Happy Birthday: A Dessert Retrospective

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Had a lot of tasty things made for me for my birthday over the years. This banoffee pie made by a friend of mine last year is definitely in the top five! 

Today’s my birthday! I’m 27, y’all!

I may be a for real grown-up and have been for a few years now, but birthdays still stir up in me a slightly crazed, child-like glee for all things sweet and frosted.

Continue reading “Happy Birthday: A Dessert Retrospective”

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Culinary Experiment #10: Crème Brûlée French Toast

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I don’t have any ramekins. Nor do I own any of those bad-ass mini blow-torches. Nor do I have the money to purchase either item in the near future.

But I love crème brûlées. I looooove them. I need them. And I will have them in any form.

They not only taste amazing but the textural combination is wonderful: velvety, fluffy and smooth custard topped with a crunchy, glass-like caramel shell. Not to mention the custard is easily adaptable to varying flavor preferences. It doesn’t always have to be vanilla. You can experiment and have your comfort flavors on hand too.

So when the opportunity came up to incorporate one of my favorite desserts into my all-time favorite meal, breakfast, you better believe I wasted no time in getting the ingredients together to make it.

Enter the Crème brûlée French Toast recipe. This recipe not only replicates the flavor and texture of a traditional crème brûlée, it serves it up in what is basically an edible ramekin: sliced Challah bread, which is used to make the toast.

So this recipe is budget-friendly and decadent. It even offers an easier alternative to having to use a mini blow-torch or using your oven’s broiler to achieve that shiny, sweet, hard caramel crust.  And this alternative caramel method doesn’t sacrifice taste or presentation. It’s just fabulous.

However, praise aside, I should note that I changed some things in the recipe based on what I had on hand, price and personal taste and texture preferences. So here are my recipe notes:

  1. Challah bread: Challah is an eggy, braided bread and depending on who you ask and what their standards are, this is either a very difficult bread to bake or a super-easy one. I didn’t want to risk sacrificing taste just for the bragging rights of making my own bread so I left it up to the experts. Plus, it worked out that it was cheaper to buy a small loaf at Einstein Bros. Bagels than to make a giant loaf on my own. I only needed a small loaf for the purposes of this recipe; so that was also a plus. Yay, less waste! You could also use brioche bread, which is a cake-like eggy bread. I might try that next time, as I’ve heard brioche is sweeter.
  2. Milk: I substituted half and half for the milk mentioned in the recipe. I usually don’t buy milk. I’m not a fan. It just tastes watery to me. And also, I just had it handy in my fridge. I don’t think it makes a difference because the filling still tasted like a custard to me.
  3. Orange zest: I don’t own a zester or a grater and I’ve heard using dried orange zest is often considered pointless. And it’s expensive.  And I didn’t want to use orange juice because I was afraid the acid in it would curdle the cream and ruin the custard before I even baked it. So I just bought a small bottle of orange extract and used a little less than the teaspoon called for in the recipe, as I didn’t want the orange flavor to overpower the vanilla. I love vanilla.
  4. How long should you soak the bread in the custard before baking it? I think it depends on how thick your slices of bread are. If you managed to get your slices the same thickness as recommended in the recipe then follow their recommended time as well. But since I had a  smaller loaf of bread to work with, my slices were thinner and so rather than risk over-soaking and getting soggy french toast (blech!), I decided to only let the slices soak for 20 minutes total, 10 minutes on each side before baking, instead of the recommended 30 minutes.
  5. Hard-caramel shell method: DO NOT, I repeat, do not try to take the easy way out and try to melt the sugar in the microwave. It either won’t melt without cream or if you add cream, it will get all foamy and weird. And not at all caramel-colored. Seriously, it was like my bowl had rabies. Not good. Just do what it says in the recipe and melt the sugar in a pan. Although, I used a small skillet (not a sauce pan) to melt it. Not sure if that matters, but it sure seemed easy and fast enough to move the caramel to the toast in time to spread it before it hardened into a caramel candy shell.
  6. Custard: I just mixed the filling ingredients with a large metal spoon. I was afraid to over-mix this time. But I think next time I’ll use a blender to mix the custard ingredients together to see if I can get an even smoother, creamier filling.

