Monday, May 30, 2011

Chocolate Depression cake - eggless and butterless

 My friend's daughter turned 1-year old last week and I was asked to bake her (and the adults) a cake.  As with many youngsters, she's developed an egg and dairy allergy that I desperately hope she'll grow out of one day lest she miss out on so many tasty treats.  After browsing for an allergy-accommodating recipe, I learned that eggless and butterless cakes were quite popular during the Depression and wartime.  Back then, eggs, butter and other common staples were rationed and difficult to get a hold of.  As a result, this recipe arose where oil replaced the fat from butter and the combination of vinegar and baking soda replicated the rising effects of eggs.  The cake turned out great - fluffy, extremely moist, and full of chocolate goodness without being too sweet.  Everyone loved the cake and was surprised to hear it had no eggs or butter.  The cocoa powder is the driving flavor factor so be sure to use one that you like.   

Chocolate Depression Cake
Makes one 9x13 cake

3 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups white sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 cup cocoa power
2/3 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons white vinegar
2 cups water
  1. Preheat oven to 350F and lightly grease a 9x13 baking pan with oil.
  2. In a large bowl, mix all the dry ingredients thoroughly. 
  3. Create a small well in the dry ingredients.  Add all the wet ingredients into the well and stir until well combined.
  4. Pour batter into the prepared 9x13 pan.  Bake for 35-40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.  Cool completely.
  5. Top with powdered sugar or frosting as you please.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Pistachio bread pudding @ Cafe Chloe, San Diego

Pistachio bread pudding
After our pre-lunch stop at Tacos El Gordo, we went to Cafe Chloe in downtown San Diego for a late lunch.  Cafe Chloe is a small French wine bar and cafe.  The European decor, wall-length windows and open doors leading to the sidewalk patio seating really reminded me of a cafe in Paris.  Even at 2pm this place was still bustling with patrons, some having a late lunch like us and others chatting it up with glasses of wine.  Cafe Chloe serves up an afternoon "urban tea" in addition to breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner.  Menu items that caught my interest included the savory custard, dungeness crab cake tartine, brie and herb omelette, and croque madame.  Mimosas scattered the tables and certainly seemed like a hit item, especially since the cafe offers four varieties - pomegranate, orange, lavender-lemon and asian pear sorbet mimosas.  We ordered 3 dishes and a dessert to share family-style: steak and frites, poached eggs, whole wheat pancakes and pistachio bread pudding.  The bread pudding was definitely the star of the meal and it was actually the first item that we devoured when all the food came out.  Topped with espresso caramel and vanilla ice cream, the bread pudding was moist and dotted with texture from the pistachios.  We had a corner slice so the top edges were nicely caramelized with a slight crunch.  The caramel sauce had a hint of espresso and was not overly sweet.  The vanilla ice cream (possibly homemade?) paired well with the warm bread pudding in texture, temperature and taste.  
Steak and frites
Poached eggs
Whole wheat pancakes

The steak and frites came out with a good portion of medium-rare cooked flank steak atop a mound of frites with a small side salad.  The steak was very well-seasoned and seared, especially flavorful with the pat of port butter served on top.  The poached eggs came atop a slice of french bread with wild mushrooms and sage-truffle beurre blanc, served with a small salad and asparagus spears .  The eggs were poached perfectly and the wild mushrooms were fresh and delicious.  The whole wheat pancakes were covered with tart cherry syrup and served with applewood smoked bacon.  The bacon was cooked to a nice crispness.  The pancakes were tasty, but on the thinner side and we should have asked for the syrup on the side.  The pancakes in the middle of the plate were soaked in syrup yet there wasn't enough syrup to spread to the outer portions of the plate.  All of our orders were good but the pistachio bread pudding was the most memorable.  I'll be having more of that dessert to accompany some mimosas next time. :)

