Saturday, October 27, 2012

Smoky Chocolate Almond Torte—With Pictorial


As the Holiday season fast approaching, we all can use a few potluck and gathering recipes, right?  Today, I have this excellent dessert recipe for you.  Not only it looks elegant and sophisticated, it tastes wonderful as well.  Best of all, you can make this torte ahead of time, so no stressing-out on the day you need to serve this dessert.  Shhh….I won’t tell it’s so easy to make.  Let your guests think you spend hours in the kitchen to pull this together.  You can use the hours you didn't spend to enjoy a cocktail or take a nap!  ahem….


This Smoky Chocolate Almond Torte might look complicated and involved a few steps.  But they are all quite simple steps to follow.  I'll show you in the step-by-step pictorial below. 


Before we go to the pictorial, I want to show you the different layers of this Smoky Chocolate Almond Torte (see picture right below).  First, you get the Almond Butter Swirls on top, contrasting the Dark Chocolate Garnache to create that beautiful pattern.  The next layer is the creamy Almond Butter mixed with Crunchy Smoke Almonds, I absolutely love that contrasting texture when you bite into it.  Of course, we can always use a little bit more Chocolate Chips in between.  Last but not least, the whole Torte is build on the crunchy and flaky Chocolate Crust. 


I’m telling you, each bite is heavenly.  Just make sure you get a little bit of everything all in one bite.  hm….It’s rich and decadent.  Definitely a treat for any chocolate lover.


Want to check out how I made it?  Come over to the kitchen with me.

1) Mix the chocolate crust ingredients in the stand mixer.  Wrap and chill the dough before rolling.  Line a clean surface with plastic wrap and lightly dust with flour. 

2) Line a clean surface with a large piece of plastic wrap, lightly dust the wrap with some flour. Place the dough on the wrap, lightly dust the top of the dough with more flour and cover the dough with another piece of plastic wrap. Roll the dough into a 7-by-16-inch rectangle. Remove the top plastic wrap and flip rolled dough onto a 4 1/2-by-14-inch rectangular tart pan with a removable bottom.

3) Gently press the dough into the pan. It’s okay of the dough tears, gently patch it back. Roll the rolling pin on top of tart pan to remove excess dough. Place the dough in the freezer for 30 minutes to firm up.  Preheat oven to 350F degree. Line the crust with parchment paper and fill with beans or pie weight. Bake for 20 minutes and lift the parchment paper to remove the weight.

4) Prick dough with a fork and bake for another 10 minutes. Let cool on a wiring rack.  When the crust is cooled. Prepare the fillings.

Pictorial A

5)  This is the almond butter that I used.  In a microwave safe bowl, heat the almond butter until fluid and runny, about 30 seconds
6) and 7) Pour onto cooled crust and smooth with the back of a spoon.

8) Sprinkle the almonds and chocolate chips on top and gently press them into the almond butter. Place the torte in the freezer for 10 minutes to firm up.

Meanwhile, prepare the ganache and swirls.

Pictorial B

9) In a small sauce pan, heat the cream until simmer. Remove from heat and add the salt, coffee, dark chocolate and cayenne pepper.

10) Stir until smooth. Let the chocolate ganache sit for about 8 minutes to cool off.

11)  and 12) Then, pour the chocolate ganache onto the tart and smooth the surface with the back of a spoon.

Pictorial C

13) In a microwave safe bowl, heat the almond butter until runny, about 10 seconds. Fill a disposable pastry bag with the warmed almond butter and snip off the end of the bag.

14) Pipe the almond butter diagonally with zigzag lines across the torte.

15) and 16) With a toothpick, draw over the almond butter lines perpendicularly in a zigzag motion.  Refrigerate torte until set, about one hour. Cut into wedges and enjoy.

Pictorial D

Pretty simple, right?  You’re actually just baking the crust and the rest are very simple to assemble.  I hope you’ll give this Smoky Chocolate Almond Torte a try.  It’s elegant enough to serve at dinner parties and simple enough to make on weekdays (yeah, that’s what I did).  Whether you’re the host of a party or an attendee, this Smoky Chocolate Almond Torte (and you) sure will be the crowd pleaser and get all the spot light if you share this with others.  Until next time, take care.


