Monday, May 30, 2011

My New Favorite: Strawberry Summer Cake

If you're looking for something sweet to bring to a party or BBQ this spring, you must make this strawberry summer cake. I made it this weekend for dinner at a friend's house, and the whole thing was gone in a matter of minutes. As an afterthought, I found some heavy whipping cream in the fridge so I made some whipped cream to go along with it, but in the future (and if you are going to make this) I would strongly advise not skipping this step--the combination together is all kinds of good. This cake's recipe reminds me of the batter used in this blueberry cobbler, which I loved, so I had high hopes. It turned out to be so easy to make and is now one of my favorite cake recipes ever. It's light, buttery, strawberry-y and has such a fabulous name.

Originally, I was thinking I'd make something with blueberries or peaches, but after a trip to the farmer's market, I knew it had to involve strawberries. After weeks of buying strawberries at Safeway that looked delicious but tasted sour, the ones I found this weekend looked good and, most importantly, smelled and tasted amazing.

This cake is so good that after getting home from dinner near midnight, what did I do? I went straight to the kitchen and made another one (although to my credit I did half the recipe to limit my gluttony) so we could have some with coffee the next morning. Midnight baking is admittedly a bit torturous since you're just going to sleep after pulling the most glorious smelling cake out of the oven, but seeing it on the counter all ready to go first thing in the morning makes it totally worth it.

The second time I made it, I sprinkled a full tablespoon of sugar over the top (instead of the teensy sprinkle I did the first time), and I was much more pleased with the results. The strawberries sank in deeper and became softer and more incorporated with the cake.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Button-Up Blues

I recently got this shirt from Therapy and have been wearing it constantly. In fact, I wore it twice this week. Is that weird? I used to be very anti-wearing something twice in the same week, but now I'm all about wearing whatever feels good on any given day. It's softer than a typical chambray shirt which I think gives it a more flattering shape and is particularly great for its ability to be dressed up or dressed down. I also couldn't resist getting my second pair of GAP shoes--they're some of the only shoes I've found to be great for wide feet. (And they were 30% off with the Let It Go promotion!)

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Birthday Box (Happy Birthday, Sophie!)

My little sister Sophie turns 20 today! This year, instead of getting her one big gift, I thought it'd be fun to send her an entire box full of little gifts. I designed "birthday box" stickers and printed them out on mailing labels which I used to help cover up the markings of an old box. I filled it up with things I thought she'd like: a stress ball to squeeze while writing her 11-page research paper, cupcake mix and unique cupcake liners, birthday candles for making wishes with, her favorite candies, a birthday sign, and a pretty piece of birthday bling. I also included a stack of handwritten notes for a homemade touch -- who doesn't love getting handwritten notes? (I even get excited when I see a handwritten post-it note on my desk at work).

{I used this template to trace the envelope shapes on pretty paper and wrote my notes directly on the inside.}

{For the bow tie, I used paper tape, a tiny hole punch, and a bit of baker's twine.}

{birthday box surprise!}

{birthday box stickers with a splash of zebra--for the birthday girl who loves animal prints}

Monday, May 23, 2011

Thomas Keller Oreos

When I had my first Thomas Keller Oreo, I loved the pretty fluted edge, the rich, crunchy chocolate cookies and the sweet, almost indescribable filling. I'd be in big trouble if Bouchon were closer to me, so it's probably a good thing the Yountville location is too far away for a weekly visit. I decided to try and make his iconic cookies myself to satisfy my recent Oreo craving. I found the recipe here, and after reading it over a few times, wondered why I hadn't made these before. Except for the white chocolate, I already had all the ingredients in my pantry, and the directions looked simple enough.

