Pastel de Tres Leches

Wow, it's been awhile. The holidays have kept me busy and I haven't done much in the way of cooking. It has been a baking frenzy here though! Now that I have time to catch my breath, I can post my favorite of my holiday baking recipes, pastel de tres leches. This cake was amazing! Not too hard to make, thanks to my mom letting me borrow her kitchen-aid. I really have to get one someday! This is a rich, moist spongecake, covered in sweet whipped cream and tart cranberry compote. On their own, the whipped cream is way to sweet to just eat, and the cranberry mixture is face puckering tart. But put them together and you've got heaven in your mouth! The original recipe called for a meringue topping, but I thought the kids would like whipped cream even more.

Pastel de Tres Leches
(adapted from Epicurious.com)

Sponge Cake
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp baking powder
2 tsp ground cinnamon
4 eggs, separated
1/2 cup milk

Rum Milk Syrup
1 can evaporated milk
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp dark spiced rum (optional)

Whipped Cream
2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 cup white sugar

Cranberry Compote
2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
1 cup walnut halves or pieces
1 cup golden raisins
1 cup water
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp cornstarch (diluted in just enough water to make a slurry)

For sponge cake:
Preheat oven to 350 and line a 10-inch spring form pan with parchment paper. Grease and flour sides of pan. Sift flour with baking powder and cinnamon. Using a standing mixer with whisk attachment, beat egg whites until frothy, then slowly add sugar until whites form semi stiff peaks. Add egg yolks one at a time. Alternate adding flour mixture and milk.

Pour batter into pan and bake for about 40 minutes, or until middle springs back when touched and edges pull away from the sides of the pan. Cool thoroughly on a wire rack.

For rum milk syrup:
In a large bowl, combine all ingredients. Whisk thoroughly and reserve (if making in advance, refrigerate and stir before using).

For whipped cream:
Beat heavy cream and sugar together until thickened and fluffy.

For cranberry compote:
In a saucepan, combine all ingredients except cornstarch. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes, until fruits are tender, stirring frequently to avoid burning. While stirring, add the cornstarch slurry. Allow to boil rapidly for one minute. Cool completely and reserve.

To assemble:
Unmold the cake while slightly warm and slice off the hard top with a serrated knife. Place cake on serving platter and spoon milk mixture over it a little at a time, until it is all absorbed, repeat until all syrup is used. Ice with whipped cream and top with compote. Refrigerate and enjoy!


San Bei Ji aka Taiwanese Three Cup Chicken

As some of you know, my husband is originally from Taiwan. I love to attempt authentic Asian cooking for him, usually with good results. San Bei Ji is one of those good results. It had a deep, strong flavor, if very simple to make, and tastes even better the second day. The original recipe calls for Thai Basil, which I can never seem to find, nor do I usually have fresh basil on hand. I do have the little frozen cubes of it though, so I just pop one or two of those in the sauce and it seems to work just fine. Don't be scared off by the "three cups", you really just need three equal parts of the main ingredients. Enjoy!

San Bei Ji/Taiwanese Three Cup Chicken

3 lbs. chicken, any cut (we love it with thighs)
2/3 cup rice wine
2/3 cup soy sauce
2/3 cup sesame oil
3 cloves crushed garlic
2 tsp powdered ginger
1 handful torn basil (or 2 cubes frozen)
2 tbsp brown sugar - optional, my kids find this too salty if I leave out the sugar

In a large skillet or wok, brown the chicken on both sides, about 4 minutes per side. Stir in all remaining ingredients but basil. Stir to combine and simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes. Turn chicken and continue cooking until sauce has thickened and reduces a bit. Mix in basil, cook additional 2 or 3 minutes and remove from heat. Serve with steamed vegetables and rice (I like to mix the veggies in during the last couple minutes to get that extra flavor).


What to do when all you have is chicken?

Once again, we ate everything up before I remembered to take a picture. Oh well, it was not the prettiest meal in the world but it was definitely yummy. I can tell it's a hit when the kids actually ask for seconds. We'd been trying to get through the week without going to the grocery store, so I've had to get creative with what I had on hand. The only meat left in the freezer, besides some pork neckbones I'm saving for an italian sauce, was chicken quarters. The only canned food I had was several cans of crushed tomatoes. Can't go wrong there! I turned the juice from the pan into a gravy with a quick roux, and it was really great over rice.

