Category Archives: Cooking

My Brazen Attempt at a Chocolate-Raspberry Torte From Scratch


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The end result – my Chocolate-Raspberry Torte

Brazen.  That’s the perfect word to describe my attempt at making a bittersweet Chocolate Raspberry Torte… from scratch.  Well, almost.  I don’t have a chicken coop to retrieve fresh eggs from so a slight exaggeration it is.

Well, it came out LOOKING okay per above… but……..

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The kids didn’t put me up to this although my Little-Cake-Boss-Now-Dreadful-Teenager would have likely devoured it.  Alas, she is gone for a week and a half on a bus vacation with my ex.  No, I don’t know where they are – not even in which state – which is part of the secret life they lead with their mother.  So, I needed a distraction.  Besides, I owed my good neighbors an experiment a treat.  Their two youngest kids were a wonderful influence on my two little rug rats as they were growing up.

I just happened to receive two wonderful Cook’s Illustrated recipe books on a super deal and while exploring it, I came across this challenge – the Chocolate Raspberry Torte.  There you have it.  (ps The two books together weighed at least 15 pounds!)

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Putting it together can be summarized in several steps:

  1. Make the two pieces of bittersweet, flourless chocolate cake;
  2. Make the filling;
  3. Make the ganache for the chocolate glaze; and,
  4. Make the mess putting it all together.

It really wasn’t all that difficult. 🙂

While I would encourage single men trying to impress a lady to subscribe to Cook’s Illustrated (besides, there’s even a short and informative video on how to put this concoction together on their website), the ingredients were as follows:

Bittersweet, flourless chocolate cake:

  • 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, bar or chips (I cheat – I use the chip form.  I used Ghiradelli’s. If you buy a bar, you’ll have to chop it up which is a mess no big deal.)
  • 12 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into 1/2″ pieces, room temperature
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp instant expresso powder
  • 1-3/4 cups sliced almonds, lightly toasted (I forgot to do that)
  • 1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour (I use MacArthur’s)
  • 1/2 tsp table salt
  • 5 large eggs, room temperature (I forgot to take them out, too)

For the raspberry filling:

  • 1/2 cup fresh raspberries plus 16 individual raspberries for garnishing; pick the best ones for the garnishing
  • 1/4 cup seedless raspberry jam (Since my good neighbors are health conscious, I bought an organic product.  In hindsight, it wasn’t as sweet as no sugar was added.)

Chocolate Ganache Glaze:

  • 5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, bar or chips
  • 1/2 cup plus one tbsp heavy cream

You will also need a food processor, two good quality 9″ cake pans, a wire rack, cardboard rounds for the cakes and parchment paper.

Instructions

The cake:

  • Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  • Grease then line bottoms of the two 9″ baking pans with parchment paper.  Grease the parchment paper then dust with flour.
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Since I don’t have a suitable bowl for this, I always use my trusty Japanese bowl.
  • While the recipe says to melt the chocolate and butter in a bowl over some barely simmering water, I cheat (via Cook’s Illustrated).  I zap the chocolate chips and butter for about 1-1/2 minutes at 50% power.  Stop when the chips pretty much lose their shape but don’t overheat.  Whisk gently and let cool 30 minutes, then add vanilla extract and espresso powder.  Whisk gently again.
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Whisking the melted chocolate and butter.  Cool for 30 minutes before adding extract and espresso powder.
  • Process 3/4 cup almonds in food processor until coarsely chopped, six to eight 1-second pulses; set aside to garnish cake.
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Coarsely chopped sliced almonds. Remember to toast!
  • Process remaining cup almonds until very finely ground, about 45 seconds. Add flour and salt and continue to process until combined, about 15 seconds. Transfer almond-flour mixture to medium bowl.
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Ground almond slivers after flour and salt added.
  • Process eggs in now-empty food processor until lightened in color and almost doubled in volume, about 3 minutes. With processor running, slowly add sugar until thoroughly combined, about 15 seconds.
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Before.
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The five eggs after three minutes. Remember to use room temperature eggs!
  • Using whisk, gently fold egg mixture into chocolate mixture until some streaks of egg remain. Sprinkle half almond-flour mixture over chocolate-egg mixture and gently whisk until just combined. Sprinkle in remaining almond-flour mixture and gently whisk until just combined.
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After some folding of the eggs into the chocolate mixture. Note the streaks.
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Addition of first portion of the ground almonds and before whisking.
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After addition of remaining ground almonds. Frankly, I may have over-whisked it. Doing so breaks down the aerated eggs.
  • Divide batter evenly between cake pans and smooth with rubber spatula. Bake until center is firm and toothpick inserted into center comes out with few moist crumbs attached, 14 to 16 minutes.  (ps I over-baked mine as the cake pulled away from the sides.  I’m thinking my oven was too hot so I need to lower the temp next time.)
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One cake before inversion. You do not have to invert the second cake.
  • Transfer cakes to wire rack and cool completely in pan, about 30 minutes. Run paring knife around sides of cakes to loosen. Invert cakes onto cardboard rounds cut same size as diameter of cake and remove parchment paper. Using wire rack, re-invert 1 cake so top side (the shiny side) faces up; slide back onto cardboard round.

The filling:

  • Place ½ cup raspberries in medium bowl and coarsely mash with fork. Stir in raspberry jam until just combined. Spread raspberry mixture onto cake layer that is top side up. Top with second cake layer, leaving it bottom side up. (Tricky!) Transfer assembled cake, still on cardboard round, to wire rack set in rimmed baking sheet.
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A horrible cell phone pic; it looked much better than this. 🙂 Smooth filling to almost the edge. Placing the second cake on top of this slightly squeezes the filling out.

The glaze:

  1. Melt chocolate and cream in medium heatproof bowl set over saucepan filled with 1 inch simmering water, stirring occasionally until smooth. (Again, I zapped it, this time for about a minute at 50%.  Don’t overzap.)  Remove from heat and gently whisk until very smooth. Pour glaze onto center of assembled cake. Use offset spatula to spread glaze evenly over top of cake, letting it flow down sides. Spread glaze along sides of cake to coat evenly. (Having one of those portable lazy Susan gizmos for cakes helps.  Besides, all men like gizmos.)
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Use an angled or offset spatula to smooth the glaze to the edges and allow to drip down. Use offset spatula to then smooth it around the sides. (Note: I inverted this top cake needlessly.)
  • Using fine-mesh strainer, sift reserved almonds to remove any fine bits. Holding bottom of cake on cardboard round with one hand, gently press sifted almonds onto cake sides with other hand. Arrange raspberries around circumference., placing one raspberry at the 12, 3, 6 and 9 o’clock positions; evenly place the rest of the raspberries using the first four raspberries as a guide.  Refrigerate cake, still on rack, until glaze is set, at least 1 hour and up to 24 hours.
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Finished!
  • Transfer cake to serving platter, slice, and serve.

It really wasn’t that difficult… although I forgot to toast the almonds and overbaked the cakes; sorry, Brad!  But now, your lovely wife can show off her own baking skills in your kitchen since since she can now follow the recipe! (Am I in trouble now?)

By the way, this was MY dessert treat calories after this brazen effort:

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Did you know Hostess is now owned by a Mexican company?  What’s made in the US of A anymore?

 

The Three Second Rule, Food and Cigars


I firmly do NOT believe in the three second rule… especially when it comes to the kids.

In fact, it’s more like the micro-sub-second rule.

I don’t care if it’s one of my homemade chocolate truffles or a hard candy.

You see, once the food hits the kitchen floor, it legally belongs to the dog. It’s a transfer of ownership. It does not belong to my kids anymore nor especially my granddaughter if she comes.

If the dog is not present, the food gets wasted. It goes into the trash can. Tough luck, dog.