Well, two hours later, I learned two things: 1) white chocolate ganache, which I always thought sounded so fancy and so assumed was hard to make, is actually super easy to make (it's essentially heavy cream and melted white chocolate) and 2) these cookies owned me. I kept rolling the dough out too thin, creating brittle chocolate wafers that crumbled at the slightest touch. They definitely would not hold up to the task of sandwiching the ganche and looked really sad. After a few batches, I finally got a few worth photographing but ended up dumping most of the anemic ones. I will say, though, that aside from looking very much unlike a Thomas Keller Oreo, they were pretty good -- chocolatey with a nice kick of salt (Alan was not so much a fan of the salt). And the white chocolate ganache was so much better than I remember.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Pleating for More

Blouse and skirt from Therapy, Gap shoes, Urban Outfitters belt

I've been on the lookout for a great pleated skirt ever since I posted about them here and fell in love with this look here (p.s. I have such a girl crush on Lucy Laucht). I got this one fromTherapy and love its neutral mushroom color and the way it floats around me when I move. I paired it with a button-up for work, but it could just as easily be worn with a white tank for a casual weekend.

(Photos by Nathalie Su)

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Booking It

As a kid, I remember one of my favorite places to visit, especially during long summers off, was the public library. To this day, I still love it. When I lived in L.A., my friends made fun of me for making it a point to visit the Santa Monica Public Library on opening day, and Alan doesn't get why I don't just order all my books off of Amazon. But the library is comforting and quiet and modest and humble. It's like a good wise friend that you can sit and visit with uninterrupted for hours on end. My library of choice lately is the Central Park Library in Santa Clara which looks new and modern, with plenty of seating and books galore. (It's also across the street from the best donuts in the world which is maybe my favorite 2-for-1 deal ever). I currently have Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother and Bossypants checked out, both of which I'd highly recommend if you like funny, entertaining reading.

{Currently snacking on these Haribo gummy bears a friend brought back from Germany. Germany Haribo gummy bears are so much better -- the red ones are raspberry and strawberry flavored--it's wild!}

Monday, May 16, 2011

St. John's Burgers and The Poor House Bistro

This weekend felt indulgent. We slept in, read fun books, and tried two restaurants we've been wanting to eat at for a while. First, there was the Poor House Bistro in downtown San Jose that's known for making a mean po' boy. I had never had one before, and I guess going into the meal expecting my sandwich world to be rocked did not help matters. Because there was little rocking going on that night. It's not that the BBQ shrimp po' boy I had was that bad, it just wasn't that good either. Alan's gumbo didn't blow me away, and so there we were, Alan and I and our two mediocre entrees. One of us probably would have cried that night, but luckily there were a few stand-outs. The corn bread was sweet and amazing, the cajun fries were golden and thoroughly seasoned, and let's not forget about the doughy fried puffs: the beignets nestled under a generous heaping of powdered sugar. Give me a fried piece of dough, and I can look past a sad sandwich any day (at least until we've paid the check and driven home).

Following my disappointment over the po'ly made po' boy the night before, I was nervous to try St. John's burgers. I thought it might have been better to steer clear of anything sandwiched between two pieces of bread, but Alan had been to St. John's before and assured me they were good. Skeptical, I warmed up a bit more not when I saw the place was completely packed, but when I saw they offered three kinds of dipping ketchup. This was my kind of place. I foolishly ordered a basic cheeseburger (to "really get a taste for the burger itself"), while Alan went straight for the kobe burger with thick slices of bacon and sauteed mushrooms. His burger was definitely the winner. Lesson of the day: burgers always taste better with bacon and mushrooms. The only thing better is a bacon and mushroom burger that's half off! (Wednesday and Saturdays are half off burger nights :)

Friday, May 13, 2011

Pretty as a Picnic

Lately, hardly an afternoon goes by where I can resist stepping outside for a moment to feel the warm air on my skin. The weather is starting to become dreamy and hopeful and reminds me of being a school kid counting down to summer break. While school and extended summer vacations are long gone, I can’t wait to have lunch-hour picnics with work friends as a simple reminder of the joys of drinking cold beverages out of thermoses (growing up, mine was of the My Little Pony variety), eating outside, and sharing sandwiches. Here’s what I’d like to wear: classic stripes and denim shorts with playful touches of peachy pink and orange.

(Everyday cotton gingham napkins $10.50, Bambu sporks $10.08, Fletcher by Lyell canvas scallop sandal $39, Queen’s Wardrobe striped tee $27, joot bag $20, Anthropologie high gloss belt $28, apple jacket $20, Madewell denim drifter shorts $69.50)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

2 Things I'd Like To Do Today

I'd love to shower with these handmade lavender soaps...

