Wilton Course 1, Class 4

August 30, 2009

Due to an unexpected personal emergency at home, I had to miss the Class 3 from Course 1, which means that I didn’t have to do the clown cake. But then, I came into class last week to find my other classmates cranking out these roses like an auto-assembly line. I have to admit that it was quite intimidating at first! Plus, I didn’t bring all of the materials that I needed (the green frosting, extra piping bags, etc) because my mind was obviously somewhere else other than the class. Fortunately, my instructor was kind enough to help me through the class, and I must say that I was pretty happy with the roses.


For class 3, the class learned how to do shell-border, and to learn these roses. So I tried my best to catch up on these skills during the 4th course. We also got to do the half roses and the leaves.  I must apologize that the light wasn’t too great when I tried taking the pictures.  All in all, I’m very glad that I got to take this class. Due to my work schedule, I will not be able to take any class in September, but I know that I have gained confidence that I wouldn’t have otherwise had without the class!!


Barefoot Bloggers: White pizzas with Arugula

August 27, 2009

Our second Barefoot Blogger’s recipe for August, White Pizzas with Arugula, was selected by Andrea of Nummy Kitchen. I had been intrigued by the idea of a white pizza with tons of cheeses and arugula, and was glad with the selection. I do have a little confession. I decided to skip making the pizza dough from scratch this time. I have been running around with too many activities at home and long meetings at work that I thought that I would come back to making the pizza dough from scratch sometimes next month.


So for the crust, I used a Flatout Bread instead and we both loved that it was thin and crispy! There were TONS of cheeses in the topping, but the acid from the dressing and the arugula really added such a nice balance to this pizza. We loved this, and will be making this again!!! We halved this recipe and it made a generous two large pizzas using two large standard flatout bread. Red was eying my piece and wanted to know if I was going to finish the whole thing, because he’d be glad to finish my portion!


For the dough:
1 1/4 cups warm (100 to 110) water
2 packages dry yeast
1 tablespoon honey
Good olive oil
4 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for kneading
Kosher salt
4 cloves garlic, sliced
5 sprigs fresh thyme
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

For the topping:
3 cups grated Italian fontina cheese (8 ounces)
1- 1/2 cups grated fresh mozzarella cheese (7 ounces)
11 ounces creamy goat cheese, such as montrachet, crumbled

For the vinaigrette:
1/2 cup good olive oil
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
Freshly ground black pepper
8 ounces baby arugula
1 lemon, sliced

1. Mix the dough.
2. Combine the water, yeast, honey and 3 tablespoons of olive oil in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook. When the yeast is dissolved, add 3 cups of flour, then 2 teaspoons salt, and mix on medium-low speed.
3. While mixing, add up to 1 more cup of flour, or just enough to make a soft dough. Knead the dough for about 10 minutes until smooth, sprinkling it with the flour as necessary to keep it from sticking to the bowl.
4. Knead by hand.
5. When the dough is ready, turn it out onto a floured board and knead it by hand a dozen times. It should be smooth and elastic.
6. Let it rise.
7. Place the dough in a well-oiled bowl and turn it to cover it lightly with oil. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and allow the dough to rise at room temperature for 30 minutes.
8. Make garlic oil.
9. Place 1/2 cup of olive oil, the garlic, thyme and red pepper flakes in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over low heat. Cook for 10 minutes, making sure the garlic doesn’t burn. Set aside.
10. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. (Be sure your oven is clean!)

Portion the dough.
Dump the dough onto a board and divide it into 6 equal pieces. Place the doughs on sheet pans lined with parchment paper and cover them with a damp towel. Allow the dough to rest for 10 minutes. Use immediately, or refrigerate for up to 4 hours.

Stretch the dough.
Press and stretch each ball into an 8-inch circle and place 2 circles on each sheet pan lined with parchment paper. (If you’ve chilled the dough, take it out of the refrigerator approximately 30 minutes ahead to let it come to room temperature.)

