Thursday, June 30, 2011

Spicy Tomato + Clam Soup

I'm not a big cookbook collector.  I don't have a lot of space on my cookbook shelf in my kitchen, so usually, I'm really selective about what I choose to buy.  Every now and then, though, I stumble across a book that I just have to have, which is what happened to me yesterday when I saw donna hay Seasons at anthropologie.  This book, I tell you, is devastatingly beautiful.  I mean, whenever I see a Donna Hay Magazine, I have this urge to crawl into its pages and just live there, so imagine it all collected into a single book.  Also, the first recipe that I just happened to flip to in the store was for a spicy tomato and clam broth, and if I have a weakness for any homemade savory food, it's for seafood soup.

This broth is so deliciously good--tomato-y and garlic-y and clammy, especially when soaked into hunks of crusty bread.  I added in a dash of lemon juice and pimenton spice at the end, and it just opens of the flavors so much more with a hint more spice and a bit of fresh tartness.  And, I couldn't believe how incredibly fast and easy it was!  I think all told, it probably took me less than 30 minutes to put together, which is wonderful in my book for a simple but splendid weeknight dinner.

Thank you all so, so much for your awesome cake submissions!  I'm slowly going through them now and consulting with my closest foodie friends and will announce winners in the coming week.

Read on for recipe....

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Postcards from Summer: Yosemite Valley, California

A quick drive due east of the Bay Area lands you in the magical park that is Yosemite.  There's been such rainfall/snowfall this year that some of the high roads are still operating under winter conditions and the waterfalls and rivers in the valley are still thundering at dangerous speeds.  But, it's always beautiful to pop in for a quick retreat... sunburst over the Half Dome at dawn, rocky trails climbing up and up from the valley floor, nostalgic visits to the same ice cream parlor you went to as a kid, wildlife coming within an inch or two of you (though maybe it's not so fun when said 'wildlife' includes the biggest ants I've ever seen in my life--bigger than most spiders), chill moments by the water or in camp at dusk, biking all around the meadows, driving the winding, hair-pinned roads, getting drenched in the hot sun by waterfall mist, treating yourself to a fancy lunch with wonderful friends at a beautiful historic lodge (in your ripped shorts, t-shirt, and hiking shoes), followed by a nap on a shaded creek-side bench.  Ah... summer.

Where do you go for your quick summer escapes?

P.S.  Don't forget to enter the Rosanna, Inc. cakestand giveaway--there are only a few short days left!

Monday, June 20, 2011

That Chocolate Cake, and breaking the Baker's Curse with a Rosanna, Inc. Giveaway!

I suffer from a little something that I like to call 'The Baker's Curse.' (Don't worry--it's far from lethal. ;-P)  The Baker's Curse is when you're the designated baker in your circle of friends, and you make everyone birthday cakes for their birthdays (and wedding cakes for their weddings, and so on), but no one ever--and I mean ever--bakes *you* a cake for *your* birthday.  I'm sure many of you out there are familiar with this affliction.  Everyone seems to get so flustered and worked up with the misconceived insecurity that no cake they bake, they think, could ever possibly live up to your standards, but what they don't all realize is that it's not really the cake that counts as it is the thought.  To just have someone put in the time and energy and thought into wanting to make a cake for me and then spending the effort to decide on a type of cake, look up the recipe, go to the store for ingredients, turn on the oven, etc etc --I don't really care if the cake doesn't rise or I could use it to play frisbee; all I care about--and I'm sure that many who suffer from Baker's Curse would agree with me--is that you actually tried.

So this year, for my birthday, I'm determined to escape the Baker's Curse, and to do so, I've enlisted the help of the awesome, awesome folks at Rosanna, Inc.  Rosanna, Inc. is the tableware company behind my absolute favorite cake stands--the ones I've used on this blog over and over again.  I have quite the collection of their cake stands, and I can honestly say that they are downright gorgeous and whimsy and cute (otherwise I wouldn't be using up blog space to tell you about them!).  And now, the folks at Rosanna, Inc. have graciously donated this beautiful 8" La Gateau cake stand as incentive to you all for helping me cure the Baker's Curse this year.

Here's the deal.  This giveaway is now closed.  Thanks for participating, and stay tuned for the winner announcments! To enter this giveaway, leave a comment with your name, a way for me to get in touch with you (anonymous entries will be disqualified), and tell me:
What cake would you bake for me for my birthday?
If you have a link to the cake recipe, please include it in your comment, but even cake ideas/inspiration sans recipe are welcome.  I will review all of your submissions for awesome birthday cake ideas and pick the awesomest few to try out and then ultimately pick a most awesomest winner as the cake for my birthday coming up.  That winner will receive this 8" La Gateau cake stand from Rosanna, Inc.  (and let me tell you right now how jealous I am of you--even I don't own one like this!)

