx 3 quarts) over medium heat: add in carrots, onions, mushrooms, salt to taste. Cook until vegetables are soften (approx 3 mins), add in rice. Cook, while stirring, until grains of rice are separate and start to crackle (I did not experience this...). Add in hot water or stock, saffron with its water, cumin and brown sugar (I did not add cumin or brown sugar; they were added onto this recipe because I think it would enhance its flavors). Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for about 15 minutes until liquid is all absorbed
  5. Uncover rice and place a wet clean towel over the top of the pan (without touching the rice). Replace with towel there and allow rice to sit for 10 minutes undisturbed. (I didn't have a clean towel handy so I skipped this step, I just let the rice simmer a bit longer in the previous step at a lower temp
  6. Add parsley and gently fluff rice. Pile pilaf onto a platter to serve.  

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Hazelnut Coffee Crescent Cookies!

Sometimes there is nothing more enjoyable than blasting your favorite tunes in the kitchen while you whip up something delicious, oh! and don't forget a nice warm beverage of choice (which I decided on tea). Especially when it's gloomy/slightly drizzling on and off all day.

These cookies have a very subtle hint of coffee after they finish baking but that's what makes them so great. The original recipe called for instant cappuccino which I didn't have so I did the next best thing and sub for instant coffee and threw in a little bit of cocoa powder to give the coffee flavor an extra boost. The nuttiness from the almond meal paired perfectly with it as well. 

Hazelnut Coffee Crescent Cookies
adapted from Kitchen Nostalgia: Cappuccino Crescent Cookies
makes approx 24 cookies: 93 calories per cookie

Ingredients:
  • 40g instant coffee ( I used hazelnut instant coffee)
  • 1 1/4 cup of flour (150g)
  • 1/8 tsp of baking powder (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp of cocoa powder (optional)
  • 1/2 cup almond meal (or ground walnuts/hazelnuts)
  • 1/4 cup of sugar (50g)
  • pinch of salt
  • 100 g of butter (roughly 7 tbsp)
  • 50g of dark chocolate chips (for glaze)
  • 25 ml of hot water (roughly 1 1/2 tbsp + 1/4 tsp)
Procedures:
  1. Mix instant coffee with hot water until smooth and set aside to cool
  2.  Combine flour, baking powder, almond meal, sugar, and salt. Add in coffee mix and butter to make a dough. Form dough into a bowl, cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.
  3. Shape cookies into crescents and place onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for approx 12 minutes or until slightly brown at 350 F degrees
  4. Melt chocolate using by double boiling and then dipped the cooled cookies.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Homemade Old Fisherman's Grotto Clam Chowder!

A much need wet weekend for California this week and with a weekend like this, it simply screams indoors, blankets, warm fires, roasted marshmallows, hot chocolate, and everything wintery. What's my pick? A cup of hot soup of course! 

What better way to be stuck inside than getting the kitchen fired up?! Ever since my little field trip to Monterey, I've been thinking about having to venture into making some clam chowder of my own and to my lucky stars, there's a recipe for just that and supposedly an original recipe from the restaurant! 

Usually when I scan over a recipe I try to tweak a few things here and there to make a slightly healthier version, this one is just bad from the beginning...but bad in a delicious, heart stopping, soul fulfilling kind of way though. Not wanting to stray too far from the original I thought it'd be best to just make it as the recipe states for once and then next time make the necessary adjustments for a less heart stopping yummy goodness. Plus its hard to make adjustments in something you really don't have much knowledge in a way of how you can keep the texture and flavor while cutting some stuff out. 

The thick creamy soups I've made in the past I usually use potatoes as a thickener so that we can cut out the flour, butter, and creams and those turn out really good. However I've made those from scratch and usually come up with things as I go. I've already tasted this chowder from the restaurant now I wanted to see how authentic this recipe really is, if I make adjustments and it tastes different, would that be due to my tweaks or the recipe? I guess its the scientist in me that wants to analysis the living daylights out of something but essentially I wanted to create a control and the only way to do that is to follow the recipe as exact as possible and then for a future experiment make the proposed changes and see if it compares to the control.

Well enough science talk, so how did this control turn out? Several things to make note of: 
  1. I love potatoes so I decided to get a larger one: the chowder turned out so thick because I also used the amount of flour the recipe called for... had been thinning it with milk each time I warm up a batch... hasn't changed the flavor or anything and somehow managed to find a way to tweak the recipe, yay!
  2. Butter, cream, dairy products galore!! I ended up being a wuss and couldn't put all the butter in... it was just too scary and knowing I was also going to put all that other creamy things in too... it was a lot. For future reference, as I had already made suggestions to the recipe, I don't think all that is necessary. Its rich enough, a cup or 2 less of the cream wouldn't take much away from the chowder.
  3. Cooking if for 2 hours is definitely not necessary unless I did it wrong but my chowder was ready for consumption after about 20-30 minutes of cooking after the final step. 
  4. Its delicious! Mine was a little thick but I put in some fat free milk to thin it to the right consistency and all was well.
  5. The recipe didn't call for any salt as I'd imagine normal bacon has plenty of salt but since I changed my bacon option and also adding more liquid in I also put a dash of salt in as well. I don't eat salty or anything but salt does enhance flavors. Just a thought
Old Fisherman's Grotto Clam Chowder (personal commentary in orange)
makes 10-12 servings (approx 1 cup per serving size), 450 calories
recipe from examiner.com: old fishermans grotto clam chowder