As always, I hope you enjoyed this post. Don’t hesitate to let me know what you think. I’d love to hear your opinions, questions and stories! Especially if you tried this recipe out and/or experimented with different flavors and toppings: I’d love to hear your suggestions.

I’d also like to thank Kara of  livelovepasta.com for posting and writing about this recipe!

Thanks for reading and I hope you all have a lovely week!

Culinary Experiment #9: Spiced Pork Tenderloin

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I know I usually hide behind cute pastries and fabulous veggie recipes. This is not one of those times.

Before this post, I had never cooked any sort of meat before. Sure, I’ve microwaved or baked pre-cooked meats. But I had never cut, prepared and cooked raw meat.

I’m not particularly squeamish about working with raw meat, but I’ve always been afraid of under-cooking  it.

But this time was different. Instead of talking myself out of cooking it like I always do, a few days ago, I committed myself to actually cooking with raw meat. Why? Two reasons:

  1. My dad asked me to. Pork is one of his favorite foods. He doesn’t have much cooking experience and my mother refuses to touch the stuff. Pork, in every conceivable form, really grosses her out. Also, It’s Father’s Day weekend and so I can’t just say no to him. It’d be like telling your kid the night before that he’s getting absolutely nothing for Christmas. Yeah, you see that tree? All sparkly and festive for tomorrow? There’ll be nothing, nada, zilch under it come Christmas morning. Stop crying. 

Ok, maybe it wouldn’t be that awful if I said no. But when it comes to gift-giving holidays, my dad’s not into presents, he’s into food. And cards. That’s all. So if I take away the food, this year’s Father’s Day would be pretty crummy. Also, he rarely ever makes culinary requests like this, so why not?

  1. I had the perfect recipe on my Hobbies Cookbook list to use. I’d be super efficient this weekend: put a smile on Dad’s face and cross off another dish on my list. Win. Plus this recipe was perfect for a beginner like me. Nothing too complicated. Just a girl and her frying pan.

The outcome? I think my very first attempt at making Spiced Pork Tenderloin was a success. A surprising success, as you’ll soon see in my recipe notes.

The pork was juicy and had a lovely caramel sweetness to it. It wasn’t cloyingly sweet: there was  just a hint of of the brown sugar which led nicely into the spicy kick that came from Sriracha base I used for the marinade. Even the scorch marks had a nice flavor.

Both my dad and brother enjoyed it as well and even went for seconds. And you know what? It’s been two days, and no one got sick (as far as I know). Yay!

There were just a few slight changes I made to the recipe based on the ingredients I had access to:

  1. I used a 2-pound pork loin instead of a 1-pound pork tenderloin. I’m not sure if there is a difference between “pork loin” and “pork tenderloin” but they look similar in shape to me even though on their packaging they’re labeled differently. But judging based on my results, I got the taste I expected when I read the recipe and my photos of the finished dish looked similar to Cooking Light’s photo, so I honestly don’t think it matters. But in the interest of full disclosure: Yes, I used pork loin instead of tenderloin. I also used 2 pounds of pork rather than 1 pound because I snagged the last unflavored/original pork loin my local Walmart had and it happened to be 2 pounds; which leads me to the next change I made…
  2. I ended up doubling the recipe for the spice marinade to compensate for the extra pound of pork. 
  3. I used dark brown sugar. The recipe didn’t specify what kind of brown sugar to use: light or dark; so I just used what I had on hand.