I'm also throwing in TWO! random drawing prizes: not one but two random winners will each get a white Rosanna, Inc. petit treat cupcake stand because I adore these stands so, so much and really want to share them with you (I use them for everything from mini cakes to cookies).

You have until 23:59 PST, Sunday, June 26, 2011 to enter your cake idea.  One cake idea entry per person, please.  I'll give you an extra entry in the random drawing if you tweet about this post, but in your tweet, you must mention me (@shihbakes) and include a link to this giveaway ( so that I can track all of your entries!  This contest is open everywhere except where prohibited, but please note that I am not responsible for any import duties or taxes beyond shipping that may be charged by your country if you are overseas.  Winners will be announced on or before July 4, 2011 here on the blog, so please check back.

Oh yeah, and did I mention that Rosanna, Inc's stands always come packaged in the cutest hat boxes?!
In the meantime, here's one of my favorite, simplest, yet most delicious cake recipes to get you in the cake-y mood: *that* chocolate cake, from the Scharffenberger chocolate book.  This is an insanely easy cake to make, but it's so moist and light and yet rich with chocolate flavor and wrapped up with this delicious fudge-ganache-cross dark chocolate frosting.  It's one of those cake recipes that you have to just keep in your back pocket for whipping up at a moment's notice.

I am so looking forward reading everyone's cake ideas!  Please do go and check out Rosanna, Inc. (like them on facebook; follow them on twitter), because they make absolutely wonderful things.  :-)  And here's to ending the Baker's Curse this year!

Read on for recipe....

Friday, June 17, 2011

Scenes from Scotland

A few weeks ago, I was able to spend a short couple of days in Edinburgh, Scotland, visiting a good friend of mine and doing academic stuff.  It was officially a work trip, so much of the time was spent in cafes or offices, working away at various things (yay to the British and their tea), but I did get to snap some photos--though not as many as I would have liked because, let me tell you right now, the light in Scotland is some of the most beautiful that I have ever witnessed.  It's truly, truly incredible.  And the city is amazing, too.  Squint and you can just pretty much see painted-face Scots storming through the valley to the castle, with flags flying and swords waving.  Anyways, here are some postcards from Scotland for you.

Faux-laroids after the jump....

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Strawberry and Rosemary-Caramel Buckwheat Tart

My friends seem to be getting a wee bit spoiled.

Case in point: last weekend was a combined birthday bash for Richard and some of the folks in his family who have birthdays in May and June.  My line of thought on this party was "Oh, perfect! I'll make cupcakes of some sort to bring, which will be nice because I haven't made cupcakes in quite a while."  Perfectly reasonable, no?  So, I asked Richard what kind of cupcakes he would like for his birthday.  This is what he says to me:
"No, I don't want cupcakes.  I want a tart."
Wait wait wait--back up--come again?!  Now, you all must understand something about Richard.  He's not a food enthusiast like I am.  Not in the slightest.  This is the guy who, when I met him years ago, would have been perfectly content eating the same turkey-cheese-iceberg lettuce-mustard sandwich for lunch every single day for years on end.  People who meet us nowadays are constantly scratching their heads about how we're together, since Richard feels as dispassionate about food as I feel passionate about it.  Over the years, I've managed to train him well on certain things--for instance, he now has a fine appreciation for well-made tapioca tea or fresh, finely-rolled, raw-fish-incorporated sushi.  But he often still snubs his nose at my culinary... er... creations.  So, imagine my incredible surprise upon discovering that I'd actually trained and spoiled him far more than I had even thought, Mr. "I Want a Tart and not Cupcakes for my Birthday."

So once his choice of desserts was settled, I set about working on designing a tart worthy of a closeted dessert connoisseur's birthday.  And there's possibly no food item Richard loves more than strawberries.  I've never seen anyone inhale the same vast amounts of the fruit like he does.  Hence, I knew it had to be a strawberry tart.  Because there would be so much strawberry-age involved, I wanted to darken up the rest of the flavors more and to develop a robust earthiness to the layers underneath the sweet summery berries, so I went for a strawberry, rosemary-caramel, and buckwheat tart.

The tart has a base of buckwheat pastry--slightly nutty and sweet from the buckwheat but with a darker tang than with a regular, white flour crust.  The pastry is coated with a light layer of rosemary caramel that is just salty enough to cancel out the sweetness, and the rosemary offers a hint of brightness and uniqueness to the strawberries on top.  (The rosemary isn't overpowering at all.)  The strawberries sit on a bed of simple vanilla pastry cream and are brushed with a generous amount of freshly-reduced strawberry syrup, basically packing double the amount of strawberry flavor into a single fruit layer.  With patience, you can slice the strawberries and arrange them around the tart, or, go for the rustic look by plopping entire tiny whole strawberries on top.