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Panini with Pesto, Tomato and Brie—Lunch For One with Pictorial


Remember the homemade classic pesto recipe I shared with you not too long ago?  If you missed that recipe by any chance, no worry, just click here and you’ve got yourself covered.  Why?  Because today’s recipe involved some of that yummy homemade pesto.  Of course, you can buy store bought pesto.  But why?  When you can make Pesto that is a lot more delicious, with no preservative and costs just half the price, or less?  Did I mention that you can get the pesto done in less than 15 minutes too?  Oh yeah.  Now, I think you’ve got no reason not to make your own.


This post and recipe is part of the “Lunch for One” series.  As I promise to share with you quick and easy "Lunch for One" ideas form time to time.  If you haven’t done so, check out the other "Lunch for One" recipes as well after this post.  But today, let’s focus on this Panini with Pesto, Tomato and Brie!  As the weather is cooling off, I enjoy a hot sandwich a lot better than just a plate of salad.  Who doesn’t like gooey melted cheese and juicy tomatoes in between two slices of crispy and golden brown bread?   Plus, you can simply put anything in these awesome sandwiches that fit your mood, or whatever you need to clean out from the fridge.  I happened to have brie and some salami in the fridge so that’s what I used.  You can skip the salami and make it vegetarian or put deli sliced ham or prosciutto to create that salty-meaty bite. 


It’s super easy to make too, come follow me to the kitchen!  If you don’t have a Panini grill, no biggie, you can still make these on the stove top with a grill pan or non-stick frying pan. Here’s the pictorial.

1) Heat the Panini grill to medium-high heat.  My Panini grill have the red and green light to signal me when the grill pan is ready at the temperature I set.

2)  While the Panini grill is pre-heating, work on the ingredients.  I brush the outside of my sliced bread with extra virgin olive oil.  That adds nice flavor as well as helps the breads to get golden brown and crispy.

3) Flip the bread over and spread some pesto on the inside of the sliced bread.

4) Top with a thin slices of brie cheese on both sides. 

Pictorial A

5) Top with sliced tomatoes on one side of the bread and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

6) Top with a few slices of salami, or meat of your choice.

7) Cover with the other slice of bread.

8) Place the sandwich on the Panini grill at an angle and close the cover.  Grill until golden brown and crispy on the outside and cheese is melted and bubbly inside.

Pictorial B

I simply cut my Panini diagonally into 4 triangles.  With a side salad, it’s enough to serve two for a light lunch.  Or, eat the whole sandwich yourself and don’t share.  It’s that good!  Hope you enjoy today’s recipe and lunch idea.  Until next time.  Take care and enjoy the cool weather. 


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

“Popping” Candy Pops—For Halloween—with Pictorial


Boo….are you ready for Halloween?  Honestly, I’m not quite ready.  But I guess my kids are, as well as some of my neighbors (a few blocks down the streets).   My kids already told me what they want to be this year.  And the other day when I drove by the neighborhood, I saw some houses already “fully” decorated for Halloween.  “Fully” means from roof top to the front yard.  Oh yeah, very festive.  When I saw that, I realized it’s time to post some Halloween crafts and recipes on my blog.  I’ve been wanted to get my hands on making some candy pops for a while.  And what better occasion than Halloween to indulge in some chocolates and candies, right?


Besides, I think one or two chocolate pops for my kids can “buy me some time” before I have to go costumes shopping with them.  I don’t know, I’m definitely a procrastinator in costumes shopping.  Are you?  Or are you the type who can’t wait for Halloween to be here?  Or even better, make your kids costumes yourself?  I always wish I know how to do that.  But you know me, I’m not crafty like that.


The other day I stopped by the market and saw these mini pumpkins (see picture below) and they were just so adorable not to bring some home.  So I did and thought it would be fun to have a little crafting fun with my kids.  So, I drew the Jack O Lantern's face on one so the kids can look at it as an example.  Then I let them each draw their own.