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You see, I think the floor is smothered with yukkies – like dust, microbes, viruses, insect do-do and of course, dog saliva from previous ownership transfers. I can’t imagine allowing those yukkies getting into young mouths. I, too, don’t eat things that fall on the kitchen floor for exactly the same reasons.

Disgusting.

However, an entirely different rule applies to me when I’m outside.

If I drop my cigar – onto the sidewalk where crows do their dastardly deeds or onto a parking lot spotted in days-old engine oil or on the grass where dogs freely mark their territory – the three second rule DOES apply.

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I dropped my cigar. It does not belong to the dog.

In fact, it might as well be a three MINUTE rule.  The cigar can rest on the dirt for a few minutes, even like when I’m doing macro photography.

But…unlike the mundane food, the cigar will not get thrown away. I will not waste it. The dog will definitely not get it.

It will go back into my mouth. I will not give the bacteria from the crow do-do or the grit from used engine oil or fermented dog pee on the lawn a second thought.

You see, it isn’t food. That’s why I can pick up the cigar and put it back in my mouth.

Do you see the logic?

Florentine Bars from Scratch


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My bud, Chef Cathy Thomas of Orange County, CA (link here), had posted on her website a marvelous, yummy looking dessert called “Florentine Bars”.  They are a creation of one of her culinary associates, Chef Wonyee Tom, who serves them up by the dozens at her establishment in Huntington Beach, CA called “Tomgirl Baking Co.”

The topping of dried cranberries and apricots plus sliced almonds in a cream and honey based homemade caramel mixture rests upon a wonderful buttery crust… and like all of Chef Cathy’s recipes, the recipe was detailed and easy to follow.

Even I could follow them!

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To make these, the ingredients are listed below but if you home chefs want to throw together this easy recipe, I’d encourage you to visit her webpage; there’s even a video!  (You know how men are visually minded.)

Video link: http://cathythomascooks.com/2016/02/01/tomgirl-baking-companys-florentine-bar-cookies-are-unsurpassed/

The ingredients are:

Sweet dough crust:
1 stick (4 ounces) butter, room temperature
1/2 cup (3 ounces) granulated sugar
1 large egg
1-1/3 cups plus 2 tablespoons (7 1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour
All-purpose flour for dusting parchment paper

Topping:
1-1/2 cups (5 ounces) sliced almonds (not toasted)
1/3 cup (1 ounce) diced dried apricots
1 cup (2 ounces) coarsely chopped dried cranberries
1/4 cup (1 ounce) all-purpose flour
3-1/2 ounces (7 tablespoons) butter, room temperature
3/4 cup (5 ounces) granulated sugar
3 tablespoons (1 1/2 ounces) honey
1/4 cup (2 ounces) heavy whipping cream
Nonstick spray

Here are some steps I managed to take cellphone pics of:

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Dried cranberries and apricots with sliced almonds.

 

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Softened unsalted butter and sugar ready for the mixer and before egg and flour.  When I add the flour, I set the mixer on the lowest speed briefly until most of the flour is under control.  Otherwise, you will have a plume of flour dust.

 

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Dough in general shape of pan and before rolling out. I crease my parchment paper to mark the pan dimensions; it helps me roll it out.

 

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Ready for the 350F oven.

 

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Making the caramel mixture. You should smell the aroma!  By the way, Chef Tom recommends using a stainless steel utensil to stir but I don’t have one that’ll work.  I’m assuming the wooden spoon may give off infused flavors from dishes past?

 

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Mix in the dried fruits and nuts off heat. It does set up very quickly so move fast!

 

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I slice mine up into triangles when there’s still a smidge of warmth left. (ps I also cut off maybe 1/4″ off the sides for presentation… It may be the best part!)

 

Voila!  Great with coffee…or anytime!

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And as testament to the deliciousness, I had made it for the teachers and staff appreciation luncheon last Friday – and they asked my daughter for the recipe!

