Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Bibingka - revisited

Bibingka, the sticky kind, again - made September 28, 2015
I did a spot of baking a couple of weekends ago, mostly to use up the pint of milk I had bought for the Chocolate Caramel Oatmeal Bars recipe. As you know, I'm still trying not to bake a lot since I don't have much time and I'm trying to cut back on sweets. And I really have cut back drastically. But I'm not dead either so I do get my hand in once in awhile.

I've been sitting on a frozen package of grated cassava for awhile, from the last time I had wanted to make bibingka and never got around to it. Plus, from my previous baking stockpiling period, I had a couple of packages of coconut flakes still in my freezer. It seemed like a good time to chip away at my stockpile and also use up the milk before it expired. Plus I had a craving for bibingka. My mom makes it often enough that I rarely make it myself but the last time she made it, it was for my parents' anniversary party and it was so popular, it was gobbled up by the other guests before I was able to get a piece. Nothing like being thwarted to make me want something.

So I made my own. This is my mom's recipe and super easy to make. Really, it is, even for the novice baker. It's also gluten free for anyone trying to avoid wheat since it uses rice flour. This time I baked it for nearly an hour and the texture was perfect. Chewy without being mushy or hard-chewy. Just perfect chewy. Plus I love coconut so anything with coconut browned on top is a good thing.

1 cup sweet rice flour (also known as Mochiko, can be found in the Asian aisle of most grocery stores)
1 teaspoon baking powder
16 ozs of grated cassava (can be purchased in 16-oz packages at Asian grocery stores like 99 Ranch)
2 cups milk
2 eggs
scant 1 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter
Sweetened coconut flakes, enough to cover the top of the batter in an even layer

  1. Melt butter in 9" square baking pan in preheating oven as it heats to 350 degrees F.  Meanwhile, beat eggs until lightly scrambled.  Add in rice flour and baking powder and make a paste.  Gradually add in milk, mixing with a fork to keep the batter smooth and free of lumps, then add sugar and cassava until well blended.  Do not overmix - you don't want a light or cakey texture. Pour into pan, mixing well with melted butter.  Batter should be somewhat liquidy but not so thin that it can't hold the coconut topping.
  2. Generously top mixture with coconut flakes.  Bake until coconut topping is golden brown and edges look crisp, about 45 to 55 minutes. You can't rely on the toothpick test for this one so go by appearance.  The middle should be firm enough not to jiggle when you shake the pan gently.  Don't bake for more than an hour even if the coconut isn't brown all over the top.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Restaurant Review: A Slice of New York

A Slice of New York - takeout on September 6, 2015
One of the pizzerias listed on that Top 10 list of pizzerias in my area was A Slice of New York. They have two locations and ironically, one of them was just across the street from where I used to live. I never went there back then because it was one of those things that was so close, I figured I could go there anytime. Only I never did and I ended up moving before I could ever go there.

This time around, their other location was closer to me and I wanted to try them so I ended up calling in an order from their online menu: the Rockefeller Center pizza plus a half order of their garlic rolls. They told me my order would be ready in 20 minutes and I dutifully showed up a little over the allotted time.
I went in the middle of the afternoon on a weekend so the place was almost completely empty. However, they did have a few other people picking up their pre-ordered pizzas so I wasn’t the only customer.
Inside this location, as part of the dining area, was an empty NYC subway car, decked out to look like an NYC subway car in keeping with the Slice-of-New-York theme. You can purchase pizza by the slice at the counter as well as order and pre-order pizzas. The counter person got my order rather promptly and I was soon on my way.
The garlic rolls were good but I have to give the nod to the garlic knots from C&O Cucina in Southern California; so far nothing tops their garlic rolls. The pizza itself was also pretty good but I’m rather picky about my crusts. To me, what makes a pizza amazing is how good the crust is. I’m in the school of thick and chewy pizza crusts and that’s how I rank my pizzas: Zachary’s and Patxi’s head the list, Pizz’A Chicago is a close second and Premier Pizza vies for third. 

A Slice of New York was more on the thin side so I would have to group it as good amongst its other thin-crust brethren but it didn’t knock any of my reigning favorites off their pizza thrones. I’d go here again if I wanted a quick and easy slice of pizza but not sure I’d make a special point of going like I would for Zachary’s or Patxi’s.
Rockefeller Center Pizza

Friday, October 2, 2015

Caramel Apple "Flipped Over" Cake

Caramel Apple "Flipped Over" Cake - made September 26, 2015 from Cakes to Die For by Beverly Shaffer
It's finally officially autumn. We were still experiencing some residual summer heat when I made this so it wasn't cool enough for me yet but it's apple season nonetheless. I had milk to use up so flipped through my files of recipes I still need to try and came up with this one. It's a caramel apple upside-down cake and seemed just right for fall.