Boo…and this this what happened (see picture below).  hahaha…..I bet they both don’t have any crafting nor artistic genes in them, because I didn’t have any to pass on to them!  Sorry kiddos, Mama’s bad.  At least, my Baby Girl said it was fun.  On the other hand, my Little Boy kept “complaining” it’s too slippery to draw on the pumpkin.  So, can you guess who did the one on the left and who did the one on the right?


Anyhow, let’s get back to these super fun Popping Candy Pops!  I’m so glad the kids enjoyed these pops, at least.  I used some dark chocolate and white chocolate for these pops.  The orange ones were made with orange candy melts though. 


What made them “Popping” Candy Pops?  The Pop Rocks popping candies inside! So, when you bite into one, they start popping and cracking in your mouth.  Fun huh?  These Popping Candy Pops are definitely a treat and a trick all in one.  I wish I can show you my hubby’s face when he bite into one of these.  Sorry, I’m forbidden to post that video here on the blog. 


Want to learn how to make these Popping Candy Pops?  Come with me to the kitchen!

1) You need a candy mold, any shape that you like.  I picked a Halloween theme one, obviously.

2) Need some candy pop sticks.  Just make sure you get the length that fits into your mold.  They come in different sizes.

3) Some Pop Rocks popping candies.  I got Strawberry and Green Apple flavor ones.  Love those colors too. 

4) You need to melt some chocolate.  I used white chocolate chips (that’s what I have on hand),  dark chocolate (chopped), and orange candy melts.  Since we’re making quite a small amount, I melt them in the microwave instead of a double boiler.  Simple heat on high and stop to stir every 30 seconds until all chocolate are melted.

Pictorial A

5) Since I only have 1 mold, I make these pops in batches.  With the white chocolate first.  Place a small amount of melted white chocolate in the cavities of the candy mold. Place the candy stick in the middle of the mold.

6) and 7) Spoon about 1/4 teaspoon of popping candy into the middle of the melted chocolate.

8) Cover with more melted chocolate to fill the cavity of the candy mold.  I used a toothpick to help spread the chocolate for a better coverage.  Place in the fridge for 15 to 30 minutes, or until chocolate harden.  Remove from mold and enjoy.

Pictorial B

Easy right?  I think I love the dark chocolate ones the best.  These are so much fun and so decadent.  The white chocolate are pretty good too as the tartness from the popping candy inside contrast really well with the sweetness of the white chocolate.  You can definitely wrap these up in individual treat bags and give them out too.


What plans do you have for Halloween, if you are celebrating?  Do you usually take the kids to trick or treat in the neighborhood?  Do you go all out in decorating your house?  Or do you rather visit your neighbors and admire their works?  (I’m more of the later one, hehe…)  Whatever your plans are going to be, I wish you and your family a safe and Happy Halloween!  Stay sweet!


Sunday, October 14, 2012

Classic Pesto—With a Secret Ingredient

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I adore pesto.  I think it’s a sauce that I love so much, but haven’t really showcased it on my blog, as much as I should have been.  Pesto is a sauce that originated in northern Italy.  The traditional ingredients of pesto consist of garlic, basil, pine nuts, olive oil and Parmigiano Reggiano (Parmesan Cheese).  It’s such a versatile sauce that you can put it on…well, almost anything that your heart desires.  I've been making pesto for a while and use it on many of my recipes.  Those recipes are rather simple ones and that’s the main reason why I haven’t post them on my blog.  But I think it’s about time to do so.  And I have a secret.  A secret ingredient to keep your pesto vibrantly green and pretty.

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Yup, the mighty lemon is my secret ingredient.  The acid from the lemon not only adds freshness and flavor to your pesto, but also keeping it bright green instead of turning brown with the oxidation.  Try it, you’ll be amazed how beautiful your pesto can stay bright green in your fridge even after a week.  That is, if they even last that long in there without heading straight to your dishes and happy tummies. 

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It’s super simple to make.  So, try this recipe out instead of buying a jar from the store the next time you want to add pesto to your recipes.  You’re going to love the homemade version.  Below is a list of things you can do with your pesto.

