Friday, May 6, 2016

Lemon, Polenta, and Olive Oil Cake

Last year, I made Dorie Greenspan's Simple Almond Cake for the first time. I chose to make it for several reasons: number one, I'm a sucker for cake and if it's plain and simple, then I'm really all over it, and number two, the recipe is naturally gluten- and dairy-free. While I don't have any food allergies or intolerances, I'm always appreciative of gluten- and dairy-free desserts that don't call for obscure ingredients, because my mom does have to watch what she eats. Dorie's cake is made with just almonds, sugar, eggs, and a touch of vanilla, and it's incredible. It's become a household favorite, and it never fails to make an appearance on the dessert table at family gatherings and holidays. I've made it so many times now, that I've actually grown a bit restless by it. I love it, but I don't really want to make it again and again anymore, you know?

So this year, I set out to find a new gluten and dairy-free dessert that my mom and I would love enough to make over and over again–at least until next year!–and I think I found it. I came across a recipe for a Lemon Polenta Cake from the lovely Nigella Lawson, and the second I saw that it was made with just almonds and polenta, I knew it was almost perfect. She uses butter in her recipe, and while my mom does ok with dairy in baked goods, I really wanted to make her something that was completely delicious and also had no chance of causing any unwanted reactions. I decided to experiment and made the recipe with olive oil instead of butter. If you've never baked with olive oil before (I agree, it sounds a little strange at first!), I definitely recommend it.  Olive oil has a wonderful fruity taste to it that complements baked treats so nicely, and even better, it keeps everything you bake moist for days. And that was exactly what I wanted in this cake recipe. I wanted it to be the type of cake my mom could place on her kitchen counter and periodically come back to and snack on over the course of a few days, without the cake becoming dry in the process.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Cream Scones

Lately, I’ve been on a major chocolate chip cookie kick. I have this one particular recipe (this one) that I’ve been making for what feels like forever now. I guess you could say that it’s become my “go-to,” and as much success as I’ve had with it, I’ve grown a bit restless.  There’s so many recipes out there, and I know I haven’t even scratched the surface as far as testing them all! So I’ve been experimenting with chocolate chip cookies a lot in the last few weeks. I’ve made many, many batches and tested tons of recipes, and then one day my boyfriend interrupted my chocolate chip cookie baking spree and suggested that I make something else. Literally, anything else. Anything that wasn’t a chocolate chip cookie. Needless to say, I got the hint. 

I decided to make a batch of scones to win his stomach back (because I still need taste testers, obviously). Scones are one of his favorite baked treats, so I was confident that they would do the trick—all  I had to do was find the perfect recipe. Thanks to my chocolate chip cookie baking mania, I had found myself browsing through cookbooks I didn’t even know I had or hadn’t looked through in a while, and blogs that I had sadly forgotten about, all in search of the perfect cookie recipe. In the process, I stumbled across a lot of recipes that looked like they were worth bookmarking, and this recipe from the Violet Bakery Cookbook was one of them.  I was immediately drawn to these particular recipe because of the way Claire Ptak described the scones in her headnote. “A bit like an American shortcake” and “extra-rich.” I needed no more convincing than that! 

Friday, April 8, 2016

Walnut Cake with Blueberry Glaze

A few nights ago, my boyfriend started a fun game of “would you rather", but with a foodie twist. While some of the scenarios were a bit tricky and took some thought to answer (for instance, would you rather never have pizza or pasta again?), the one that I answered almost immediately was: cookies or cake? As much as I really, really love cookies, I could never give up cake. My boyfriend, who is one of the few people on the planet who is rather meh about cake, was in shock. He was sure I would say cookies, given my never-ending obsession for testing chocolate chip cookie recipes, but to me, this question was a no brainer. Cake trumps all other baked treats (the only instance where I’d have to think about cake is if the scenario was cake vs. ice cream—that seems impossible to answer). 