Two challenges for me with this recipe - one, I don't own an apple corer. So I couldn't make a nice neat cylinder down the center of the apple to make pretty slices. Turns out that didn't matter since you can't see the apples all that clearly once you add them to the brown sugar caramel and toasted pecans.
Bottom caramel pecan layer

Layer of apples
Two, I had more than enough apples from the two called for in the recipe to make a double layer of apple slices in a 9-inch pan. Actually, I worried I wouldn't have enough room for the cake if I used up all of the apples and made a third layer. So I ended up using 1 1/2 apples and ate the rest. There was just enough room for all of the cake batter to come to the top of the pan. I did fret momentarily that the batter would overflow the pan and cause an unholy mess in my oven but alleviated my concern by tearing off a large piece of aluminum foil and setting the pan over that in my oven.

Fortunately, it didn't come to that and nothing overflowed or spilled. This was hard to judge when it was baked enough because you can poke the toothpick straight down without hitting the apples or caramel on the bottom. Instead, you have to angle the toothpick so you're mostly poking through cake. Apples release moisture into the mixture so you don't want to underbake it too much or it'll be too mushy. And of course you don't want to overbake it either.

The caramel bottom didn't get flow-y caramel-y (you know what I mean) like it does in my Caramelized Pecan Pumpkin Upside Down Cake but instead set into more of a penuche texture once the cake had cooled. Still good but don't expect drippy caramel when you flip the cake over. Good news if you don't want to make a mess.
I really liked this cake. The caramel bottom (or top) provides a nice sweetness that complements the tartness of the apples, the caramelized pecans add a nice crunch and the brown sugar cake pulled the whole thing together. In fact, I liked this cake so much, I may replace the pumpkin upside down cake with this come Thanksgiving time. Just for a change of pace.

½ cup firmly packed light brown sugar
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 tablespoons chopped pecans, toasted
2 large tart-crisp apples, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced

1 ½ cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter
2/3 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup whole milk
  1. Heat oven to 350F.  Grease a 9” round cake pan.
  2. In a small bowl with a pastry blender, combine the brown sugar and butter until crumbly.  Stir in the pecans.  Press onto bottom of cake pan.
  3. Arrange apple slices atop sugar/butter mixture.
  4. For the cake: In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.
  5. In a large bowl of an electric mixer, beat the brown sugar and butter until light and fluffy.  Scrape bowl.  Add the egg and vanilla, beating until well combined.  Scrape bowl.
  6. With mixer on low, alternately add the flour mixture and the milk to the sugar mixture, beating until mixture is combined.  Scoop batter into apple-lined pan; quickly and gently spread batter to smooth.
  7. Bake for 34 to 46 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Let stand 5 minutes on a wire rack, then run a knife around the inside edge of pan.  Invert onto a large platter.  Cool 20 minutes.  Serve warm.  Serves 8-10.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Best Snickerdoodle Recipes

Snickerdoodles! I've loved snickerdoodles since I was a kid, partly because of their silly name and partly because they satisfied both my sweet tooth and my plain-eating ways. I haven't quested for THE snickerdoodle recipe like I've searched for the ultimately chocolate chip cookie recipe (of which I found 4) but I have compiled some pretty good ones over the years. Here are my favorites:

Monday, September 28, 2015

Restaurant Review: Terun Pizzeria

Terun Pizzeria - dinner on September 11, 2015
In my continuing quest to try out new local restaurants, especially ones that make the Top 10 list for anything, I convinced my friend Jenny to try out Terun for our next dinner get together. Terun had made the list of Top 10 Pizzerias in the South Bay, a list where, between Jenny and me, we had tried out only 4 of them. Time to expand our culinary horizons.
The nice thing about Terun is it’s away from bustling University Ave with its plethora of restaurants but dearth of parking spaces. California Ave isn’t as densely populated with restaurants as University which also means you can actually find parking. When Jenny and I arrived, the restaurant was still fairly empty but was on track to be fully booked. We hadn’t made a reservation but, having arrived at 6 pm on a Friday, were told a table was available if we could wrap up by 7:30. An hour and a half seemed like a reasonable period for dinner and, added bonus, it was probably safe to assume we’d get prompt service since the restaurant had – bad pun intended – table stakes to get us served and whisked out the door on time.

Fried pizza dough appetizer
The menu offered a reasonable variety of Italian fare with its famous pizzas and pasta offerings. Jenny and I split an appetizer of fried pizza dough ($12, I know, I know but it was Friday, c’mon) and decided to share a pizza (that’s what we came for after all) and a pasta so we didn’t have to choose one or the other and could get both in. As with many of my friends, because I’m a picky eater and most of my friends are not, we worked out a reasonable approach on what to order.  We came to mutual agreement on which pizza to get (the Terun, $17)) and, for the pasta, she picked three for me to choose from that she would want to eat and I chose from her 3 options. Win-win. In this case, our waiter overheard our strategy and Jenny’s top 3 choices and of the 3, he recommended the Chittarine ($18) which was spinach spaghetti Bolognese. I’m not a huge fan of spinach spaghetti but what the heck, I decided to try it and ordered that for the pasta.
Terun pizza

Turned out to be the right choice because, much as we came for the pizza and it was good, it turned out I liked the Chitarrine even better. It wasn’t all that “spinach-y” and the sauce was nicely Bolognese-y to this carnivore. It was delicious. The manager (at least I think it was the manager) came over to see how we were enjoying our meal and he told us that used to be one of their specials that they had just made into a regular menu item because it was so popular. I can see why. Freakin’ delicious, I tell you.