Pesto Serving Suggestions:

1) Spread on toasts and sandwiches, hm…yum!
2) Toss with hot pasta, scrumptious!
3) Wrap in rolls and buns, stay tuned on the future blog post.  You don’t want to miss this one.
4) Use as a sauce on pizza…can’t wait to make this!
5) Top a dollop on hot grilled steak, fish or chicken.
6) Marinade shrimps or chicken before roasting or grilling.
7) Use as a dressing on salad.
8) Dollop on a bowl of hot soup to add more flavors.
9) Fill your omelet with pesto, mushroom, cheese, etc. You’re very welcome!
10) Add some to bake with your favorite hot dips.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Chili and Garlic Pickled Baby Cucumber—With Pictorial

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The first time I had these irresistible pickled cucumbers was at a Taiwanese dumpling restaurant in the San Gabriel Valley area of L.A.  This Taiwanese restaurant offers all kinds of dumplings and noodles, they also have many small plates for you to choose from, to go with your dumplings and noodles.  Some examples of the small plates items are soy sauce marinated fried Tofu, pickled cabbage, seaweed salad, jelly fish salad (another of my favorites too), and herbs marinated pig ears, etc.  The pig ears are for real, I’m not trying to mess with your minds here.  Chinese (or most Chinese) eat every single part of an animal so nothing goes to waste!  These pickled cucumbers were one of the choices from the long list of small plates items and I always get them every time when I dine there. 

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Since I moved away from that area long ago, I've been making my own pickled cucumbers.  They are the best appetizer/small plates item before a meal.  These Chili and Garlic Pickled Baby Cucumbers are so refreshing.  They really can increase your appetite. Isn't what an appetizer supposed to do?  To get your appetite up instead of filling you up before the main course?  Plus, they are super simple to make.  Instead of regular cucumber, I love to use the baby ones.  They are super tender and crunchy.  Best of all, you can eat the whole thing, skin, seeds and all (can’t you tell I’m a Chinese?)!  You don’t have to peel the skin nor scrape the seeds inside as in regular cucumbers.   In other words, perfect for time saving and lazy people, like me.

Before and After

Here’s what I did (see pictorial below).

1) Wash, drain and pat dry the cucumber with paper towel.  Cut them in half so they are in 2-inch length.

2) Split them in half again into “half circles”

3) Cut them into 1/2-by-1/2-by 2-inch chunks by cutting the “half circles” in half again.   (Gees, I’m so glad I took pictures of the process.) 

4) In a medium mixing bowl, all the rice vinegar in the water.

Pictorial A

5) Add the garlic, sugar, salt, toasted sesame oil

6) Last but not least, the Sambal chili sauce and stir until all sugar dissolved.

7) I like to line the cucumbers chunks into the non-reactive (glass) pickling jars neatly so I can fit as many as I could.

8) Fill the jars with the pickling liquid until the cucumbers are completely submerge in the liquid.  If there’s any garlic or chili sitting on the bottom of the pickling liquid, add those into the jars too (don’t waste anything!)  Close the lid and place the jars in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours before serving, preferably overnight.  Your patient will be rewarded!

Pictorial B

Simple enough, right?  They totally are.  They are super crunchy, tangy, slightly sweet with a hint of spiciness.  The hint of toasted sesame oil adds a little more savory flavor into this refreshing treat.  If you like it more spicy, feel free to add a little more chili sauce.  Just keep in mind the flavor will intensify the longer they are pickled, so, don’t add too much during the tasting.  Stay cool... just like the cucumbers and enjoy the recipe.  (sorry I can’t help the cheesy closing line!)

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Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Spiced Up Apple Chips to Welcome Fall—With Pictorial


It’s officially Autumn/Fall according to the calendar.  Somehow, the temperature in L.A. refuses to reflect that.  I can’t believe we’re still having high 90s F temperatures as we step into October!  My AC and my electric bill need serious help.  HELP!


