Archive for April, 2009

The Art of Vegging

And I don’t mean gorging on vegetables. To veg is ‘to engage in relaxing or passive activities’ and that was on the day’s itinerary.

This morning, I woke up to the gentle sounds of the rain falling on my window (I feel a song coming) and was instantly lulled back to sleep. I was on to a very good start. My entire morning was basically spent watching TV with a bag of Royce Chocolate Potato Chips in hand. These chips are a bit of heaven on earth. With the silky, creamy chocolate marrying oh so perfectly with the salty potato chip, who needs any other snack? I savor every bite of these wonderful munchies and don’t mind spending an hour on the treadmill just for them.  These chips are the perfect accompaniment to a day of vegging and should be guiltlessly enjoyed.

it takes a lot of self-control to not open this box

it's just wrong not to open this box immediately

But those who know me well enough can attest to the fact that I cannot remain idle for long periods of time. So after consuming half of my bag of chocolate potato chips, I decided to head on to the kitchen to whip up something sweet.  I wanted to make something I could easily bring along to a scheduled Chinatown photowalk with friends so cupcakes were out of the question. I remembered a recipe from David Lebovitz and decided that his cheesecake brownies would be perfect.

I'm not really fan of brownies of cheesecake but these are just irresistable!

These brownies will not disappoint. They are very dense and moist and the combination of the sweet chocolate and savory cream cheese is quite decadent.

After I pulled these babies out of the oven, I hopped on the treadmill for a 5k run (and also to calibrate my brand new Nike Sensor) so that I could do this…

...finish the bag of chips

...finish the bag of chips

So make yourselves a batch of these brownies (or run to Rockwell and grab a bag of Royce Chocolate Potato chips) and enjoy the strange rainy weather. Happy vegging everyone!

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Oh, Happy Day!

Today was an exceptionally wonderful day. It felt like Christmas and my birthday, rolled into one. I thank God for days like these…

Happy Incident #1:
I was actually very anxious when I woke up. Today, my co teachers and I were doing our final weigh in for our Biggest Loser competition.  I knew I had a good chance of winning but so did my co teacher, C.  It was a very close fight, which is why I stayed up most of the night thinking of what I could do to assure my victory (even if there was really nothing left to do). But all my hard work and discipline paid off. I was the Biggest Loser and beat C by a pound and a half. Very close call. Good fight, C.  Cheers to our now sexy bodies!

Happy Incident #2:

Good news today about work. That’s all I can say. Plus, we are officially on summer vacation. I am so looking forward to sleeping in to the point of boredom, working out whenever I want to and baking all day long.  Never mind that the rains have come a bit too early. I’m just glad that it’s summer!

Happy Incident #3:
Tastespotting. I am hooked on this site and have been submitting posts from my blog. So I was even more elated when Mister M sent me a text message saying that my recent post was approved. Sometimes, these little things mean a lot.

Happy Incident #4:
Mom left for the US a few weeks ago to visit the siblings, nephews and nieces.  Although we admittedly have our differences, I was starting to miss my Mommy very much so I was quite excited to welcome her home. When she arrived, we exchanged stories over a hot pot of sinigang na bangus and adobong okra. I told her later on, “I’m so glad you’re home.”

Happy Incident #5:
Can you say “Pasalubong?” The word pasalubong is a Filipino term that refers to the gifts that one brings home for their loved ones when coming back from another place. As a child, I would always look forward to opening the boxes and luggage whenever my parents would arrive from another country. It has sort of become a tradition where the maleta or luggage is like the Christmas tree and we all sit around it waiting for our gifts. This time, I knew I had a lot of baking loot care of my sister, G. You have no idea how excited I was when I saw the goodies surfacing one by one. I was literally shrieking in delight.  So thank you, thank you, thank you, Mommy and G.

baking loot c/o Mom and G. We all know what i'm going to be doing tomorrow :)

baking loot c/o Mom and G. We all know what i'm going to be doing tomorrow 🙂

can't wait to try out my silicone baking cups. trays to follow. still in balikbayan box.

can't wait to try out my silicone baking cups. trays to follow. still in balikbayan box.

assorted sprinkles that i can't wait to use

assorted sprinkles that i can't wait to use

new spatulas. Yey!

new spatulas. Yey!

I can’t wait to bake tomorrow!

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Whole Wheat Muffins

Whole Wheat Orange Spice Muffins

Whole Wheat Orange Spice Muffins

In about two weeks, I turn the big three-oh and the best gift I can think of giving myself (and I know this will sound cheesy) is the gift of health. Four birthdays ago I promised myself that I would be in my best shape, that I would attain my ideal weight and be healthy. I remember beginning a program and losing a bit of weight but was never able to sustain it.  Smoking, drinking and being careless about my food intake caused me to gain a substantial amount of weight and I did not look good. I was far from being at my prime.