721 Ninth Ave #1
San Diego, CA 92101

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Tacos El Gordo

Tacos de Adobada
After an exhilarating (aka nerve-racking) morning of skydiving above San Diego county, we were ecstatic to be back firmly on the ground and hungry from a whole morning of waiting for our jump time.  We stopped in Chula Vista at Tacos El Gordo for a pre-lunch snack.  They have an interesting setup to ordering food: a long cafeteria-like counter had several lines, one for each type of meat.  They serve several types of meat including pork adobada, asada, cow tongue, tripe, and even cow brains.  At the front of each line you approach the counter and tell them how you want your meat served: taco, tostada, mula, quesadilla, etc.  The crew makes your food right when you order it so it's incredibly fresh and hot.  After you get everything, you pay for your food at the front register. I ended up with tacos de adobada and tacos de asada.  The adobada is spicy pork that is shaved off a rotating spit of meat, just like gyros.  It was moderately spicy, juicy with streaks of fat and slightly charred at the edges.
Tacos de Asada
The asada is the usual chopped up marinated beef and though it was good, I would have opted for more tacos de adobada instead.  It was my first time trying these tacos and I thought they were some of the best tacos I've had this side of the border and certainly delicious after a crazy (!) morning.

Tacos El Gordo
689 H Street
Chula Vista, CA 91910

Friday, May 20, 2011

Bailey's Irish Cream chocolate chip cookies

I intentionally looked for a cookie recipe using Irish Cream since I bought a bottle earlier this year for Chocolate Guinness and Irish Cream cupcakes.  After perusing many recipes for Irish Cream cheesecake, Irish Cream brownies, Irish Cream ice cream...(they all sounded amazing! I noted a few to try...sometime)...I finally found one for Irish Cream cookies.  This recipe calls for cake flour, but I didn't have any so I used normal flour instead.  This probably affected the cookie texture since my cookies came out a bit "cakey" and not as moist and chewy.  The extra dark chocolate chips made up for that, though.  The pecans and coconut added texture and their flavors blended well with the subtle Irish Cream taste.  Not so sure if I would make this recipe again, but if I do I'd be interested in seeing how it turns out as a loaf instead of cookies. :P

Bailey's Irish Cream Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from
Makes about 3 dozen

2 1/4 cups cake flour 
1/2 teaspoon baking soda 
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter 
1/2 cup granulated white sugar 
1/2 cup brown sugar 
1 egg 
1 teaspoon vanilla 
1/2 cup Bailey's original Irish cream
2 cups semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips 
3/4 cup shredded coconut 
1/2 cup chopped pecans
  1. Preheat oven to 350F.  Spread pecans in a single layer on a non-stick or parchment-lined baking sheet.  Bake about 5 minutes until aromatic.  Keep an eye on the pecans since they scorch easily.
  2. Preheat oven to 375F and line cookie sheets with parchment paper.
  3. In a medium bowl, mix flour, baking soda and salt.
  4. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugars together.  Add egg and continue mixing until fluffy.  Add vanilla and Bailey's Irish Cream and mix well.  
  5. Add the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and stir until just blended.  Stir in coconut, pecans and chocolate chips by hand.
  6. Drop cookie dough 1.5 tablespoons (OXO medium cookie scoop) at a time onto the prepared cookie sheets, about 2 inches apart from one another.  The dough is fairly soft but the cookies do not spread much when baking.
  7. Bake for 8-10 minutes in the preheated oven until edges are lightly golden.  Cool on baking sheets for a few minutes and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Peter's Gourmade Grill

With nothing more than a small table for two and five counter seats, this "hole-in-the-wall" joint leaves quite an imprint on my taste buds and memory.  Peter's Gourmade Grill is located in a gas station - it actually shares store space with the Valero gas station convenience store.  This short-order grill has quite a varied menu, including burgers and chicken sandwiches, burritos, and sweet potato fries.  We opted for the ABC burger, grilled chipotle chicken sandwich, and greek fries.  The ABC burger (pictured above) comes with fresh-cut avocado, thick-cut bacon grilled to crisp perfection and hearty melted cheddar cheese.  The burger condiments of ketchup, mayo, mustard, sliced tomato, shredded lettuce and sliced pickles blend together for a well-balanced taste.  Though the burger patty could have been juicier, the bacon, avocado and pickles really make this burger stand out.
The chipotle chicken sandwich has two grilled chicken breasts, melted cheese, shredded lettuce and spicy chipotle sauce.  The chicken was very juicy and half the sandwich (plus fries) was enough to be filling.
The greek fries come in a surprisingly large portion, more than enough to split as a side between two people.  The fries are topped with a generous helping of feta cheese, gyro meat, and chopped onions and tomatoes.  Served with tzatziki sauce, this is a full meal in of itself.