Ingredients:
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 medium potato, diced (I used a relatively large potato, so if that's the case, you can cut down on flour)
  • 1 stalk of celery, diced (and if you're like me and dislike celery, dice even finer pieces so they disappear when you cook it)
  • 1/2 lb of bacon (I used 1/4lb Canadian bacon and 1/4lb regular to try and cut down on the fattiness)
  • 16 fl oz clam juice, approx 2 cups (or 480ml ...which 500ml wouldn't change much either)
  •  1 1/2 cup of all purpose flour (honestly 3/4 cup is plenty if you use a large potato)
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 cups of whole milk
  • 2 cups of heavy cream (I would change this to just regular fat free milk or 2%)
  • 2 cups of half and half (yah... this is basically the same as cream + milk mixed but who knows maybe it makes a difference...)
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 lb of clams, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp of clam base (optional, and I didn't even know what it is so I skipped it altogether)
  • 1 stick of butter (scary! I couldn't bring myself to do it...so I used half)
  • salt as needed 
Procedures:
  1. Place veggies, bacon, and butter into a 5qt or larger pot and saute over medium heat until vegetables are tender. 
  2. Add in flour once vegetables are tender to make a roux (what??). Cook for approx 2 minutes allowing flour to cook while stirring.
  3. Add in clam juice and dairy products. Stir with a metal whisk for better results
  4. Add in garlic, pepper, clams, and clam base. Cook over medium heat while stir occasionally so that scorching doesn't occur. Cook for 2 hours or until desired thickness. (I cooked it for 20-30 minutes and it was thick already so really, 30 minutes is plenty of time to cook this in my opinion)

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Wanderings - Pacific Grove/ Monterey, CA

This may make me sound incredibly silly but it has been so long since I've been to Monterey that for some reason I always thought it was more like the city of SF... boy was I ever so wrong! It has all the little unique shops and eateries like SF but in terms of being a city, its the complete opposite! Such a quiet, mellow atmosphere, its a wonderful place to go to to just relax especially during a weekday when everyone is at work. I'd imagine the weekend might be a little different, regardless I will be returning to this lovely city a lot more now that I know what a little gem it is! There is so much more to explore!

Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary @ Pacific Grove, CA
This was a pretty cool spot! I've never seen this many butterflies altogether like this, its memorizing. Now that said however, when I say its a "spot"... its literally a spot, there's a path that you can walk along to see the butterflies flutter around but if you were just walking down that path (and not like me stopping every 3 seconds to take pictures), you can easily walk from one end to the other in 2 minutes. If you're planning to visit, make sure this isn't the main part of the trip, this is more of a pit stop moment. Lovely but there's not much after the effects of the butterflies wear off.

Nonetheless, I still think its worth a trip to see. The monarchs fly here (and several other locations along the coast of CA) for the winter months (Oct-Feb) to cluster together for winter to stay warm. The best time to see huge clusters is around Nov-Dec, around the end of Feb when I came, the majority of them are already gone. 

Old Fisherman's Wharf/Old Fisherman's Grotto @ Monterey, CA
Coming here on a Monday is absolute perfection. Everything is quiet and peaceful so you can just take in the ocean air and wonderful California sun. Everything is like a scaled down version of the Fisherman's Wharf in SF, there is a strip of shops and restaurants along the wharf and anyone that apparently has chowder on their menu is outside of their restaurants giving out samples. I could probably get full just sampling, there were so many! Unfortunately and fortunately my friend and I already have a place in mind (so maybe tastings can happen next time), Old Fisherman's Grotto. My friend swears by its clam chowder, so being the curious food lover that I am, how can I not go and check this place out for myself right!!?

The restaurant is right along the water and if you're lucky you'll get seated right next to the window and then you get a perfect view of the harbor (like us!). Very peaceful and calm environment to enjoy a nice glass of wine with lunch and catch up with old friends (or yourself or your partner). 

I'm going to be honest, I was a bit of a pig, I ordered and ate everything that I had ordered. It was all so good! Times like this I really wished I had more than one stomach. By the time I was done with lunch there was no room for dessert... and the way they served the dessert menu was awesome! I was spying on a table nearby for this, so instead of giving you a dessert menu, they bring out a plate of each of the desserts on a platter and you get to pick right from there! How genius!? I don't know about other people but I'm super visual, sometimes words on a page doesn't do the actual food justice (notice how I have pictures for everything!).

Point Pinos Lighthouse @ Pacific Grove, CA 
Its a nice small pit stop to visit as you get a nice view of the water from there and also the golf course. It's also one of the 6 historic lighthouses along the coast, literally a piece of history. We stopped here for a bit to snap a few pictures and then continued on after I found out I could get much closer to the water!


Crema Expresso and Wine Bar @ Pacific Grove, CA
Such a cute little cafe! Its actually a dual cafe (day)/wine bar (night) inside an old Victorian home! It was such a great little find after a whole day of strolling around to just come here and grab a cup of hot beverage and sit in their little outside sitting area to just chat. I was only here during the day but rumors have it the night light life and their wine bar/tapas are pretty amazing too.

While I was here, there was an array of coffees/teas/beer floats to choose from and of course goodies/small eats from their food section. I was still too full from lunch to eat anymore but no one can say no to a hot cup of white mocha latte!  

Near Sunset Dr, Pacific Grove, CA

As soon as you drive up to this stop, you instantly get hit with the ocean salt water air, so thick and reminds me of the smell of oysters for some reason...probably because they're from the sea and when you open them up, they often still retain that fresh ocean water scent...or I just love food so much everything must be drawn back to it...who knows.

This is a great spot to just be...take pictures, walk along the beach, be deep in thought, stare out into the open sea, just take in the moment. There was enough of a breeze that day for me to capture some nice shots of some waves and water hitting against the seaside rocks. It was also nice that it was low tide so my friend and I were able to walk along some (huge) pebbles to get further out.