Three months ago, as an attempt to remove inches from our waists, my co teachers and I decided to start our own version of The Biggest Loser.  I knew the only way to shed the pounds was for me to be more active (and reduce beer intake), so I hopped on the treadmill and I told myself to run. Three months and 2 races later, I’ve managed to drop almost 10 pounds off of my weight. Blame it on the serotonin induced by a 7k run but I have never felt better about myself.

my Healthy Options purchase

my Healthy Options purchase

So along with my new lifestyle are healthier recipes, such as this: Whole Wheat Orange Spice Muffins (c/o Pinch My Salt).  I deiced to make a batch of these when Mister M and I were window-shopping at Healthy Options where I found a pack of whole-wheat flour.

pumpkin spice, lemon and orange zest and ground rolled oats

pumpkin spice, lemon and orange zest and ground rolled oats

There were a couple of ingredients that I didn’t have in my kitchen such as the ground flax seeds and pumpkin pie spice. Thankfully, the online recipe that I found included the steps on how to make pumpkin spice. The flax seeds I substituted with ground rolled oats. I also added some lemon zest to the recipe to give it more of a citrus flavor.

I absolutely loved this recipe! The muffins were very dense, flavorful, and most of all, healthy – a great breakfast especially for those who are on the go. Have one of these every day and you’re sure to get your daily dose of fiber.

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Lemon Series #1 : Vanilla Cupcakes with Lemon Curd Filling

lemon cupcakes. mmmmmmm.

lemon cupcakes. mmmmmmm.

I enjoy going to the grocery. I find browsing through the aisles very therapeutic and love the sight of fresh, lush produce.  I gravitate more towards the leafy vegetables every time I shop (because I feel healthier when I am near them. ha ha) but one thing I cannot resist are lemons. Lemons cheer me up with their scent and their brightness and nothing reminds me of summer more than these fruits. Lemons can be used in mostly any kind of recipe – salad dressings, soups, pasta sauces, juices, marinades, cakes, cookies and of course, cupcakes!  So today, during an early morning trip to the grocery, I stocked up on my favorite citrus fruit and set out to make a batch of vanilla cupcakes with lemon curd filling.

lemon curd c/o Martha Stewart

lemon curd c/o Martha Stewart

As usual, I found my recipe for vanilla cupcakes and butter cream frosting online. With so many choices available, it can be quite tricky to pick one recipe that I may decide to stick with for the rest of my baking life. So when choosing, I try to find one that uses almost the same ingredients as I would with my other cupcakes. A well-photographed cupcake also helps.

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lemon filled cupcake

My lemon curd recipe is from the ever-reliable Martha Stewart.  Not wanting to make such a big batch, I decided to cut this recipe in half, which was quite easy since most of the measurements were in whole numbers. I just wish I could say the same for my cupcake endeavor during the week where I tried cutting a recipe in half. Being the math genius that I am, I was stumped when I had to cut ¾ cup in half. I couldn’t figure out the correct answer and was wondering whether to measure in the same unit or to convert! I swear, I must’ve looked ridiculous holding a calculator in one hand a measuring cup in another. I ended up putting 1 ¼ cup and a half. (I’m officially confused again). So if you guys have any tips on cutting recipes in half, please let me know and spare this mathematically challenged baker the misery.

Lemon Curd

•    4 large eggs plus 4 large egg yolks
•    1 1/3 cup sugar
•    2/3 cup fresh lemon juice (about 4 lemons)
•    pinch of salt
•    10 tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into pieces

In a small saucepan (off heat), whisk together eggs, egg yolks, sugar, lemon juice, and salt until smooth; add butter

Place pan over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon or heatproof flexible spatula, until lemon curd is thickened to the consistency of a loose pudding, 8 to 10 minutes.

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Couscous

img_47951Couscous is like a hybrid between rice and pasta. From a far, they look like tiny grains of rice but with the complexion and texture of pasta. Couscous is made from semolina wheat where it is sprinkled with water and rolled with the hands to form small pellets. Preparing couscous is quite simple. Instant couscous is much like rice where you boil the grains in water, except for a much shorter time.  A cup of couscous will cook in approximately 3-5 minutes.  Regular couscous is prepared by steaming the grains two to three times in order to get the light and fluffy consistency.  If you ask me, the instant variety is just like the regular kind so save yourself the trouble and go for the instant couscous.

My first encounter with couscous was about 10 years ago when my sister G served this with some grilled vegetable ratatouille. I was reintroduced to these grains once again during a visit to Egypt where this locally ubiquitous crop was usually served with a beef or vegetable stew.  Couscous can also be served plain, or drizzled with a little bit of olive oil but I particularly enjoy it when mixed with fresh herbs such as parsley or basil.  It can also make for a wonderful summer salad when mixed with fresh vegetables such as cucumbers, onions, zucchini and tomatoes.

I was going through my cookbooks looking for a couscous recipe when I found one of my old cooking magazines, Everyday Food (published by Martha Stewart).  In it was an appropriately refreshing and tasty dish that would serve as my Tuesday brunch.