Two important observations I made while preparing this dish:

  1. Pork fat is tough to separate from the meat. There’s a ton of connective tissue. If you’re a beginner, it would probably be best to slice your pork loin into the pieces you want first and then trim the fat from each piece. It’ll save you time and energy that you’d otherwise waste fighting with that connective tissue. It’s much more manageable to cut off little pieces of fat than having to tackle a huge sheet of it.
  2. The sharpness of your knife is important. It sounds simple but it’s vital to trimming pork. Seriously, that connective tissue is no joke.  Your knife shouldn’t be so dull that you have to constantly saw your way through the meat. You need a super sharp knife to cut through that tissue.

I hope you enjoyed this post. Don’t hesitate to let me know what you think. I’d love to hear your opinions, questions and stories!

Thanks for reading and I hope you have a lovely week!

I’d also like to thank Alyson Haynes of  Cooking Light magazine for writing the piece from which this recipe originated and myrecipes.com for posting Haynes’ article about this recipe.

Culinary Experiment #8: Garlic Scallion Noodles

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Confession: I don’t normally cook/saute/fry things in butter.

I love butter. For toast. For cornbread. For baking. But with the exception of making pancakes, butter never hits my skillet.

It’s just not how I grew up. My mom always used canola or vegetable oil. And only recently did I discover the joys of using olive oil. Don’t get me wrong, buttery sauces are nice, but if I’m frying or sauteing something, I want a cleaner taste. I want to taste what I’m frying, not necessarily the oil/fat I’m frying with.

I wish I could say this recipe turned out amazing, but it just sort of fell flat. But I will say it wasn’t all the butter’s fault. Just most of it.

I just felt like this recipe couldn’t decide between producing a smooth garlic butter sauce or stir-frying the noodles. And maybe that was supposed to be the genius behind it: that you could potentially get the best of both worlds– fried noodles in a creamy kettle corn-esque sauce does sound kind of awesome.

But the meal just didn’t come together for me.

My photos are deceiving: Yes, even if you mess up, this dish still comes out visually appealing. It’s that whole supermodel sporting a burlap sack thing. Sure, the outfit is a fashion nightmare, but it’s still a supermodel stomping down that runway. Sure, the noodles didn’t taste that great, but it was covered in a shimmery golden dressing of butter, brown sugar and garlic. Then it was adorned with emeralds—I mean bright green onions. The dish was still made up of everything most people fantasize about when it comes to food: butter, sugar and bright colors.

Here are the pros: Visually appealing. Nice nutty flavor from the soy sauce. Slightly sweet. Scallions add bright color and freshness to the dish.

Here are the cons: The butter congeals after a while and left the noodles soggy. Yes, you have to eat this while it’s piping hot or it can get oily and greasy tasting after a while. Slightly overpowering bitter garlic flavor.

But here’s what I did wrong (A.K.A. Recipe Notes Part I):

  1. When sauteing the garlic and onions, I didn’t really pay attention to how long I let it cook and I’m sure I didn’t stir it enough. And so, some of the garlic  and onions burned and left a bitter taste in the sauce.
  2. I should have used more noodles. The recipe called for “half of a box of noodles” but I reduced it to a portion that I could actually consume. The problem was that I reduced the amount of the noodles without reducing the amount of sauce I was making and so the small batch of noodles I made was forced to soak up a ton of melted butter that was really meant for half of a box of noodles. This could have contributed to the soggy noodle problem mentioned  above.

Some variations I’d like to try with this recipe (Recipe Notes Part II):

  1. While I was cooking, I thought about adding some red pepper chili flakes to the noodles for some heat. I might do that next time. I love spicy food and the flakes might help cut through the richness of the butter sauce.
  2. While the noodles photographed beautifully with the green onions, I’d still like to see more colors pop through these golden brown noodles. So next time, I’d probably add broccoli, carrots and red bell peppers to this dish.

Thanks for reading this post! I’d love to hear any of your comments or questions, so feel free to post a note in the comments section below!

I’d also like to thank Joanne Choi of “Week of Menus” for posting this recipe.

I hope you all have a lovely weekend!