For the past few weeks, I’ve been craving cake. And I mean, really, really, really craving it. It wasn’t a very specific craving. I didn’t know what I was in the mood for, but every time I opened my email and saw cake in some form featured in an email from either Bon Appétit, The Kitchn, Food 52, King Arthur, or from one of the multitude of bloggers I follow, cake was all I could think about. Pound cakes, fancy cakes, glazed cakes, Bundt, loaf, or traditional round cakes—I wanted them all. So when I decided that it was high time I go about satisfying my craving by baking up my own cake, I was at a loss on where to start. While all the cakes recipes sitting in my inbox would have probably been good starting points and certainly cured me of my need for cake, none of them really screamed, “Make me!” I was in a tough spot. With a pantry full of the basic ingredients I needed—flour, sugar, butter, and eggs—I knew that actually baking up the cake I wanted to eat wouldn’t be that difficult. Deciding the flavor and mix in’s and style of cake to make was a whole other story. 

Friday, March 18, 2016

Lemony Almond Thumbprints

I don't know why, but for the last few weeks I've been really, really busy on the weekends. From housewarmings to planned full-day excursions to family gatherings and  those unavoidable, necessary cleaning days, I feel like I haven't had a weeks to just sit back and do nothing in a while. Even this weekend is jam-packed: my sister is home from college for spring break, a few of my cousins from Colombia are here for the weekend (one of them is running on Sunday's NYC half marathon!), and Sunday also happens to be my sister's 21st birthday. So, there's tons to do. I'm happy to be this busy, and am genuinely looking forward to everything we have scheduled: Korean food for dinner with my sister on Friday, souvlaki with the family in Astoria on Saturday, and marathon spectating early Sunday morning with a big celebratory/birthday Colombian meal to follow. Three days of delicious eats and time with some of my favorite people- it's definitely a good way to spend the weekend. But with scheduled Easter activities all of next weekend, it sort of feels like my do-nothing weekend is still so far off! 

It's one of the reasons why I've been having trouble getting recipes posted lately. I made this commitment to myself to get back in the blogging game and post delicious recipes only when I had the time or came up with something truly delicious, but I've been having trouble sticking to it. Every now and then I find myself getting caught in that old mentality of mine, where I HAD to post at MINIMUM once a week (because otherwise the blogging police would get me or something). It's taken some time to get used to the fact that I don't actually have to post on a strict schedule, and if I don't have the time to make a recipe  it's not the end of the world. So, that's that. I've had busy weekends with little time for baking and photographing, but luckily, I was able to squeeze in one recipe last Saturday. 

Friday, February 26, 2016

Chocolate Dipped Birthday Cupcakes

Cupcakes, chocolate dip, marshmallow frosting, and sprinkles? That can only mean one's a birthday kind of day! Every February 26, I bake and post a special batch of cupcakes, just for a special set of twins. My little cousins, Valentina and Federico, are officially four years old today! And what better way to celebrate such a momentous birthday than with a batch of Chocolate Dipped Birthday Cupcakes?

I've made chocolate pudding-filled cupcakes, mini vanilla birthday cupcakes, and classic vanilla cupcakes topped with Nutella frosting, but this year, my sister suggested that I give hi-hat cupcakes a try. I loved the idea from the beginning, mainly because I had never actually attempted to make them myself (a hi hat cupcake, in case you're not familiar, is a cupcake topped with a towering spiral of marshmallow frosting that gets dipped in a thin chocolate coating). I'd wanted to make hi hats for a long time and never got around to it, so with the twins' birthday coming up it was the perfect occasion. There was just one small (literally) detail that gave me pause.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Cream Cheese Cookies

I know, I know, these cookies don't look like much. I struggled when taking the photos for this post, because there just isn't very much that's interesting about these white, plain, cream cheese cookies. No styling trick or pretty plate from my now extremely pared down prop collection seemed to do the trick. They just looked boring, for lack of a better word. Uninspired and dull. I took the best photos I could, and then set my camera down. I was pretty sure these cookies weren't even worth posting, and then I decided to eat one.

