Gingerbread Mini Bundt Cakes

img_0061 The holiday season is in full swing, so I have been baking to my heart’s content.  Gingerbread is a classic holiday baked treat, and this recipe is for the true gingerbread lover. The flavor is ultra rich with a perfect amount of holiday spice, which pairs wonderfully with unsweetened coffee and tea. Making the gingerbread as individual sized mini bundt cakes not only makes hosting easier, it also helps for saving them for later – and these mini bundt gingerbread cakes get even better a few days after making.

img_0051Ingredients: 1 cup oatmeal stout, 1 cup molasses, 1/2 tsp baking soda, 2 cups flour, 1 tsp baking powder, 2 Tbsp ground ginger, 1 Tbsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp ground gloves, 1/4 tsp cardamom, 1/2 tsp nutmeg, 1 cup brown sugar, 1 cup white sugar, 3 eggs, 3/4 cup vegetable oil

Instructions: Pre-heat oven to 350F. Butter and lightly flour bundt cake pan, shaking out excess flour. Place in the refrigerator. Add oatmeal stout and molasses to a saucepan and bring to a boil, then add baking soda. Let stout/molasses mixture sit and cool.

img_0058Beat together eggs, sugars, and oil, then add molasses and stout mixture. Add flour, baking powder, and spices and continue to mix until fully incorporated. Pour batter into bundt cake pan, filling to nearly the top.

img_0062Bake at 350F for about 45 minutes (until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into cakes). Remove from pan by flipping it upside down onto a cooling rack. Sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving.

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Apple Dutch Baby

img_0028After our apple picking adventure, we came home with five pounds of apples just waiting to be enjoyed in various ways. Naturally, one such way had to be warm and sweet, so I decided to bake up a simple apple dutch baby – perfect for autumn mornings.

img_0017Ingredients: 3 small apples, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1 Tbsp brown sugar, pinch of nutmeg, 4 Tbsp butter, 3 eggs, 1/2 cup flour, 1/2 cup milk, 1 Tbsp granulated sugar

img_0018Instructions: Pre-heat oven to 350F. Peel and slice apples into thin pieces, then add to a bowl with cinnamon, brown sugar, and nutmeg. Stir to combine. In a cast iron skillet melt 2 Tbsp butter and add apples. Cook until apples are becoming tender (about 3 minutes).

img_0022Remove apples from skillet, and wipe clean. Place skillet in hot oven, and let it heat. While skillet is heating in oven whisk eggs, flour, milk and sugar in a bowl.  Add remaining 2Tbsp butter to hot skillet and melt. Once the butter has melted add cooked apples to center of skillet, then add batter. Cook at 350F for 10-12 minutes, until the batter rises and edges start to crisp.

img_0032Serve immediately with syrup, and fresh apple slices. Best enjoyed with a cup of hot coffee for an even more comforting breakfast meal.

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Apple Picking

One of the things that amazed me about California when I first moved out here was the varied terrain. It really is true that you can find desert, ocean, and snowcapped mountain landscapes all within driving distance. Last week James and I took a drive up to Oak Glen, California to adventure around the lovely farms hugging the San Bernardino Mountains.

img_9970img_9965We went apple picking at Willowbrook Apple Farm, which was filled with Stayman Winesap apple trees that were over one hundred years old.

img_9966A lot of the smaller apples were within a hand’s reach…

img_9975…but a lot of the big red ones were very high on the trees.

img_9979After picking apples, we headed to the farm’s cider press station where you can fill a basket with apples prepped for cider. In order to get a good balance of sweet and tart, they had both Winesap and Fuji apples.

img_9980We were able to use the press ourselves, and fill up a container with deliciously fresh cider.

img_9968The day made for a perfect autumn outing, and a new tradition that we plan to repeat every year.

 


Spanish Flan

IMG_9936Flan might be the dessert I had the most when growing up. My mother makes it in many flavors such as coconut, orange, and raspberry, but my favorite may be this simple flan with a hint of lemon. The amber colors remind me autumn, and adding a caramel candy garnish gives this humble dessert a touch of elegance and fun.

IMG_9939This recipe isn’t too eggy, and I used a shallow pie dish, resulting in a thin flan that is rich, creamy, and has a perfect balance of flavors. I recently served this at a small dinner party, and even a friend who doesn’t like sweets went for seconds.

Ingredients: 1 14oz can condensed milk, 1 12oz can evaporated milk, 5 eggs, 1 tsp vanilla extract, 1 tsp lemon zest, 1 cup sugar

Instructions: Place a large baking dish with a 1″ lip in oven, and pre-heat oven to 350F. The dish should be large enough to fit a second round 9″ baking dish inside.