Top the dough.
Brush the pizzas with the garlic oil, and sprinkle each one liberally with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the pizzas evenly with fontina, mozzarella and goat cheese. Drizzle each pizza with 1 tablespoon more of the garlic oil and bake for 10 to 15 minutes, until the crusts are crisp and the cheeses begin to brown.

Make the vinaigrette.
Meanwhile, whisk together 1/2 cup of olive oil, the lemon juice, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.

Add the greens.
When the pizzas are done, place the arugula in a large bowl and toss with just enough lemon vinaigrette to moisten. Place a large bunch of arugula on each pizza and a slice of lemon and serve immediately.

1. Make sure the bowl is warm before you put the water and yeast in; the water must be warm for the yeast to develop.
2. Salt inhibits the growth of yeast; add half the flour, then the salt, and then the rest of the flour.
3. To make sure yeast is still “alive,” or active, put it in water and allow it to sit for a few minutes. If it becomes creamy or foamy, it’s active.

Vanilla Frozen Yogurt

August 24, 2009

Since I got my ice-cream maker attachment for our Kitchen Aid mixer, I have been churning up batches and batches of frozen treats. One of the recipes that I have been wanting to try my hands on was frozen yogurt. A couple of the recipes that I had seen all required whole-milk yogurt. Red and I had looked everywhere and could not find any! Isn’t that amazing! One evening, Red and I actually found ONE (I repeat, ONE container left) of Stonyfield Whole Milk Plain Yogurt. We grabbed it and quickly found this great vanilla frozen yogurt recipe from 101 Cookbooks, originally adapted from David Lebovitz’ the Perfect Scoop.


Oh my Lord, this frozen yogurt was so delicious, creamy, but light that I had to ask Red to remove the freshly churned frozen yogurt from my hand. What a winner! I definitely need to keep my eyes open when I do run into another whole-milk yogurt, which apparently is an exotic commodity in my area.

3 cups (720g) strained yogurt (see below) or Greek-style yogurt
3/4 cup (150g) sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)

Mix together the yogurt, sugar, and vanilla (if using). Stir until the sugar is completely dissolved. Refrigerate 1 hour.
Freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

To make 1 cup (240g) of strained yogurt, line a mesh strainer with a few layers of cheese cloth. then scrape 16 ounces or 2 cups (480g) of plain whole-milk yogurt into the cheesecloth.  Gather the ends and fold them over the yogurt, then refrigerate for at least 6 hours. So, for the above recipe start with and strain 6 cups of yogurt (that’s 2 large-sized yogurt container you find at most grocery stores).

Makes about 1 quart.

Venice.. oh my lovely Venice…

August 18, 2009

Hotel Riva‘s location, literally on the back side of the St. Mark’s square, made it really convenient for us to get to most of the attractions that most tourists come to Venice to see. We paid 140 Euro/night for our double-room, in-suite bathroom, A/C and a canal view. Next time, I probably would not pay the extra 20Euro to pay for the canal view. But I would definitely stay at this location again, the location is hard to beat!


Breakfast was very basic, literally hard rolls and fruit jams or nutella. Drinks selection was coffee, hot chocolate, teas, or juice. It was very basic, but at this point, we were getting used to the continental breakfast and was fine with it.


Hotel & train station– arrival tip
  • One thing that I wish that I would have known was that, I should plan to either arrive early in the morning, before 9AM or late afternoon, after 5PM. The crowd in the afternoon is almost unbearable; and it’s not fun navigating through the crowds while pulling your suitcase through unfamiliar cobblestone streets.
  • I also did not research enough on Venice and wasn’t aware that I could have bought my vaparetto’s (water-bus) ticket ahead of time. This would have saved me at least the 30-45 mins we spent waiting on the line getting the one way ticket to the hotel. Our hotel would have been about 35-mins walk from the train station, and was about less than 10 mins walk from the closest water-bus station.
  • The toilet in the train station is free of charge! I took advantage of it as soon as I got off the train, since I wasn’t sure how long before I was able to get to the hotel.


