Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Zucchini Pineapple Cupcake

Who does not love The Pioneer Woman? As soon as I started reading Ree Drummond's story of how her life evolved from "high heels to tractor wheels", ditching her life in L.A.  to live in a ranch in Oklahoma, I was hooked. I admire her positive outlook and enthusiasm in life. The stories she shares about how she fell in love with her ruggedly handsome cowboy husband, whom she likes to call "Malboro Man", her life on the ranch and her four spirited children are so captivating. However, it is her spunky sense of humor that I love the most. She has a self deprecating way of writing that does not seem arrogant. It makes her likable to her readers and people relate to her more easily. Her blog is full of easy, down-home recipes and user-friendly step-by-step cooking instructions with plenty of photos. No wonder she has received numerous blog awards since 2007 and garnered THE OSCARS of the blogosphere, the Weblog of the Year at the 2009, 2010 and 2011 Bloggies Awards. That's hardly any surprise with more than 20 million page views per month.

I came across this recipe at The Pioneer Woman, that Ree found at the Tasty Kitchen courtesy of Lindainmo and although it was nothing fancy, it was Ree's way of writing that made it sound so delicious that convinced me to give it a try. Since I only have a small electric oven, I can only bake in small square pans, round pans or muffin pans. Rectangular pans are out of the question so I made a cupcake version instead. The zucchini and pineapple also made the cake super moist and yummy! Because of the veggie and fruit in it, it's easy to persuade yourself that it's okay to eat a cupcake and then maybe another one and another because it's a "healthy" dessert (sort of)  and before you know it, half of cupcakes you've baked are already gone! 

Friday, September 23, 2011

Lazy Banana Split

It's a lazy weekend. After a series of nights, weeks even, of getting only 5-6 hours of sleep, I am honestly exhausted and really happy that the weekend is finally here. No work to think about! Just a day with no obligations whatsoever! It's one of those days when all you want to do is lay on your bed, sleep as long as you want, wake up whenever you want, eat a late breakfast or lunch and do whatever you want. Some people might even call it the "pajama day" without ever changing their clothes or taking a shower. Okay, that might be a little bit TOO lazy for me. With the hot and humid weather here that can sometimes seem unbearable on some days, a daily shower is a MUST. 

Here's a list of things I could think of to do on a lazy day:
1. Sleep, sleep, sleep!
2. Take it easy and enjoy a nice lunch in the middle of a market and then buy some fresh produce.
3. Have a cup of hot cappuccino, sitting outside a cafe and watch the world go by.
4. Grab your swimsuit, beach towel and hat and spend a quiet day at the beach.
5. Watch a marathon of your favorite tv series, shows (MASTERCHEF AUSTRALIA!) or movies.
6. Get comfy on the couch and read a good book.
7. Call your friends and just hang out together without any pressure.

Beef Apricot Moroccan Tagine with Couscous

I have always been curious about Moroccan cuisine. It's exotic, full of deep rich flavors and highly diverse because of Morocco's interactions with other cultures over the centuries. From belly dancing to unique ways of cooking food such as the clay pot Moroccan Tagines to rows and rows of bags of spices in colorful souks, Morocco has a lot to offer the world. I remember watching the movie, Along Came Polly. Jennifer Aniston and Ben Stiller had dinner at this Moroccan restaurant and sat on huge pillows on the floor, with gigantic clay plates full of exotic colorful dishes in front of them which they ate with their hands. That really piqued my interest. Eating with one's hand is not a strange concept where I live but it makes the whole experience a lot more different and meaningful with the proper setting and atmosphere. I love traveling and I love learning about other cultures. Our cultural differences add variety and sometimes even humor to life, which makes it all the more beautiful.

I came upon this recipe at Closet Cooking . Kevin is a very talented cook and his blog is full of wonderful interesting recipes. His dishes are far from boring and he is never afraid to do something different. Thank you for posting this recipe on your blog.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Strawberry Green Tea Swirl Cupcakes

If you HATE boybands, it might be best to skip the next part and head straight to the recipe section of this post. =)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Mango Graham Cupcakes

One of the best things about living in a tropical country is the abundance of sweet mangoes almost all year round. I have traveled a few times and nothing compares to the mangoes we have here. In fact, we might even have some of the best mangoes in the world. Now picking the right mangoes can get a little tricky sometimes.  When I am in the supermarket, I usually look for mangoes with a mild sweet odor but with a few flaws on the outside. I find that the perfectly smooth, flawless looking mangoes sometimes tend to be a little sour (funny how mangoes and people can have some things in common.)  