Richard's a man of few words (yet another big difference between us, since I'm prone to blathering on and on and on), but given that he pretty much polished off the entirety of the two tarts that I made on his own, I'd say that this was a fair success.  Next year, though, he's getting cupcakes....

Read on for recipe....

Monday, June 6, 2011

Apricot Plum Crisp with Maple Nut Froyo

As my parents get older, I worry more and more about their future health.  My family has never been a very active one.  While my mom spends most of her days on her feet at her hospital job, my dad works in an office and has been sitting for a good portion of his life.  Aside from my ballet dancing when I was younger, exercise was always an "Event" in our family rather than a daily routine--to exercise, my parents would drive us forty-five minutes to this reservoir to walk a mile or two.  (Arguably not the most efficient way to exercise!) And, all of us in my nuclear family have a soft spot for ice cream.  So... statistically speaking, this does not bode well for any of our health(s) in the future!

So this year, for my dad's birthday (and Father's Day), I decided to reinvent his favorite birthday dessert that I make him every year into something healthier.  He adores maple nut ice cream, and so this time around, I came up with a maple nut frozen yogurt, accompanied by an apricot, plum, oat, and buckwheat crisp.  The frozen yogurt is made with 2% fat Greek yogurt--still thick and creamy, but without the actual heavy cream, milk, and eggs.  The only sugar in the frozen yogurt comes from the maple syrup, which is pretty much unavoidable when you're making maple nut ice cream. :-)  As for the crisp, my family likes tart and not-too-sweet desserts, so the filling of apricots and plums really relies on natural sweetness in the fruit, with only a bit of sugar sprinkled in.  The crisp topping is made with equal amounts of butter and thick yogurt to help cut down on the amount of butter needed--an idea that I 'borrowed' from 101 cookbooks.  The topping is also made with no gluten--just oats and buckwheat flour, both of which add a natural nutty sweetness to the crisp.

Even though this dessert was waaaaaaay healthier than my dad's normal birthday fare, it worked out really deliciously.  The slight tang of the yogurt went perfectly with the sweet maple syrup in the maple nut froyo, and the crisp was bursting with juicy goodness, which mixed so well with the melting nutty froyo scooped on top--all in all, I deem this Healthy Dessert Success.

Anyone have any favorite healthy dessert tips to share?  I of course remain very much committed to heavy cream and butter, but it's always good to explore the options!

Read on for recipe...

Friday, June 3, 2011

This week, in photos.

TGIF!  I've never really used the phrase "TGIF" much because, growing up, I loved school, and weekends were just those days stuck at home without school, but, boy oh boy, am I so glad this week is over.  As you may have noticed, there hasn't been a recipe up for the week, which is the result of failure after failure in my kitchen.  I've lost my baking mojo!  (Also, this is what I get from trying to drastically fiddle with unfamiliar recipes.)  The first "cake" I pulled out of the oven this week was basically more like a pudding, collapsing in on itself--note to self: this is what happens when you try to *double* the amount of caramel in the cake.... (Upon posting an iPhone photo of this cake on twitter, multiple people commented that it looked like hot dogs and ... er... vomit--not a good sign. --> Also, I can't believe I just used the word 'vomit' on a food blog!) The second "thing" I pulled out of the oven leaked butter like nobody's business--even Paula Deen would have been shocked, I think.  Finally, I was able to manage to pull something super yummy and (more importantly) *not* disastrous out of the oven--cherry chipotle BBQ mini pizzas with smoked gouda and red onions--but those went directly from the oven to Irvin from Eat the Love and Melanie's pie party/potluck at 18 reasons in SF.  So yeah, no recipe for that one, either.  (Although, I am obsessed with the homemade BBQ sauce that I used for this pizza, so I *might* just remake it again for you all.  *might.*)

Outside the kitchen, though, this week has been packed with awesome fun: seeing The Bad Plus (one of my favorite jazz groups) at Yoshi's (here's one of my favorite pieces that played that night--I'm adopting it as my new theme song); dropping by beautiful UC Santa Cruz for a work meeting; sitting in a cafe chatting, iPhone-ography-ing, and eating dessert with friends on Memorial Day after working on refinishing my dining room table (it's almost done!); watching the latest incarnation of our department rock band make its re-debut (yes, we have a department rock band); and hanging out with old and new blog friends at the pie party.  So, I can't say that the week was a total bust.

One more thing that I did this week was go out to lunch with my good friend Toni and photograph it for an Oh Joy! feature.  (I'm super-excited to be on the Oh Joy! lunch series, so please go check it out!)  Here's what happens when you put two photographers together for lunch:

Yeah, pretty much.

Anyways, I hope you all have a wonderful weekend and much more success in the kitchen than I've been having lately.  Also, if you've seen my baking mojo out and about on its illicit 'vacation,' would you kindly point it back in my direction, please?