Although the temperature is still summer-like in L.A., I’m already in the mood for Fall.  At least, my palates say so.  I’m sure most of you who are reading this post already wearing some nice sweaters when going out, maybe having the softest blanket as you roll yourself up while watching your favorite TV series on the couch (one of my favorite things to do to relax before I have kids), or even a mug of hot apple cider in your hands to get the chill off.  Yeah?  Please just say yes because I can totally imagine myself doing just that in Fall and Winter!  The key word here is imagine! Or should I just say I wish I can do just that!


Before it’s cool enough for me to enjoy a cup of hot apple cider, fortunately, I have these Spiced Up Apple Chips!  They taste just like a cup of hot apple cider, in the form of chips without all the heat.  I can still taste the warmth from the spices on them.  Another great thing is that they are baked in the oven at 200F degree, which won’t warm up my kitchen that much.  Thank goodness! 


In these Spiced Up Apple Chips, I coated them with the spiced-up sugar before baking them.  While they were in the oven, I can smell the cinnamon and cardamom sugar caramelizing.  My whole house smelled amazing and probably was the sweetest and warmest smell that Fall can get.  Forget about the scented candles, all you need are Spiced Up Apple Chips in the oven and it’s all natural. 


In case if you’re not familiar with cardamom, here’s how they look (see picture below).  Those on the left are in whole pods and the one on the right are ground up ones.  Cardamom is a popular spice in Indian cuisines, both in desserts and in beverages.  It has a strong and unique taste, very aromatic and fragrance.  It’s slightly spicy, comparable to fresh ginger, and has a hint of lemony freshness.  It go so well with the warmth of the cinnamon.


Want to follow me to the kitchen to make these Spiced Up Apple Chips?  Let’s go.

1) Place the sugar, cinnamon, and ground cardamom in a shallow dish.  Stir until it’s well combined.

2) Slice the apples as thin as you can, about 1/8-inch.  Noticed in the picture I have a Gala apple and a Granny Smith?  I like it better with the Gala, the green apple is a bit too tart for my liking.  They still taste great, but I love the Gala better.

3) Remove the core with a small cookie cutter, cute right? And it’s so easy.  Unless you have the apple corer, use it before slicing the apple.  Gently pat the apple slices with a paper towel so they are dried up.  Somehow, I missed a picture of that.  I must be too excited for the next step!  

4) Drench the apple slices in the spiced sugar, shake of excess and place them on the silpat/parchment paper lined sheet pan in a single layer.  And bake them away.


These Spiced Up Apple Chips are crispy and crunchy.  The perfect snack for Fall and Winter.  I love the warmth and sweetness from the cinnamon and the little hint of spiciness from the cardamom.  The caramelized sugar adds an additional crunch to these chips.  These are totally ADDICTIVE!  Did I say addictive?  Okay, you’re officially warned!


Time for another confession?  You bet.  Yes, you guess it right, I used to dislike cinnamon, a lot, when I was young.  It’s another ingredient that I grow to love and enjoy now.  I think the taste and fragrant of cinnamon reminds me of happy times with my good friends.  Friends I grew old with and shared many sweet memories.  Cinnamon reminds me of times when we were carefree, had some crazy fun time at the Theme Parks and enjoyed some cinnamon churros; Times we walked at the shopping mall until we couldn't walk anymore and sat down to share a cinnamon bun and a cup of coffee; Times when we didn't have to worry that the cinnamon bun will go straight to our behinds!  Those were the good old days.  That’s when I realized, I really love and enjoy cinnamon, after all.


But if you don’t like cinnamon, it’s okay too.  Noticed from the picture above that I have two different types of chips?  Those on the right are “naked” ones without the spiced coating.  For those, I simply sliced up the apples and baked them off.  And for the record, those plain chips are for my hubby.  Yeah, he’s still at the “growing” stage to enjoy cinnamon. 


I encourage you to try the spiced up version though.  The caramelized sugar just added a different type of crunch that you can’t get from the plain ones.  They are simply crisp, light, and packed with lost of spices and flavors.


Now, it’s time to get into the kitchen and make your own batch of Spiced Up Apple Chips.  I know you’re going to love them.