This cupcake was inspired by a popular dessert in the Philippines called Mango Float , which is really like a mango icebox cake made up of graham crackers, heavy cream mixed with condensed milk and plenty of mangoes. The cupcake itself tastes just like graham crackers because it actually uses more graham cracker crumbs than flour. I used a simple boiled flour frosting that tasted almost like a buttercream, mixed with bits of fresh mangoes, then pressed more graham cracker crumbs on the frosting to cover completely and topped with a slice of dried mango.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Shrimp Paste Fried Rice with Green Mangoes

Filipinos love strong flavors and strong jolts of spicy, sour and salty. Take, for example, a local vinegar made from coconut juice, flavored with chilies and spices called Pinakurat. Take a tiny sip and baaamm! The acidity from the vinegar and the spiciness of the chilies will hit you hard but it is so good that I could happily just sip it alone without any food to go with it. There's also our salty dried fish. People say you can tell if you have Filipino neighbors once the aroma of dried fish cooking wafts to the next door neighbors (and maybe even across the street.) To a foreigner, the smell might be off-putting but to Filipinos, that aroma is so sweet and savoury, it kicks your saliva glands into high gear.  

Friday, September 9, 2011

Vanilla Panna Cotta with Mango Gelee

I have a confession. I have a slight obsession with puddings and verrines. There's the hot, velvety chocolate pudding that you can curl up with on rainy days and then there's Panna Cotta. It's soft, smooth and silky. It pairs perfectly with any fruits in season and you can enjoy it either after a light or heavy meal. They're simple and easy to make but with a little creativity and bursts of bright colors, you can make them stand out. It becomes a visually striking dessert. You can also prepare them a day ahead if you are having dinner parties. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Banoffee Pie

March for me is the official start of summer. I remember when I was still a student, I'd always look forward to it because it meant the end of the school year and finally my sweet freedom where I didn't have to worry about exams or homework.

Summer is all about sun-drenched beaches, hot weather, colorful dresses and parties. Although the weather in March this year had been indecisive between sunshine and rain, I packed my bags and started my 3-week long vacation from work with a couple of days spent in one of the most popular beaches in the Philippines - Boracay. 

The sun decided to come out after a bleak morning, lucky!!!
From parasailing to helmet diving to kite boarding, Boracay has an endless array of fun and activities. It is also the perfect place for foodies to go and indulge. From sun-up till sundown, Boracay provides an all-day glutfest, where you can gorge to excess (if you have all the money to spend) and profess your love for food without shame.  I confess I gained a few pounds after only a couple of days, what with all the food around me and it was worth it - every single pound. 
It was one of my food finds there that actually inspired this little Banoffee Pie. While I was walking around, gazing at every single restaurant I passed by, dithering over where I should eat next (right after a big lunch, there's always room for dessert!), a pretty, bright, little store caught my eye - Fruits In Ice Cream. It was the orange color in contrast with the white beach umbrellas over the tables that got my curiousity. I decided to go in and check out their menu. 
I completely fell in love with their Banoffee Sundae. OMG. It was just pure bliss. Under the heat of the sun, it felt so refreshing.The caramel ice cream complimented perfectly the flavor of the bananas, topped with MORE caramel + chocolate sauce and some crushed graham crackers.  It was a match made in heaven, like milk and coffee. It was absolutely FOOD-gasmic and completely addictive. Unfortunately, the FIC franchise in my city doesn't serve it so the first thing I'm going to do the next time I go to Boracay is definitely to treat myself to this lovely Banoffee Sundae again.

This pie is for Peachy who loves dulce de leche. 


Graham Cracker Pie Crust
recipe from Betty's Kitchen

1 1/4 c crushed graham crackers (or ready made crumbs)
1/4 c sugar
6 tbsp butter, melted

Combine the graham cracker crumbs, sugar and melted butter with a fork until well mixed and it comes together as a dough. 

Press the mixture into a 9-inch pie plate with your fingers to get an even crust on the bottom and the sides. Bake at 375 degrees for 6 to 8 minutes, or until edges are browned. Cover with plastic wrap and chill in the fridge while you make the dulce de leche.

Dulce de Leche
1 can (14 oz or 390g) of sweetened condensed milk

This is the easiest though longest method to make Dulce de leche. Remove the label from the can. Submerge the can completely in water in the middle of a large pot like this. 
Make sure the water level is always above the top of the can to prevent it from exploding while boiling. Boil for 3 hours, adding a little bit more water if the level goes below the top of the can. Cool for 20 minutes before opening the can.
Look at that nice, thick, caramel...yuummmm
Banana Toffee Filling
1 can dulce de leche
3 large bananas, sliced and brushed lightly with lemon juice to prevent browning
whipped cream topping

Whipped Cream Topping
250 ml whipping cream or heavy cream
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

Beat the whipping cream with the sugar until heavy peaks form. Add the vanilla and beat until well mixed. 

1. Spread the cooled dulce de leche over the graham pie crust. Chill for 30 minutes.
2. Top the dulce de leche layer with the sliced bananas evenly. 
3. Top with another layer of dulce de leche, then top with the remaining bananas and then the last layer of dulce de leche.
4. Cover the filling with lightly sweetened whipped cream. 

5. Drizzle some melted chocolate and sprinkle some chocolate shavings on top of the whipped cream.

6. Take a huge slice and gobble it down quickly while Jo-Ann isn't looking.

I get the last slice!
Make sure to OIL the pan well enough before pressing the graham cracker crumbs to prevent it from sticking to the glass pie dish. Mix the melted chocolate with a little cream to thin it out a little so that it will not crack when you cut it once it is set.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Chocolate Biscuit Cake

Most little girls dream of being a princess. Most women dream of finding her own prince (not prince Harming and albeit one without a title). With relationships so complicated and often not taken seriously with so many on-again / off-again couples these days, it is nice to see a good love story and a real life fairy tale played out. Their story captured the hearts of everyone. 