Baked Chicken with Tomatoes and Balsamic Vinegar

5 lbs. chicken quarters (or any chicken pieces, bone-in for juiciness)
1 can crushed tomoatoes in italian seasoning
balsamic vinegar
sea salt

Sprinkle chicken pieces with sea salt and about 1 tbsp per piece of balsamic vinegar. Bake at 400 for 20 minutes. Pour crushed tomatoes over the chicken, add another generous dash of balsamic vinegar to each chicken piece and continue baking until done.

Balsamic Tomato Gravy

2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour
liquid from the baking pan

In a saucepan over medium heat, melt butter. Stir in flour and continue stirring until it makes a golden paste. Slowly add the juice from the baking pan, about 1/4 cup at a time, stirring continuously. When thickened, serve over rice.



I know, I really need to post something new. I just haven't made anything but convenience foods all week because I've been running on very little sleep trying to take care of three kids with the flu. Everyone is well again, so I should head back into the kitchen! I have a few ideas up my sleeve, I just need to find the time.


Pumpkin Ricotta Gnocchi with Sage Cream Sauce

Ricotta gnocchi is just about the easiest pasta there is to make at home. I had a bunch of ricotta left over from my cheese danish experiment, and gnocchi was the first thing to come to mind when wondering what to do with it; but I want more flavor! Just so happens I had a big can of pumpkin puree in the pantry, and since I've decided not to make a pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving, it needed a new use. The pumpkin gives the gnocchi just a slight sweetness, perfect with the sage cream sauce. Oh, the sauce....excuse me while I wipe the drool from my keyboard. This sauce is fairly simple, very rich, and oh so delicious. I want to eat it on everything! Even just bread dipped in the sauce would be great.

Pumpkin Ricotta Gnocchi

1 cup pumpkin puree
1 cup ricotta cheese
2 3/4 cup flour
1 tsp nutmeg (or more if you prefer a stronger flavor)
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper

In a large bowl, combine the ricotta and pumpkin. Add in flour, mixing just enough to combine into a soft dough. If you mix too much the gnocchi will be too heavy. Seperate dough into 6 sections. On a lightly floured surface, roll out a section into a rope approximately 1 inch in diameter. Using a sharp knife, or scraper, cut rope into 1 inch pieces, roll each piece along floured surface to coat and place on a lightly floured sheet. Continue this process for each dough section. You can keep the gnocchi on the sheet in the fridge until you're ready to cook. When ready, bring a pot of water to a slow boil. Add gnocchi, about 20 at a time, and boil until they rise to the surface.

Sage Cream Sauce

5 tbsp unsalted butter, seperated
2 tbsp fresh chopped sage (I used 1 tbsp dried)
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup white wine (I didn't have wine, so substituted about 2 tbsp cooking sherry with 1/2 cup chicken broth)
1 1/4 cups heavy whipping cream
3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
pinch of nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste (I didn't think it needed these)

Melt 1 tbsp of butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and sage and saute until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the wine and cook until reduced by half. Add 1 cup of heavy cream and cook until boiling. Add remaining butter, 1 tbsp at a time, stirring until melted after every one. Remove pan from heat. Add gnocchi to sauce, toss to coat, stir in remaining cream, parmesan cheese and nutmeg. Cook over very low heat until thickened, about 1 minute. Serve immediately topped with parmesan cheese.


Another Grab-From-the-Freezer Surprise

Two of the munchkins are sick, the third having had something similar last week. I have spent the last two days alternately trying to make miserable girls feel more comfortable and trying to catch a few winks on the couch. Suddenly I found myself faced with the daunting task of making dinner. It was 4pm and I hadn't even thought about dinner, let alone thawed any meat or made other preparations. Once again, it became and reach in the freezer and see what you get night. Tonight I pulled out a baggie filled with chicken legs, probably 10 of them. OK, but what to do with chicken legs that I haven't done to death? Thank you Internet, for providing me with so many choices! I present to you Shiu Ng Heung Gai, aka Oven-roasted Spiced Chicken. Those of us that ate it thoroughly enjoyed it, and the sauce is great on rice.

Shiu Ng Heung Gai (Oven-roasted Spiced Chicken)
adapted from Charmain Solomon's The Complete Asian Cookbook

up to 3 lbs. chicken pieces (I used about 1.5 lbs. of legs)
1/3 cup soy sauce, light or dark works
1/4 cup peanut oil (I didn't have peanut, so I used vegetable with a dash of sesame)
1 tbsp Chinese wine or cooking sherry
1 clove garlic
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp finely grated fresh ginger (I used 1.5 tsp ground ginger)
2 tsp Five Spice powder

Preheat oven to 350F. Mix soy sauce, oil and wine in a shallow dish. Crush garlic with salt, add to soy sauce mixture along with ginger and five spice. Add chicken and turn to coat on all sides. Cover and marinate for 1+ hours (ziplock bags work great for this). Remove chicken from marinade and place in a roasting pan. Spoon some of the marinade over the top. Roast 45 minutes to 1 hour, until chicken is brown and crisp, basting every 20 minutes with marinade. Serve hot or cold.