Restaurants & Gelataria Reviews

Ristorante Al Conto
This restaurant was the best restaurant that we ate at in Italy. The quality of the food (the freshness of their seafood), ambiance, service, wine selection, and overall value for your money. This place is tucked in a corner of one of the small streets off the main drag of Riva degli Schiavoni and a little bit hard to find… but totally worth it!

When we first found it, it was around 1:30 in the afternoon, and the waitress said the kitchen was closed, and asked if we wanted to make a reservation and come back that evening? We said yes, and so glad we did. We arrived around 7:30PM, which was early for Italians, but early enough that we got to select our private table tucked in the corner of their small courtyard, just outside the main entrance to their restaurant.

The chef and owner Cesare Benelli and his Texas-born wife, Diane, were out mingling with guests and asked if we enjoyed our food. It was just a superb experience for us and I savored every delicious minute of our dinner that evening.

Mike ordered their chef’s specialty that night, which includes a starter of fresh pasta, a second course of meat and dessert. The first course was homemade pasta with a very delicate clam-sauce, a grape tomato, and fresh dill. The pasta literally melted in my mouth, with just enough flavoring in the broth.


The second course, was a seared top round beef, cooked just enough to provide some crispiness to the outside edges.


Oh, and there was a small plate of this wonderful marinated chopped eggplant that was seasoned to perfection.


I ordered their delicious fritto misto (a sampler of fried fresh seafood and seasonal vegetables) with scampi, squid, baby red snapper, white fish, cuttlefish and fried vegetables.  This is a specialty dish that you will find in every Ventian restaurant.


There is also a nice little mound of potato strings, crispy in the outside and soft in the inside. There wasn’t any greasy feeling that you’d typically get in fried bar-food. Everything was fried to perfection, I could not find any bits of burnt pieces.


I asked, “What type of vegetables would I have?”

The waiter said, “Mushrooms.”

I said, “Do you have zucchini flowers?”

He shook his head and said, “Let me ask the chef, since you know… he’s the super star.”

He went in, came back shortly and said, “Yes of course, we can make those for you.”

My heart sang! Red’s face lit up! I had been dreaming about these delicate little flowers since I first read about them in one of my favorite books of all time, A Thousand Days in Venice.


Osteria alla Staffa

This place was literally a hole in the wall, with six tables and a small bar. We found it on a rainy afternoon when we felt like we had just missed a lunch crowd, and wanted to sit somewhere by the window, and people watch. There was no menu & no English spoken. I ordered a plate of spaghetti with onion sauteed with bacon and arugula. It was so simple and delicious. When I first saw the plate, I thought, on no, there wasn’t enough sauce. Boy, was I wrong. There was a perfect amount of olive oil in this dish, and I wasn’t missing my tomato-based sauce. This dish was simplicity at its best.


Red ordered spaghetti primavera, and it was pretty good. It didn’t have any meat in it, so I knew that he was missing his protein. But it was delicious. Our table was right by the window so we could look out and watch the rain and people go by. We ordered two beers, these two pasta dishes and two espresso. The bill came to about 23 Euro, which was an awesome deal in Venice, or anywhere in Italy really. We would definitely seek this place out again when we return!



Ben & Jerry’s Banana Cinnamon Rum Ice-Cream

August 17, 2009

I had been eyeing this banana ice-cream since I first saw the recipe on the Ben & Jerry’s Dessert book. I first tried banana ice-cream at Coldstone Creamery three years ago, and I have been wanting to make my own version ever since. (Note: the more brown spots on the banana, the better. So here you go!)


The recipe is pretty simple, it uses the basic Sweet Cream Base recipe that I used in my Strawberry ice-cream recipe. And I just needed to add very ripened bananas. The only problem that I had with this recipe was that I thought that the cinnamon flavor was too much for the banana flavor. The version that I had tried at Coldstone had a nice subtle banana flavor, without the cinnamon. If you love Banana Foster though (and I do!), this would have been a perfect dessert for you.