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Of course, I texted her the proper link to Cathy Thomas’ website.  You should check it out, too, and get on her email distribution!

http://cathythomascooks.com/

Happy baking!

Glazed Salmon


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My Glazed Salmon for the kids.

Those dreaded words once again echoed in my kitchen.

“Papa, can you make something different for dinner?” asked my soon-to-be-dreaded-teenager, the Little Cake Boss Diva.

Ugh… Which reminds me I am overdue for another “She’s Killing Me” story…  Actually, I have tons but you will be spared.

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Usually, there is no dinner menu for the kids when they are with me… primarily due to my Little Cake Boss Diva.  Her forte is executing her plans – a minute after she changes it.

Even then, she is late.  Always.  You can set your clock to it.  Kinda.

As my old-time buddy had come over as we planned from days ahead, I fretted over what to make that was new.  Then I recalled Stater Bros. had a sale on fresh salmon fillets so that was my first step.  I went to my cooking bible, Cook’s Illustrated, and found this recipe for “Glazed Salmon”.  After scanning the ingredients, I decided this would be it as it had soy sauce.  My son Jack will eat (almost) anything if it had soy sauce and Brooke (usually) eats what I make.

So after talking about old times with my buddy, I dashed off to the supermarket; I only needed a couple of items – like the salmon!  Unfortunately, the fillets were a tad thin; also, they weren’t of the same thickness but they had to make do (Having them the same thickness ensures the fillets cook at the same rate.).

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Ingredients:

For rub:

1 – teaspoon light brown sugar

½ – teaspoon kosher salt

¼ – teaspoon cornstarch

* * * * * *

4 – center-cut skin-on salmon fillets, 6 to 8 ounces each

Ground black pepper

1 – teaspoon vegetable oil

For Glaze:

3 – tablespoons light brown sugar

2 – tablespoons soy sauce

2 – tablespoons mirin (see note)

1 – tablespoon sherry vinegar

1 – tablespoon whole grain mustard

1 – tablespoon water

1 – teaspoon cornstarch

⅛ – teaspoon red pepper flakes

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Preheat oven to 300F.

After I rinsed off the salmon and cut off the real thin parts, I placed them skin side down on paper towels and patted them dry.  I sprinkled them flesh side up with ground black pepper then applied the rub. (Sorry, these are all cellphone pics.)

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Peppered and with rub applied. The rub has dissolved, by the way, so you can’t see it.

The glaze was next.  After mixing the ingredients together in a small sauce pot, I quickly brought it to a boil.  It quickly thickens; remove from heat and cover.  Set aside.

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Heat a non-stick skillet and oil until very hot.  Place salmon flesh side down first and brown for one minute.  Flip and brown the skin side also for one minute, then transfer carefully to a baking sheet, skin side down.  (I have the wonderful Breville Smart Convection Oven, perfect for the small meals – and desserts – I make.)

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Ready to serve!

Spoon the still warm glaze mixture liberally over the salmon, then bake in oven for 7-10 minutes.  Cook’s Illustrated says bake until an instant read thermometer reads 125F for you scientific cooks.  I did turn on the convection fan for the last three minutes.  The salmon came out wonderfully glazed and moist.

Plate and serve!

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Note: Ever notice the white stuff that oozes out from your salmon at times?  It’s from using too high a heat.  It also indicates moisture has been squeezed out of the fish.

I also transferred the browned salmon to a baking sheet as my non-sticks are not oven safe.  If you have one that is oven safe, you can just throw the skillet right into the oven.

Back at the First Notch!


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At Ft. McHenry in 2010. My spare tire is pretty much how it looked 30 days ago – and my Levi’s definitely weren’t buttoned at the waist!

Well, the first 30 days of my weight loss effort have been endured. 🙂

Having surpassed my goal of losing ten pounds (although I was absolutely coerced into breaking the rules on two occasions due to my kids’ daily needs LOL), I am unbelievably back at the first notch on my Levi’s belt which I’ve been wearing since a teenager… and the Levi’s are buttoned up at the top with room to spare. Incredible if I have to say so myself.