Simply Evil Chocolate Chip Cookie Brittle

Fair warning, these cookies are evil. Broken into bite-sized pieces, they are incredibly easy to just eat in passing. I had to hide them so we wouldn't eat them all the same day, whenever we walked thru the kitchen! In fact, these did not even last long enough for me to get a picture.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Bark
(adapted from The American Country Inn Bed and Breakfast Cookbook, Volume 2)

1 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled (or if you only have salted butter like me, just omit adding more salt)
2 tsp vanilla
1 cup white sugar
1 tsp salt
2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup nuts (I used pecan pieces)
1 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pour melted butter into a large bowl and stir in vanilla. With a wooden spoon add sugar, salt and flour and mix to combine. Mixture will be similar to a wet pie dough. Stir in nuts and chocolate chips. Press mixture into a thin, even layer on an ungreased cookie sheet. Make sure it is thin, too thick and it comes out too hard to eat. Bake about 25 minutes, until light golden brown in the center. Let cool completely and break into bite sized pieces. Store in an airtight container, if they're around long enough for storing!


Easy Slow Cooker Congee

I LOVE congee. When I'm sick, when it's cold and rainy, for breakfast, lunch or dinner. It is the ultimate in stick-to-your-ribs comfort food. I've tried in the past to make it on the stove, but that is difficult unless you have an hour or so free to stand in the kitchen stirring (or unless you like the taste of burnt rice, ugh). Finally it came to me - use the slow cooker! This recipe makes enough for about 4 bowls of very thick congee. You can adjust the liquid to rice ration to your liking, and use any combination of broth and/or water. Add meat, veggies, sesame oil, all to your taste, congee is very forgiving!

Slow Cooker Congee

8 cups liquid (I used 1/2 beef broth, 1/2 water)
3/4 cup uncooked white rice, rinsed twice
thinly sliced ginger, to taste
whatever you want to add - I used leftover bones from a roast duck

Place all ingredients into slow cooker, stir once to combine, cook on high 3 to 5 hours, until it reaches your desired consistency. Serve hot, topped with green onions, chinese donut, etc.

Kid-Friendly Black Bean soup

At a loss as to what to cook for dinner last night, I pulled random things from the pantry. What I came up with was met with lots of lip-smacking and "mmm, mmm good!" from the munchkins. They all had seconds, which doesn't happen often with those three!

Black Bean and Kielbasa Soup

1 lb. beef kielbasa
1 yellow onion, diced
2 cans black beans
1 can chicken broth
1 cup salsa or fresh diced tomatoes
salt to taste
sour cream, green onion, shredded cheese and/or cilantro to garnish

Cut kielbasa into bite-sized chunks and place in a skillet with onions and a small amount of oil. Fry until onions are translucent. While kielbasa is cooking, use a food processor or stick blender to combine 1 can of black beans and 1 can of chicken broth. Combine in a large saucepan with remaining can of beans, salsa and/or tomatoes and salt. Cook on medium-high heat approximately 10 minutes, until just starting to bubble. Add kielbasa and onions and cook 1 to 2 minutes more. Serve topped with sour cream, cheese, green onions, cilantro....Enjoy!


Upcoming Yummies

I love that Jake calls my cooking "yummies", as in "What kind of yummies are you making this weekend?" Well, I've got quite a list!

Sweet Yummies:
Chocolate Chip Cookie Brittle
Salted Chocolate Caramel Bars
Cranberry Crumb Bars
Fresh Apple Cake
Spice Cake Truffle Balls
Zimtsterne (cinnamon star cookies)

Savory Yummies:
French Onion Soup
Saag Aloo (potatoes and spiced spinach)
Turkey-Cranberry Strudel (with Thanksgiving leftovers)
Ricotta Gnocchi with Tomato Pesto
Roast Duck Congee

I can hardly wait to go grocery shopping!



I've been craving bagels and cream cheese all week, but with a sick kid I haven't been able to get out of the house. I even had a new container of cranberry orange cream cheese just begging to be used. What's a girl to do? Grab a bag of flour and get to it, of course! I spent three days scouring the 'net for a decent bagel recipe. Some are beyond complicated, some called for ingredients I didn't have on hand, etc., etc. Finally, it came down to two. I chose the one that used a bread machine for all the kneading, because I can't handle ten minutes of hand-kneading with a (possibly) fractured wrist. The recipe was exceedingly simple and the bread machine did all the hard work. After baking, my bagels were a bit too crunchy on the outside, so next time I'll try 20 minutes instead of 25, but otherwise they came out great!