And just like that, I changed my mind. These cookies needed to be shared.

The recipe is from Food52 Baking (an awesome addition to anyone's cookbook collection, if it's not there already), and I marked it off as a recipe worth testing for two reasons. The first, is that the recipe is so darn easy. It has five super basic ingredients—butter, cream cheese, sugar, flour, and salt. The second, is that I thought the recipe headnote was endearing. Apparently, the recipe comes from a Tupperware party that Merrill's mom attended in the 1970's. Lately, I've been really interested in trying out classic, homey, all-American recipes like these (tomato soup cake is currently on my list of things to try), so how could I not give an easy recipe like this one a shot?

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Rose Panna Cotta

Fresh flowers are easily my favorite way to decorate my apartment, even though my boyfriend doesn't necessarily agree (he has a thing against falling petals). Regardless of what he thinks, I'm getting into the habit of buying fresh cut flowers to place here and there. I love how a simple arrangement can instantly bring an entire room to life, and they always make me smile.

I've used flowers in a few of my food photos before, but I wanted to try to really feature them, instead of just placing them in the background as an accent (clearly a result of working on foraging cookbooks at work). Since I'm not going to be foraging anytime soon (because I live in the concrete jungle and it's a balmy 13 degrees right now), my photos will have to make due with what I can pick up at my grocery store.

And since its Valentine's Day, what better flower to work with than the rose? And since we're all procrastinators (don't deny it--I'm posting a V-day recipe the day before and you're here reading it), what better dessert to work roses into than panna cotta?

Panna cotta is perhaps the easiest dessert ever. It's incredibly hands-off; it takes just a few minutes (like 15 max, and that's including 10 minutes where you're not really doing anything). I've tried many different panna cotta recipes (from chocolate to yogurt to buttermilk), but this one uses my favorite base recipe. Out of all the variations I've tried, this one is the creamiest, richest, and sets the fastest (always a plus). My cousin Angie has been making this version for years. It's normally made with a bit of vanilla extract for flavor, but in honor of everyone's favorite holiday, I swapped it out for a little rose water. Rose water can be a little strong, so don't go overboard with it. I found a teaspoon to be plenty, but even 3/4 teaspoon would be enough to give a nice hint of floral flavor.

This creamy rose water panna cotta is a luscious, indulgent treat to make for your Valentine. And since it takes less than 15 minutes to prepare and needs a few uninterrupted hours in the fridge, it's perfect for making ahead. Valentine's Day is saved!

Rose Panna Cotta
recipe adapted slightly from À La Carte, by María Villegas


For the Panna Cotta

1 cup milk
3 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
2 ⅓ cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon rose water
7 tablespoons sugar
pinch of salt

For the Topping

fresh strawberries, thinly sliced

very finely chopped unsalted pistachios

Add the milk to a medium saucepan and sprinkle the gelatin on top. Let stand for ten minutes.  In the meantime, prepare an ice bath in a large plastic bowl.  Add the cream and rosewater to a bowl.  

After ten minutes have passed, heat the milk and gelatin over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the gelatin has dissolved. Remove the saucepan from the heat, add the sugar and salt, and stir until dissolved.  

Slowly pour in the cream mixture, whisking constantly.  Transfer the cream mixture from the saucepan to a clean bowl, and place the bowl in the ice bath.  Leave the mixture sit in the ice bath for ten minutes, stirring occasionally, until the mixture has thickened.  After the ten minutes, pass this mixture through a fine-mesh sieve, and then pour into small ramekins or pretty glassware. 

Cover the panna cottas with plastic wrap, and place in the fridge to firm, at least four hours. Serve chilled with a sprinkling of finely chopped pistachios and a few thin strawberry slices.

Serves 6-8

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