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Couscous Stuffed Peppers

•    1 tbsp. olive oil
•    1 medium onion
•    2 garlic cloves
•    12 oz. fresh chicken or turkey sausage, removed from casing (I didn’t have this so I substituted it with chorizo)
•    1 can diced tomatoes
•    ¾ cup couscous
•    4 red bell peppers
•    ½ c. shredded Monterey Jack cheese (I used Parmesan and mozzarella cheese)

Preheat oven to 400˚F.  Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add onion, garlic, ½ tsp. salt and 1/8 tsp. pepper; cook until softened, about 3 minutes.

Add sausage to skillet. Cook until browned, about 4 minutes.  Add tomatoes and 1 cup water; cook until sauce is slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat, and stir in couscous.

Fill pepper halves wit couscous mixture. Pour ½ cup water into a large baking dish; arrange stuffed peppers in dish.  Cover with foil and bake until peppers are tender, 35-40 minutes.  Remove foil and sprinkle with cheese. Return to oven and bake uncovered, 10 minutes.

couscous stuffed peppers

couscous stuffed peppers

I ate this dish by itself and enjoyed it very much. With half the pepper, I was quite satisfied and not too full. I imagine that this would be a great side dish too. You could just omit the sausage and serve another type of protein like baked salmon. That sounds good, too. Now, what’s for dinner?

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Favorites

Red Velvet cupcakes have become my favorite. I just love the idea of a red cake and how it looks so festive. So it was only fitting that I bake this cake for my favorite friend, A. We celebrated the eve of A’s birthday yesterday at a bar in Makati and I decided to surprise her with a red velvet cake with chocolate frosting that we all enjoyed late into the evening (when everyone was quite happily drunk).

Red Velvet Cake with Chocolate Frosting

Red Velvet Cake with Chocolate Frosting

A and I have seen each other through the best and worst of times and I consider myself very lucky to have a solid friendship that has lasted for more than a decade. The truth is, I don’t know what I would do without her.

Happy Birthday, bru! I love you.

Happy Birthday, bru! I love you.

Red Velvet Cake Trivia

The past few days, people have been asking me how these cakes got their color. What I know is that sometime around World War II, there was a food shortage and people could not afford to put as much cocoa in their chocolate cakes. So instead, some bakers chose to add beet juice to their cakes to supplement the lack of color. Interesting, don’t you think?

Incidentally, this cake was also featured in one of my all time favorite movies, Steel Magnolias where the groom’s cake was the shape of an armadillo. Remember that scene where Shirley MacLaine violently sliced off the armadillo’s rear end for Tom Skerrit? Classic!

Red Velvet Armadillo Cake from the 1989 movie Steel Magnolias

Red Velvet Armadillo Cake from the 1989 movie Steel Magnolias


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I ♥ Pasta

I love running. I love how at peace it makes me feel; how it eases my restlessness and how empowered I feel after each run. But what I also love about running is the fact that I can now eat carbs guilt-free! I used to stay away from carbohydrates as much as possible but ever since I started running, this was changed. I read in the Complete Idiot’s Guide to Running and Jogging that a lack of glycogen (which, I believe comes from carbohydrates) can cause one to hit “the wall.” Hitting the wall will drastically decrease one’s pace while running. So when I know I’m running a relatively long distance, I treat myself to a bowl of my favorite carbs – pasta!

My new pasta dish was inspired by an appetizer that I had at Commons in Salcedo.  All I remembered was that they were fried mushrooms but wasn’t quite sure what variety they were. So relying on my memory alone, I headed to the supermarket and bought a pack of oyster mushrooms.

some of the ingredients: oyster mushrooms, herbs and a lemon

some of the ingredients: oyster mushrooms, herbs and a lemon

Oyster mushrooms are not as flavorful as shitake or Portobello mushrooms so for this dish, I dredged them in flour seasoned with garlic powder and pepper.  I then fried the mushrooms in very little oil until golden brown. The result was a very thin and crispy mushroom that could have fooled any vegetarian into thinking that this was bacon.

The sauce was quite simple. I used the same pan where I fried my mushrooms and sautéed some garlic in butter and olive oil. When the garlic was lightly browned, I deglazed my pan with a cup of white wine. Imagine all the flavors from the mushrooms, garlic and wine infusing… thinking of this dish is making me hungry. Once the alcohol from the wine had dissolved, I tossed my pasta in and let it absorb the white wine sauce. I turned off the heat and squeezed a fresh lemon onto the pasta and sprinkled some lemon zest over it as well. To give the dish an even fresher taste, I plucked some flat leaf parsley and basil from my mom’s herb garden and tossed it in with my salad along with the chopped mushrooms. It was summer on a plate!

Oyster Mushrooms with Herbed and White Wine Pasta

Oyster Mushrooms with Herbed and White Wine Pasta

So thank you, Running, for allowing me to rekindle my “regulated” love affair with carbs. I heart you.

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