Bread Machine Bagels

1 cup warm water
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp white sugar
3 cups bread flour (I used plain white flour)
2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast

3 quarts boiling water
3 tbsp white sugar
1 egg, beaten plus 1 tbsp water (egg wash)

Follow your bread machine manufacturer's directions for placing the water, salt, sugar, flour and yeast in the pan (mine is water first, then dry ingredients, then yeast). Select dough cycle.

When cycle is complete, rest dough on floured surface. Start water boiling and add sugar. Cut dough into equal pieces, depending on the size you want (I got 8 smallish bagels). Roll each piece into a small ball, flatten and poke a hole in the middle. Work dough with your fingers to even out the dough around the hole and get the nice bagel shape. Cover with a clean cloth and let rest 10 minutes. Lightly grease a baking sheet (pam is great) and preheat oven to 375. Transfer bagels to boiling water, let boil 1 minute, flip, boil another minute. Transfer bagels to prepared baking sheet, brush with egg wash and place in oven for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown.


Sunday Dinner: Surf and Turf Stir-fry

I hate Sunday dinner. It is a meal I dread making, simply because I can never thing of what to make. Last night everybody was hungry but nobody could tell me what they were hungry for. Finally I just reached in the freezer, determined to cook whatever came out. What came out first was a package of thinly sliced flank steak. Good, but not enough to feed everyone. Next came out a bag of frozen whole shrimp, heads still on (cost less that way, and also give dishes a deeper flavor). Steak and shrimp? Sounds good to me! I closed my eyes, reached into the crisper, and pulled out a bag of chinese broccoli to go along with the surf and turf. I served everything over rice, of course, all was devoured. Well, the munchkins weren't too keen on eating leafy greens, but they had great fun ripping the heads off of the shrimp!

Surf and Turf Stir-fry

3/4 lb flank steak, thinly slice
1/2 pound shrimp, frozen
1 bunch gai lan or other broccoli-type vegetable
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp rice wine
4 tbsp soy sauce
dash sesame oil
1 tbsp brown sugar
2 tsp ground ginger
salt to taste

Marinate steak with the garlic and remaining ingredients. Chop broccoli into bite sized pieces and stir fry about 3 minutes. Remove to a bowl and cook meat and juices about 2 minutes. Add meat to broccoli, leaving juices in the pan. Add shrimp and stir fry until just pink, then add meat and broccoli back into pan. Cook another 2 or 3 minutes, then serve over rice.


Sunday Breakfast

Still in a baking mood, I looked to Ina Garten for inspiration. Lo and behold, a simple recipe for MY favorite pastry, cheese danish! I was asked to hide these away before we all gained 50 pounds, so I'm taking that as a compliment.

Cheese and Jam Danish
(adapted from Ina Garten at Foodtv.com)

8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
1/3 cup white sugar
2 large egg yolks
2 tbsp ricotta cheese
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp lemon zest (about 2 lemons)
2 sheets frozen puff pastry, thawed (1 box
egg wash (1 egg beated with 1 tbsp water)
any type of jam (I used lingonberry jelly from Ikea)

Preheat oven to 400F and line a pan with parchment paper. Using an electric mixer, cream together sugar and cream cheese until just blended. On low, blend in egg yolks one at a time, ricotta, vanilla, salt and lemon zest. Don't overbeat or whip! Unfold 1 sheet of puff pastry on a lightly floured surface and cut into 9 equal sqares. Place a teaspoon of cheese filling, followed by a dallop of jam on each square. Brush the borders of each square with egg wash, 2 opposite corners together and seal. Brush tops with egg wash and place on parchment lined pan. Repeat with second sheet of pastry. Place pans in the refrigerator for 15 minutes, then bake for 20 minutes turning once during baking. When golden brown, remove from oven, dust with powdered sugar and serve warm.

Feeling Snacky

Saturday was my birthday and after a busy day out we were all needing something savory to snack on. I made some cheddar filled pretzel "bites", once again a big hit with the family. This is by no means a throw it together quickly snack though, you definitely need to plan ahead, as the dough needs to rest for 2 hours. I'm hoping to make these again with different fillings. I think pepperoni could be a winner....