Place sugar in a saucepan over medium heat and let it melt, stirring occasionally, until it has completely melted and become an amber colored sauce.

While the sugar is melting, add the condensed milk, evaporated milk, eggs, vanilla and lemon zest to a large bowl. Whisk until all ingredients are completely incorporated.

IMG_9931Optional: Once the sugar is ready, make a candy garnish for the flan by drizzling some of the caramel sauce over a metal ladle. Let cool for a couple of minutes, then gently remove pieces from ladle.

IMG_9928Pour caramel into a round 9″ baking dish, and swivel around to completely coat the bottom.

Pour batter over caramel sauce, and place this smaller dish in the center of the baking dish in the oven. Add water to the large baking dish, until it comes about half-way up the sides of the flan dish. This water bath will help the flan cook evenly. Bake at 350F for 40 minutes.

IMG_9930Remove flan from oven, and let cool completely. Once cool, loosen the edges of the flan with a butter knife, then place serving platter over the flan dish and quickly flip over. The flan should come out cleanly, with caramel oozing from the top.

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IMG_9937Garnish with caramel candy, then let chill in refrigerator until ready to serve.


Our Little Garden

IMG_9885At the beginning of this summer, I wanted to find some room to plant some vegetables in our yard. Eventually we plan on having large wooden planters built, but for now, we are using a small strip of dirt on the side of the house.

IMG_9806There were some extra bricks lying around behind the garage, so we were able to use those to set up separate beds.

IMG_9815IMG_9805When deciding on what to plant, I went with vegetables I tend to use the most in my day to day cooking, such as peppers, tomatoes, squash, shallots, and a variety of herbs.

IMG_9875IMG_9959IMG_9876It’s fascinating to watch them grow from tiny buds into colorful delicious produce.

IMG_9878It can be very difficult to grow plants in the perpetual drought of southern California. Some of our vegetables started to cook when temperatures reached 110F. Others, like this cucumber, never grew larger than an inch. However, new cucumbers have started to grow, and we’re hopeful this batch will do better.

IMG_5138We haven’t had any squash fully grow yet, but we have several squash blossoms that we hope will yield fruit in the autumn. Though we’ve only harvested a small amount, it has been very exciting to cook with produce from my very own garden, and I’m certainly looking forward to expanding it in the future.


Hallway Wall Alcove

IMG_9953One of the most delightful touches in our home is a small wall alcove in the hallway near the guest room. After recently making some HVAC infrastructure changes on that wall, we went ahead with some ideas that we had been kicking around for painting the alcove.

IMG_9951The entire space had been the same color as the rest of the wall when we moved in, and we knew that we at least wanted to treat the wooden mantle section the same as the trim in the rest of the hallway. For the back face of the alcove, we decided to use a paint that was ever so slightly darker than the wall, but with a semi-gloss finish to provide a very subtle separation.

IMG_9952The main part of this project was creating a stencil that was similar to the one we used over our front door. The curved surface made this process a bit tricky.

IMG_9957The stenciled shapes are  just rough enough to feel right with the texture of our walls.

IMG_9955Small touches like these are the types of things that made us initially fall in love with this house, and it feels wonderful to be able to embellish upon it and make it our own.


Stone Fruit Panzanella with Basil Vinaigrette

IMG_9948Growing up with peach trees in my backyard, I have always thought of stone fruits as the quintessential summer produce. As summer slowly comes to an end, I’m taking full advantage of the season’s produce while I still can, and adding them to a variety of dishes. For days when you want something light and summery, but still a bit hearty and filling, this stone fruit panzanella fits all of the above.

IMG_9947Ingredients: 1 small loaf of bread, 3 nectarines, 3 plums, 2 large heirloom tomatoes, 1/2 cup burrata, 3 cups arugula, 1 tbsp olive oil, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp pepper.

IMG_9933Instructions: Pre-heat oven to 350F. Cut the loaf of bread into slices, then rip apart using your hands to make small pieces. Toss the bread with olive oil, salt, and pepper in a bowl, then place on a baking sheet. Bake in oven for about 8 minutes. You want the bread to be a little toasted, but not so much that they turn into crunchy croutons.

IMG_9934Slice nectarines, plums, and tomatoes into wedges and add to a large bowl. Add arugula, bread, and burrata in small dollops.

IMG_9935For the dressing: 1 shallot, 1 cup packed basil, 1 garlic clove, 1/3 cup olive oil, 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar, 1 tsp red pepper flakes, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp pepper.