Chocolate Chip Bread Pudding
We didn’t finish all of the pizza but I did have the last bite of the spinach spaghetti Bolognese and I have no shame in saying so. I also had very little shame into being talked into getting dessert. We looked over the dessert menu, Jenny narrowed her choices down to the tiramisu and the chocolate chip bread pudding and I went with the bread pudding ($8). Another winning choice, if I may preen and say so. OMG, this thing was amazing. Just the right size for two people to share, served warm in a bowl of chilled vanilla cream (and you know I don’t really like cream but this was good) and just very excellent bread pudding. We did leave some in the bowl as we were both pretty full though. Next time I would skip the appetizer, go with just the pasta and get the bread pudding.

By the time we left Terun, it was overflowing with people. Literally. I’m glad we got there as early as we did; if we’d been any later, I’m not sure we would’ve waited for a table and then we would’ve missed out on an excellent dinner with wonderful service. Props to Terun. Even if it did mean I was so carbo-loaded from that dinner that I ran 5 miles the next morning in under 48 minutes. It was worth it.
P.S. I ended up going back to Terun a week later with another group of friends - had to get the Terun and the Chitarrine again but since we had more people, I also got to see what the lasagna and the San Daniele pizza was like. Lasagna was excellent although a bit on the small side when you split it four ways, ha. I actually didn't get to try the San Daniele as I wanted to save room for the bread pudding dessert again. But it looked good.
San Daniele Pizza

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Nutella-Stuffed Caramelized Bananas

Nutella-Stuffed Caramelized Bananas - made September 7, 2015
I’m going to blame one of my friends on Facebook for this one. Or maybe I should say credit her instead. Because someone posted a video on her wall about how to make Nutella-stuffed bananas and I was so intrigued that I had to try it for myself. 
The video made it look so easy! You slice the curved ends off the banana, poke a straw down the middle of the banana to create a hole, fill that hole with Nutella then plug the ends with bits of the banana that came out in the straw. Then you roast the bananas. Simple, right? Ha, never be fooled by a BuzzFeed video that could make building a shopping mall with 3 Q-tips, 2 toothpicks and some string look easy. 
First of all, bananas are curvy. If you cut out all the curvy parts, you’d be left with a 1-inch log of banana. If you really only do cut off the ends and stick the straw through the main banana, the straight straw will not follow the banana’s curve and you’ll end up with a straight hole in a curved banana. So it might look like the hole is perfectly in the middle at one end of the banana and completely to the left or not even in that part of the banana anymore by the time you get to the other end.

Second, there’s no earthly way to neatly get the banana that was hollowed out by the straw. That part of the banana is inside the straw and it’s staying there. I end up plugging the holes with parts of the banana ends I had cut off the banana. It wasn’t a perfect fit but really, does it matter? I didn’t think so either.
The Nutella was easy enough to fill the banana with. I spooned some in a plastic baggie, cut off a corner and squeezed that baby into the banana. My only point of dissatisfaction was the straw didn’t make a big enough hole to put very much Nutella into the banana. Next time I’m using an apple corer. Ha.
Lastly, I made up my own caramelization step – melted a tablespoon of butter with a tablespoon of brown sugar and let the bananas bask in their caramelized glory. The only thing I would caution is that you need to caramelize the bananas under low heat and keep a careful eye on it. You’d be surprised how quickly a nice brown sugar caramel goes from nice to burnt. *I* would no longer be surprised by it but the element of surprise tends to be removed once you learn something the hard way.
In any case, this was fantabulously yummy. Yes, I just made up a word and no, I don’t care. It’s caramelized bananas. With Nutella inside. Glory, people, just glory.
1 large banana, firm-ripe but not overly ripe
nutella, fitted into a plastic ziploc bag, corner cut off
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon brown sugar
  1. Peel banana and cut off ends. Puncture middle of banana through with a straw or other cylindrical object that will hollow out the inside of the banana.
  2. Squeeze the nutella into the hollow left by the straw until it fills through the other end. Plug both ends with bits of banana.
  3. Melt butter and brown sugar over low heat in a small frying pan and place nutella-filled banana into mixture, rolling gently until it has caramelized. Be careful not to burn the mixture.
  4. Remove from heat and serve immediately.