Despite its obscure location, there was a steady stream of first-time and returning customers during our evening meal at the counter.  Most people took their orders to-go and some even ordered ahead to avoid lines and waiting.  Do expect a wait since the kitchen area is small and all the food is cooked when ordered.  This was definitely the best gas station meal I've had and somewhere I'd go back to again.

UPDATE: They moved!  Find their new location here.

Peter's Gourmade Grill
16851 McFadden Ave
Tustin, CA 92780

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Shanghai pan-fried dumplings (sheng jian bao)

Every time I pass through Alhambra, I love to stop by Kang Kang Food Court for their Shanghai pan-fried pork dumplings.  At 8 dumplings for less than $6, this is one of the best items available for a quick and delicious snack.  Pork and its juices are encased by soft, chewy dumpling skin and pan-fried to create a crispy golden brown crust on the bottom.  Any seasoned dumpling eater will warn you not to take a deep bite into these dumplings, lest the scalding soup inside renders your taste buds useless for the remainder of the day.   An insider's tip to eating these is to poke a small hole in the top of the dumpling to let some steam escape.  Then pour a small spoonful of the supplied vinegar dipping sauce into the hole and wait a few seconds as the sauce cools down the dumpling.  Cradling the dumpling in a spoon, slowly bite through the dumpling skin and slurp up the inner liquid as you take your bite, being careful not to lose any of the precious flavorful juices.  The piping hot freshness and delectable filling really make these dumplings one of my favorites!  

Kang Kang Food Court
27 E Valley Blvd
Alhambra, CA 91801
(Additional locations in Monterey Park and Temple City)         

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Lemon almond cookies

This recipe, a nice detour from the usual chocolate-containing cookie, is a light flavor for the coming of summer.  Containing lemon zest as well as lemon juice, the citrus flavor shines through each bite and the almonds distinguish it from a typical sugar cookie.  The cookies bake up pretty thin, with a soft crunch along the sugary edges and a chewy texture throughout.

Lemon almond cookies (from une Gamine dans la Cuisine)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Spinach pesto chicken pasta

We had some friends over for dinner and made a quick pesto chicken pasta, using ingredients from my definitively favorite store: Costco!  I included a package of frozen spinach and it added a good flavor while boosting the veggie content.

Spinach Pesto Chicken Pasta
6 servings

1 lb pasta (preferably short-cut pasta like rotini, farfalle or penne)
1 10oz. bag frozen chopped spinach
1/2 white or brown onion, diced
2.5 cups grape tomatoes, quartered
2 cups shredded chicken (we used Costco rotisserie chicken)
1/3 cup pesto sauce (homemade or from Costco)
Salt and pepper, to taste
  1. Cook frozen spinach according to the directions on the package.  Drain spinach and set aside.  In a saucepan on medium-high heat, saute the diced onions until soft and translucent.  Add spinach and grape tomatoes, stirring occasionally for 5 minutes and then remove from heat.
  2. Bring a large pot of water to boil and cook pasta until al dente, according to the directions on the package. When draining the pasta, reserve 1 cup of the pasta liquid.  Rinse pasta with cold water to stop cooking and return pasta to the large pot.
  3. Stir the spinach, tomatoes and onions into the pasta.  Add shredded chicken and pesto sauce and stir to combine.  If the pasta is too dry, add some of the reserved pasta liquid until desired consistency.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Serve warm.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Hollywood Food Tour

This past weekend we went on a Hollywood Food Tour led by Six Taste Food Tours.  Thanks to a good deal from Groupon, we enjoyed a full afternoon of walking and eating (mostly eating) for nearly 4 hours!  Our group of 10 people met up at the Kodak Theater and embarked on our eating adventure.  At each stop, a table was waiting for us and 2-3 dishes were brought out for us to share family-style.  We visited a family-owned Italian place, a Mexican grill, a hot dog stand, a lounge, and a diner.  My favorite dish was Chicharron de Queso (pictured above) from Loteria Grill.  The ultimate cheese skirt, this griddle-toasted cheese was both chewy and crispy and tasted great accompanied by guacamole and salsa.

We had a light brunch in anticipation of all the food we'd be eating that afternoon, but we were still incredibly full by the end of the tour and skipped dinner entirely.  It was lots of fun to try new places, hear food-related historical stories, and meet new friends who were equally passionate about eating.  My only complaint is that I wish there was more walking between each that I'd be able to eat even more. :)