...and spend the rest of the afternoon eating macarons from Bouchon. That is all. Happy Wednesday!

(Photos by me, from a soap store I visited while in wine country and from Bouchon)

Monday, May 9, 2011

Broccolini Salad with Burrata Cheese (and a word on blanching vegetables)

Happy day after Mother's Day! Did you have a good one? I hope so. My mom called me the day before Mother's Day because she thought Mother's Day was on Saturday and not Sunday. Not that she was trying to trick me or anything, but that's just how little she could care about the holiday. (Aside from not knowing the date, here she is calling me to wish me a good day.) Her disinterest in Hallmark holidays is one of the many reasons why I love her. Another thing about my mom that I'm thankful for is how taught me to love my vegetables.

Now, in all these years, I've always stir-fried my veggies or eaten them raw (which is how my mom served us vegetables growing up). Scarred from all the grey string beans and limp pieces of broccoli I had eaten at friends' houses or in the cafeteria throughout my childhood, as an adult, the idea of boiling vegetables repulsed me. Could it ever result in vegetables that weren't sad and tasteless? I doubted it.

While flipping through my borrowed copy of Ad Hoc, I came across Thomas Keller's broccolini salad with burrata cheese. I love both things, especially the creamy decadence of burrata (have you had it? If you like fresh mozzarella, please go out and try it. I promise you'll love it). In the recipe he calls for blanching the broccolini, which I had heard of and seen done on the Food Network, but had always clumped into the 'boiling=sad & limp vegetables' category. I was just about to turn the page to find another recipe when I read his whole explanation about the blanching process and how it results in bright green, perfectly tender-crisp vegetables. I was sold. It does take a wee bit of patience (and you have to make an ice bath to plunge your vegetables into) but it really does make for a very well-cooked vegetable--gorgeous bright green, crisp to the bite, and uniformly seasoned.

Broccolini Salad with Burrata Cheese

2 pounds broccolini
3 large cremini mushrooms, about 2 inches in diameter (I left these out just 'cause I didn't feel like buying a whole carton of them only to use 3)
1 red onion
1 cup black Cerignola olives, or other cured olives (I used other cured olives because I was not near a gourmet grocery store at the time. Actually, I'm not even sure if they're cured. Thomas Keller is definitely never going to hire me to work in the French Laundry kitchen, is he?)
About 1/2 cup Sherry Vinaigrette (recipe below)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
One 8-ounce burrata cheese (Trader Joe's sells smaller pieces of burrata which is what I used)
Extra virgin olive oil
Fleur de sel (I do not have this in my pantry, but I love the idea of it.)

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Prepare an ice bath. Set a cooling rack over a baking sheet and line the rack with paper towels.

With a paring knife, cut off the thick ends of the broccolini stalks and peel the remaining stalks. Blanch the broccolini in batches in the boiling water until crisp-tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to the ice bath to stop the cooking, and drain on the paper towels.

Cut off the stems of the mushrooms flush with the caps and discard. Cut the caps into paper-thin slices using a Japanese mandoline or other vegetable slicer or by hand, and transfer to a small bowl.

Cut the onion in half through the equator. Slice one half of the onion into paper-thin rings on the mandoline. Select about 20 of the nicest rings, and reserve the remaining onion for another use.

Cut the flesh of the olives away from the pit. Lay the pieces cut-side down, and cut lengthwise into thin slices.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Line up the broccolini stalks side by side on the parchment paper (this will allow you to dress and season the broccolini evenly), drizzle with about 1/4 cup of the vinaigrette, and toss to coat. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Toss the mushroom slices with about 2 tablespoons of the vinaigrette and season with salt and pepper (do not overdress the mushrooms).

Cut away the top nub of the burrata and put it in a shallow serving bowl that just holds it. Holding a pair of scissors vertically, snip an X into the top of the burrata, reaching the soft center. Open the top slightly and drizzle olive oil over and around the cheese. Sprinkle with fleur de sel and pepper, and place on serving platter.

Arrange the broccolini, mushrooms, olives, and onions on the platter.