Add all dressing ingredients to a blender, and blend on high until all ingredients are completely liquified.

IMG_9945Drizzle dressing and fresh ground pepper over salad before serving.

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Dining Room

IMG_9909After many months of working on different parts of our home, we have finally finished our dining room. It was difficult to figure out what to do with the flow of this space at first, because it is not a room in and of itself. The living room steps up into this dining room, and the kitchen is visible from both. Our goal with the design of the dinning room was to form a transition from the richer dark woods of the living room, to the lighter rougher textures that will one day be in our kitchen. Though this is a fairly small room, it included many individual projects such as the staining and upholstering of our chairs.

IMG_9906We had intended on simply purchasing a bar cabinet online, but when it arrived, the wood turned out to be significantly redder than we anticipated. Like with our chairs, I decided to re-stain it, and changed out all of the handles from black to a subtle gold. The cabinet didn’t quite fill out the wall, so a small plant and colorful framed art were perfect for filling up the empty space.

IMG_9923With the cabinet we now have a chance to display some of the items that we’ve had hidden away for ages, such as our wedding china.

IMG_9920IMG_9922We have also displayed other pieces that have some significance, such as the crystal glasses James used to propose, the framed number from our wedding table, as well as souvenirs from trips such as our honeymoon.

IMG_9915We were able to find this mirror with corners that echo the scrolls of the chandelier and the round backed chairs. In this piece we needed to use paint to bring the blacks and golds more in line with the browns of the room. We contemplated a frame at first, but decided on a mirror since it would reflect parts of our living room.

IMG_9919Our biggest infrastructure project so far has been the installation of central air conditioning. We decided to house the thermostat inside of this decorative metal box cut into the wall, and picked out similar decorative vents for the ceiling as well.

IMG_9925In order to create a separation between the dinning room and living room, we added a small railing which was a custom design built by Isaac’s Ironworks. We gave him reference material based off of the staircase in our old apartment building, and he made it exactly as we envisioned. When designing for our house, we’re always keeping in mind what we loved about our apartment, and the iron, the color of the hardwood, and the paint of the doors all create a sense of continuity with those memories. We are relieved to have another room finished in our home, and look forward to entertaining friends and family in this space.


Stuffed Squash Blossoms

IMG_9897Summer at the farmers market means an abundance of produce options. We’ve started to go somewhat regularly to stock up on produce for the week, enjoy a meal from one of the hot food stands, and browse around to discover unique items. On our most recent trip, I purchased a box of squash blossoms. I couldn’t wait to fill them with a creamy cheese mixture, serve with a flavorful tomato sauce, and share them with friends.

IMG_9888Ingredients (for blossoms): 30 squash blossoms, 1/2 cup ricotta cheese, 1/3 cup shredded manchego cheese, 1/3 cup goat cheese, 1 egg, 1/2 Tbsp ground cayenne pepper, 1 tsp black pepper, 1/2 cup flour, 1/4 tsp baking powder, 1/4 cup cold water

Instructions: bring a large pot of water to a boil and add all blossoms at once. Boil for about 30 seconds, then immediately remove the blossoms and add them to a bowl of ice water. After blossoms have sat in ice water for about a minute, dump them into a colander, then place them on paper towels to drain.

IMG_9890While blossoms are drying a bit, prepare the filling. Combine cheeses, egg, cayenne, and pepper in a bowl and mix until smooth, then scoop filling into a piping bag. To fill each blossom, gently open them to have access to the center. Place piping bag tip toward bottom and fill until filling reaches the opening of the petals. Cover the exposed filling by folding the petals over the top of blossom. Place all blossoms on a plate, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes so that the cheese will set.

IMG_9892IMG_9893To make the batter, combine 1/2 cup flour, 1/4 teaspoon baking powder, and a dash of salt in a bowl. Slowly add cold water to bowl while whisking with a fork until batter is thick but still creamy.

IMG_9894Add 1/2 inch of oil to a heavy skillet and heat to 375F. Take blossoms out of refrigerator, and lightly dust with flour. Dip blossoms one by one into batter and place in hot oil. Cook for about 2 minutes, then flip and cook the other side. You’ll see the batter crisping and setting on the bottom as your cue to flip. Set each blossom on a plate with paper towels as they cook.

IMG_9899Ingredients (for sauce): 1 can fire roasted diced tomatoes, 2 Tbsp olive oil, 1 large sliced garlic clove, 1 tsp paprika, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp pepper.

To make the sauce, add tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, paprika, salt, and pepper to a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Let tomatoes simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

IMG_9898Serve blossoms over warm tomato sauce as an appetizer or as a snack.