After waiting patiently for almost a decade for her beloved prince, Kate Middleton finally got her wish and the whole world watched as their fairy tale wedding unfolded. She came from an ordinary family, who captured the heart of Britain's most popular prince. Their Royal Wedding is the classic Cinderella story with Kate going to Westminster Abbey in a black car as a commoner and leaving the church in a horse-drawn carriage as a princess and it inspired everyone. Thousands of people from all over the world came and camped outside in the streets of London just to witness this huge event, British style of course with a cup of tea.

Caught up in all the excitement of Prince William and Kate's wedding of the decade, I decided to make the groom's wedding cake. Surprisingly a no fuss recipe, this happens to be Prince William's favorite cake. They often served this at the palace when William would have tea with his late mother, Princess Diana.

adapted from SHESIMMERS

200g of Fox's thick tea biscuits, cut into 1/4 inch pieces

1 cup heavy cream

250 g semi-sweet chocolate, chopped into pieces

250 g dark sweet chocolate, chopped into pieces

4 tbsp unsalted butter

1 tsp vanilla

1/2 tsp salt

unsweetened cocoa powder for dusting

In a saucepan over medium heat, whisk together the cream and butter. Once the butter has melted completely and the mixture starts bubbling, remove from heat. Whisk in the chocolate. Once you get a smooth ganache, gently fold in the biscuit chunks. Pour into a prepared 7 inch springform pan and tap the pan lightly on the counter a couple of times to get rid of air pockets. Refrigerate overnight or for several hours until the cake is set and thoroughly chilled. When the cake is set, remove from the pan gently and dust with unsweetened cocoa powder.

Lessons learned: 
The next time I try to make this cake, I would add a little bit more biscuits to balance out the sweetness of the chilled ganache. A non-stick spray is also needed for easy removal from the pan. It was a bit of trouble to remove the cake as it stuck to the pan even though I lined it with transparent sheet.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Chocolate Pudding Pie

Eating a warm cup of chocolate pudding to curl up with on a cold and rainy day is my idea of heaven. It's one of the best comfort foods out there like sipping a nice, warm soup when you are sick.. It's smooth, creamy and decadent without being overly rich. And it's VERY addictive. When I get one of my cravings for chocolate and I want to indulge but don't want to go overboard, then I make chocolate pudding with skim milk, cornstarch, pure cocoa powder and a little bit of honey. And I don't wait around for it to cool down.  I devour it right off, scraping every single last bit on the saucepan. Yuuummm.

Some days I eat it plain (when I'm feeling a little bit lazy). Some days I want it hot and gooey (and oozing out of the ramekin), topped with soft melting marshmallows and crushed graham crackers like having S'mores on a campfire. 
Other times, I prefer it cold, in a little shooter glass topped with whipped cream like this.

But this time, I want to make it a little extra special in a pie form. This is one simple, straightforward and unpretentious recipe for a chocolate pudding pie that everyone will enjoy.

Graham Cracker Pie Crust
recipe from Betty's Kitchen

1 1/4 c crushed graham crackers (or ready made crumbs)
1/4 c sugar
6 tbsp butter, melted

Combine the graham cracker crumbs, sugar and melted butter with a fork until well mixed and it comes together as a dough. Press the mixture into a 8-inch pie plate with your fingers to get an even crust on the bottom and the sides. Bake at 375 degrees for 6 to 8 minutes, or until edges are browned. Cool and set aside.

Chocolate Pudding Filling
recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen

1/4 cup + 1 tbsp cornstarch
1/2 cup sugar
1/8 tsp salt
3 cups whole milk
250 g semi sweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 tsp instant coffee
1 tsp vanilla extract

Combine the cornstarch, sugar, coffee and salt in a saucepan. Slowly whisk in the milk, scraping the bottom and sides with a spatula to incorporate the dry ingredients. Place over low heat and stir occasionally with a whisk to prevent lumps from forming. Remember to also scrape the bottom and the sides. After 20 minutes, when the pudding starts to thicken and coats the back of a spoon, add in the chopped chocolate. Continue stirring until the pudding is smooth and thick for about 4 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla.

Pull a plastic wrap over the top of the pudding to prevent a skin from forming and let it cool for about 10-15 minutes. Spread the cooled chocolate pudding over the graham pie crust. Cover with the plastic wrap again, making sure to touch the plastic with the surface of the chocolate pudding and chill for 1-2 hours or until the pudding is set.

Whipped Cream Topping
1 - 250 ml whipping cream or heavy cream
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
chocolate curls (for topping)

Beat the whipping cream with the sugar until heavy peaks form. Add the vanilla and beat until well mixed. Top the chilled chocolate pudding pie with the whipped cream. Decorate with chocolate shavings. Chill for a few hours (preferably overnight) before serving.