Cheesy-filled Pretzel Bites
Basic Pretzel Dough
1 1/2 tsp active, dry yeast
2 tbsp plus 1 tsp packed brown sugar, divided
1/4 cup warm water
1 cup warm milk
2 1/2 to 3 cups all-purpose flour
you will also need about 1 cup shredded cheese (I use preshredded for ease)

In a large bowl, stir together yeast, 1 tsp brown sugar and warm water. Let stand until foamy, about 5 to 8 minutes. In a small bowl, dissolve the rest of the brown sugar in the milk. Add 2 1/2 cups of flour, and the milk mixture, into the yeast mixture. Stir with a wooden spoon until a soft ball forms, adding more flour as needed. Knead on a lightly floured surface, until ball is smooth. Transfer to a clean bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise 2 hours until surface is bubbly. Preheat oven to 400F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Now comes the fun part! Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and seperate into 4 equal balls. Roll and stretch each ball into a rope, approximately 12 inches long. Using a rolling pin, flatten each rope into a long rectangle, about 12-by-4 inches. Make sure a long end is closest to you. Add shredded cheese along bottom third of the dough, leaving 1/2 and inch to the edges. Stretch dough from the bottom over the cheese and press to seal. Roll upwards as tightly as possible, making a rope. Cut each rope into 12 (or so) pieces and seal the ends, placing each piece on the parchment lined pans. Repeat with each of the three remaining balls. Let sit for 15 minutes, dough should rise slightly. In a large pot, boil 6 cups of water. Once boiling, turn down to a gentle simmer and add 4 tsp of baking soda. Place the dough pieces in the water for about 20 seconds and then remove with slotted spoon back to the parchment paper. Bake for 15 minutes until golden brown and shiny, brush with melted butter, sprinkle with coarse salt and eat!

Playing Catch-up

I've been a busy little bee in the kitchen the past few days! Friday night I really wanted Chinese food, but we just cannot find a take-out place here that lives up to Jake's standards. So off to the 99 Ranch Market I went to load up on supplies, and then I spent the next 3 hours or so in the kitchen. Unfortunately I did not take pictures, but take my word for it, the food was gorgeous! I made pork and cabbage filled dumplings (also made the dumpling wrappers), stir fried shrimp and snow peas with shitake mushrooms, and egg drop soup. To fill out the meal, I also picked up a roast duck on the way home, along with steaming some white rice. The munchkins loved the dumplings, Jake and I were partial to the stir fry. The egg drop soup has now been requested to start every meal! Below are the recipes I used for the dumplings.

Dumpling Wrappers
(adapted from several recipes)

2 cups white flour
1 cup warm water
1 tsp vegetable oil
1/2 tsp salt

Add salt and oil to the warm water and stir until the salt has dissolved. Place flour in a large bowl and slowly add the warm water. Stop adding water when the dough is slightly sticky. Stir until it forms a big lumpy ball. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let sit for 10 to 15 minutes. Knead the dough on a lightly floured surface until it becomes shiny and elastic (for me, this took about 7 or 8 minutes). Roll the dough into a thin flat sheet and cut out circles (I used the open end of a highball glass since I don't own cookie cutters). Make sure the dough isn't TOO thin, or your filling will burst out. Now you're ready to fill them!

Pork and Cabbage Filling

1 large Long Cabbage (or napa cabbage)
1 inch of YOUNG ginger (young has a milder, less spicy taste than the traditional ginger)
1 pound ground pork
1 tsp sesame oil
2 tsp dark soy sauce
1/3 cup thinly sliced green onions (optional)

First the cabbage needs to be prepared. Mince and/or shred it up nice and small and place in a bowl. Add salt, about 1 tsp per handful of cabbage, and mix well. Let sit about 15 minutes, then using cheesecloth, squeeze out all the excess water. While cabbage is "sweating", combine pork and remaining ingredients. When cabbage is ready, mix it into the pork (I find mixing with your hands to work best).

All that remains is to combine the two. Add a spoonful of filling to each wrapper, seal shut, and boil in salted water for approximately 4 minutes (they should float to the top). Enjoy!

In the beginning....

....Jena created a blog. I may not be exciting, I may not have a lot to say, but gosh-darn it, I'm doing it anyway!

To put it simply, I love to cook. Simple, complicated, whatever - I'm there. Cooking helps me to relax when the munchkins have been driving me nuts. Cooking lets me feel creative without having to break out the (long put away) art supplies. Cooking lets me feel like I've accomplished something, however small, especially when the feedback is good. There is nothing quite like the feeling I get when people honestly enjoy what I've made for them. And is there anything better than a 2 year old saying, "Mommy it was dee-wishes!"? I think not. I have a very tiny kitchen (see above picture) but that won't stop me!

And away we go......