This is what I looked like on Day 0:

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Just kidding!  That’s my oldest boy…  and rather than blind you with a photo my daughter took of me on Day 0 of my actual gelatinous pale body, I think the point can be made differently. Besides, the photo at the very top pretty much shows what I looked like when I started without you getting blinded.

So… Below is a photo of me in Tokyo at the Toyota School dormitory on a hot, humid August day, wearing my favorite Levi’s belt many decades ago.  This was a couple of years after graduating from high school (19XXXXX BC).19XX copy

Then this week, I took a photo of the same infamous belt that I wear daily – and back at the very first notch!  I even have my top waist button fastened and my shirt tucked it because my Levi’s were falling.

They still fall. 🙂  But the belt’s battle scars clearly show how big my waist had been through the years.

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I am but 5’6″ tall and I was carrying 187 pounds two years ago.  While certainly not as dramatic as some of your results, I did start at 161 pounds 30 days ago and am now down to 146…  Well, 146-1/2 pounds.  So I exaggerated…

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Overall, I’ve lost 31 inches as well, mostly off my spare tire and chest.

I’d call that a win.

I did drink copious amounts of Japanese green tea (the fountain of youth serum if you didn’t know) and water and ate lots of tofu.  The times that “food” was beckoning me were when I’d prepare my kids’ meals being a single dad and from scratch.  It was tough not tasting the food to correct the seasoning before plating it – beef stroganoff, spaghetti al limone, Maytag bleu cheese salad, classic pound cake and the like – but since the kids ate it all, it must have been just fine.

Thanks to my coaches Marissa and Doug!

Shedding Tofu Fears


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Chilled tofu, topped with green onions, ginger and dried bonito shavings.

“My life is like tofu – its what gets added that makes it interesting.”

Angela Johnson

While certainly common as bread among Asians, tofu is akin to “eww” among many of us Americans.  To many, it may have the texture of slightly melting jello and dreadfully bland; but truthfully, it’s pretty darn good for you and perhaps a fine change up in your weight loss efforts… especially when you add zing to it.

While data varies slightly by source, my tofu carton’s label indicated it had 60 calories for a “1 inch slice”, or roughly 85 grams.  It also has 6 grams of protein.  I had “2 inches” for my meal tonight.

Served by itself, it is not fattening.  It only becomes fattening if you prepare it with other foods such as pork or beef or fry it up.  In my photograph above, the tofu is simply topped with:

  1. Green onions (You can have all the green vegetables, yes?),
  2. Grated ginger for zing (I hope it’s allowed!), and,
  3. Dried shaved bonito for texture and added flavor (“katsuobushi”).

Certain healthy weight loss literature indicates that soy sauce is OK in small quantities but I sprinkled mine with “Bragg’s Liquid Amino” which is allowed.  It is close in flavor to soy sauce – like Volkswagen is to Porsche.  🙂  As such and being an Asian boy at heart, I mixed mine at about a 3:1 ratio to be on the safe side.

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Bragg’s Liquid Amino and a 10 calorie packet of dried shaved bonito, available at any Asian supermarket or online. If you eat sushi, you can eat this!

It is satisfying and it does “fill you up”, as they say.

Because it’s low in calories, I did add an organic Appleton chicken/turkey sausage (120 calories) as a compliment to complete my meal – grilled without oil, of course.  My uneducated guess is that this fulfilling meal was about 400 calories, give or take… and without fuss.

So if you’re looking for a break in your meal routine, give this a whirl.  Why drive a Volkswagen when you can drive a Porsche?

(Asian hint for peeling your ginger – use the edge of your spoon to scrape it off.)

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Creamy Spaghetti Carbonara from Scratch


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My foolproof creamy Spaghetti Carbonara from scratch.

I had started out thinking this would be another “She’s Killing Me” story; it certainly qualified but this pasta dish turned out so well that it’ll just be another cooking story.  Well, not completely.