Serves 6

Sherry Vinaigrette

1/4 cup sherry wine vinegar
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 to 1 1/2 cups extra virgin olive oil

Whisk the two vinegars in a bowl, then whisk in about 1 cup of the olive oil in a steady stream. The vinaigrette should look broken (do not emulsify the dressing). Taste to check the balance of acid and oil, and add more olive oil as needed. Refrigerate in a covered container for up to 1 month. Makes 2 cups.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Warm Weather Office Wear

Gap shoes, Banana Republic skirt, Urban Outfitters belt, Forever 21 necklace and tank, Old Navy blazer (on sale here)

I haven't done an outfit post in a long time, but then I got these shoes--the tallest ones I've ever owned--and all of a sudden I was feeling like a new woman! The best part is they are so comfortable (I could probably wear them all day) and really wide which is perfect for my feet. I love the neutral color which goes with everything; these will probably be a spring/summer staple for me. I also snagged this jersey blazer which is soft and slouchy and perfect to throw on in warm weather for a day at the office or a Sunday brunch.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Just for fun, Alan and a few of our guy friends sported the 'stache for Cinco de Moustache today. Alan also gelled his hair and parted it off to one side a la 70s news anchor, but was a little sad when he showed up to work and people just assumed he was trying to switch up his look :) I made a few paper moustaches for the girls -- the handlebar ones were my favorite, they look so convincing!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

An Afternoon at the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum

Even though the apartment we live in now is just 2 miles away from where we used to live, the scenery on the neighborhood walks we take is delightfully different. We almost always walk by the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum and admire its impressive facade. I'd only been there once in elementary school and still remember what it was like exploring the life-size tomb they have inside.

Every time we'd walk by we'd talk about how we should go in sometime, but then we'd see the ice cream man a block ahead of us or something and keep walking. We finally checked it out one recent afternoon with my friend Sashee, and the mummies were so much more real and well-preserved than I remember (if mummier were a word, then that is the word I'd use to describe them; the mummy in the picture below still has nails--I don't think it can get any mummier than that!) Seeing all the ornate artifacts and sarcophaguses and learning about ancient Egyptian life really made me want to put on a khaki button-up and go on an adventure.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Blueberry Cobbler

This weekend was a perfect mix between being productive (hello, spring cleaning) and lots of relaxing. On Saturday, Alan and I spent the entire afternoon walking all around our neighborhood--we got iced coffee, ogled the fancy cheeses and salami at Zanotto's, and I picked up these shoes at Gap. Today, I wore a summery skirt and walked around the Campbell farmer's market with a friend. The weather was amazing, and it seemed like a simple cobbler would be the perfect way to end the weekend. I recently picked up Ad Hoc at Home from the library, and decided to follow TK's blueberry cobbler recipe.

Most cobblers I've had have either a granola or crumble topping, but this version has a beautiful cake-like topping (that, judging by appearances alone, one might be tempted to think taste like dry biscuits, but don't be fooled!) They soak up the blueberry juices perfectly. Add a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream on top, and this cobbler, fresh out of the oven, is just divine. I can't wait until peaches are in season to make this again!

Blueberry Cobbler
Adapted from Ad Hoc at Home by Thomas Keller

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
6 tablespoons (3 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk

4 pints (8 cups) blueberries
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest

Cinnamon Sugar
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, or to taste

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, and baking soda; set aside.

Put the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle (I just used a hand mixer and it worked fine) and mix on low speed to combine, then beat on medium speed for about 3 minutes, until the mixture is light and creamy, scraping down the sides as necessary. Beat in the eggs one at a time until fully incorporated. Add the dry ingredients in 3 batches, alternating with the buttermilk in 2 batches. Scrape down the sides and mix again to be certain that all the ingredients are combined.

Put the blueberries in a large bowl and toss with the sugar, flour, and zest. Spread in an 11-inch square baking dish or a 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Spoon mounds of the batter over the berries, leaving space between the mounds.

Combine the sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle over the batter.

Bake for about 40 minutes, or until the juices are bubbling and the topping is golden brown and cooked through. If the top becomes too brown before it is cooked, lay a piece of aluminum foil over the top of the cobbler.

Let the cobbler stand for at least 10 minutes before serving. (Any leftover cobbler can be refrigerated for up to 2 days.)
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