Sweet Cream Base
Juice 1 lemon
2 overripe bananas

1. Prepare the Sweet Cream Base.
2. Transfer to an ice-cream maker and freeze following the manufacturer’s directions.
3. Mash the bananas and lemon juice together in a bowl, then whisk until smooth.
4. After the ice-cream stiffens (about 2 minutes before it is done), add the banana mixture.
5. Whisk 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon and 2 tablespoons rum, preferably dar, into the cream base just before transferring to the ice cream maker.
6. Then continue freezing until the ice cream is ready.

Makes generous 1 quart.

Blueberry Coffee Cake Muffins

August 16, 2009

I have been wanting to make these muffins since I first saw the recipe on Barefoot Contessa Family Style. I finally decided to make these to take advantage of the abundance of blueberries this summer. I asked Red if he’d be up for eating these since we haven’t baked anything for breakfast in quite a while, and he said yes (of course, I didn’t expect any other answer, really!).

So lo and behold, I woke up this morning with the noise of our Kitchen Aid mixer buzzing in the kitchen. Red was up and started mixing a batch of these muffins!  As soon as I got into the kitchen, he said,”Can you put some vanilla into the mixing bowl?” Aah yeah, what a way to start my morning!

This recipe received a pretty high review overall on the Food Network and we agree that they were light and wonderful. A couple of things that I did that the recipe didn’t ask for. I rolled my blueberries in about a tablespoon of flour to prevent them from sinking. And I sprayed the muffin pans with cooking spray and used  paper cupcakes liner. The muffin liner is a must or you’d be fighting the crumbs sticking on the pan! Also, this recipe made WAY more than what it states here. I came out with at least 24 muffins on standard-size muffin pans.

Adapted from Barefoot Contessa Family Style.


12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
8 ounces (about 1 cup) sour cream
1/4 cup milk
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 half-pints fresh blueberries, picked through for stems

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place 16 paper liners in muffin pans.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.
With the mixer on low speed, add the eggs 1 at a time, then add the vanilla, sour cream, and milk.
In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. With the mixer on low speed add the flour mixture to the batter and beat until just mixed.
Fold in the blueberries with a spatula and be sure the batter is completely mixed.
Scoop the batter into the prepared muffin pans, filling each cup just over the top, and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the muffins are lightly browned on top and a cake tester comes out clean.

Yield: 16 (bakery-sized JUMBO muffins), about 24-standard size muffins

Wilton Course 1: Class 1 and 2

August 16, 2009

I have been wanting to take this class forever and finally got around to call Hobby Lobby and sign up for the Course 1 a few weeks ago. For our first class, I decided to use regular yellow-cake from a box and fill it with strawberry preserves to save some time. But I will probably try to make cakes from scratch for our future class.


For class 1, we basically just watched the instructor frost a cake, and listen to many techniques of baking cake and frosting. Then we were asked to bring a frosted cake for class 2, like this one.


Then during class 2, we learned to pipe using star tip and write using regular round/writing tip. And this is what I ended up. Since we had no celebratory events coming up, I decided to pipe our puppy’s name on the cake. She turned 2 this past May, but I am sure she appreciated seeing her name on here!


For this course, these are the items that I bought so far:

  1. Professional decorating kit, which was about $139.99, but I used the internet coupon for 40% off, plus you get additional 10% for being a student, so I paid about $80 included taxes. I also plan on taking all of the other classes, which will require some of the tips in this kit. I also wanted to get the bake strip to make the baking even.
  2. Meringue powder, for the frosting
  3. Turn-table
  4. Decorator icing in a jar (to make roses for class 3)
  5. Cake carrier (which was the only thing I bought at Wal-Mart for $6. Hobby Lobby cake carrier is about $25, and even with 50% off, that is still way much more than what Wal-Mart has)
  6. 8-inch and 3-inch tall cake pan (optional, I believe you can use whatever pan you already have, if you choose so, but I wanted to use the recommended size).
  7. Almond-flavoring (optional)
  8. Bake spray (optional), because I wanted to see if they really work out better than SPAM!
  9. Cut out cake board