But it’s my creamy Spaghetti Carbonara.

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The kids were in Japan for over three weeks and landed at LAX at night on August 17th.  In short, the ex insisted on picking them up and keeping them for a few days.  But she decided it would behoove her to bring them to my house so she changed the schedule at 3 pm the next day.  They were dropped off at my house at 5:30 pm.  Of course, she had selfish reasons and yes, they were in la-la land from jet lag.  They slept for the most part for the first couple of days.

Seriously, I had mentioned to the kids they should have some kids over since school begins August 31st.  Jack just wanted to stay home but my Little Cake Boss Brooke…  That’s a whole ‘nuther story.

All week, between snoozes, she was asking if I would take her and her friends shopping.

“Sure but DON’T make it last minute, OK?” said I.

Just like the previous two times…  Wednesday, no plans.  Thursday, no plans.  Friday, no plans…  Then Saturday, at 3:30 pm, she says, “Can ‘J’ come over?”

I never learn.  “Sure,” I hesitatingly replied.

“…Can sheeee… eat with us,” she cunningly asked.  Never mind I had gone to the supermarket already for just the three of us.

“Oookay” I replied even more hesitatingly.

Then the whammy: “…Can sheeeeeeeee… sleepover?”

Arrrgghhh.

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So I decided to make Spaghetti Carbonara – for the first time.  I thought her friend J would give some feedback if I asked her.  So I went to Cook’s Illustrated… and the pasta dish turned out excellent if I say so myself.

The ingredients are simple and I had them in the fridge already – except for the Pecorino.  Yes, because of my Little Cake Boss, I had to make another run to the supermarket just for the cheese.  Well, actually two since the first place didn’t carry it:

  • 8 slices bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (They’re easier to slice up if you freeze them for a bit.)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 1/2 ounces Pecorino Romano, grated (1 1/4 cups)
  • 3 large eggs plus 1 large yolk
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 pound spaghetti
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Putting it all together was a snap; their instructions are:

1. Bring bacon and water to simmer in 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat; cook until water evaporates and bacon begins to sizzle, about 8 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low and continue to cook until fat renders and bacon browns, 5 to 8 minutes longer.

Doing it in the above manner allows the bacon to remain chewy for the carbonara and not crisp up:

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With the water added to the bacon.
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Water’s nearly evaporated, right around eight minutes. A snap!
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Near the end of the cooking cycle. The bacon turned out as advertised! Chewy yet done and substantial.

2. Add garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Strain bacon mixture through fine-mesh strainer set in bowl.  Set aside bacon mixture.  Measure out 1 tablespoon fat and place in medium bowl.  Whisk Pecorino, eggs and yolk, and pepper into fat until combined.

3. Meanwhile, bring 2 quarts water to boil in Dutch oven. (You use less water than normal for this dish to insure the water you will add to the sauce is real starchy.)  Set colander in large bowl.  Add spaghetti and salt to pot; cook, stirring frequently, until al dente.  Drain spaghetti in colander set in bowl, reserving cooking water.  Pour 1 cup cooking water into liquid measuring cup and discard remainder. Return spaghetti to now-empty bowl.

4. Slowly whisk ½ cup reserved cooking water into Pecorino mixture. Gradually pour Pecorino mixture over spaghetti, tossing to coat. Add bacon mixture and toss to combine. Let spaghetti rest, tossing frequently, until sauce has thickened slightly and coats spaghetti, 2 to 4 minutes, adjusting consistency with remaining reserved cooking water if needed. Serve immediately.

Voila!

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Spaghetti Carbonara, creamy and full of flavor – and not heavy!

Most of all, happy faces!

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The Little (and cunning) Little Cake Boss and her classmate friend “J”.

So give this easy and delicious dish a shot.

Someone will love it!
And by the way, they were up until 4 am.  Let me ask you moms: Why do you even call it a sleepover??!