Cupcakes…The Perfect Sized Cake … Always Gobbled Up Whether Gorgeous or Rustic Looking

I just asked my teenage niece, T, and her good friend, A., why they thought cupcakes were so popular?  “They are the perfect size that make you “not” feel guilty eating them…and you can decorate them individually and make them soooo cute,” they echoed.  Need I say more?  I don’t think so.

My baker niece, S., with her Sammycakes baking business, turns out spectacularly beautiful and simply delectable cupcakes per below…

Then there are mine… quite tasty, while more in the “rustic” looking category.  Rustic is what I call any of my food that looks a bit lopsided or imperfect.

Another good thing about cupcakes … and making extras … is their portability and ease for those desiring to take a few home…or, as my teacher niece, C., said when we asked if she wanted us to wrap hers and her husband’s  when they were leaving T’s birthday celebration last night…she looked at the one she had in her hand and said, “nope, I don’t think this one is making it home…it will be consumed in the car on the way 🙂 .”

Cupcakes also go really well with any kind of tea… iced or hot.  I just had mine with a hot, organic Assam from Mighty Leaf.  T. and her friend A.  just had theirs with an iced black currant from Peet’s while doing homework… it’s all good!

Lemon curd cupcakes from my niece...Sammycakes

Lemon curd cupcakes from my niece…Sammycakes

 

Petite Sammycakes cupcakes

Petite Sammycakes cupcakes

Petite lemon curd filled Sammycakes cupcakes...deeeliciious

Petite lemon curd filled Sammycakes cupcakes…deeeliciious

IMG_0110

Petite Sammycakes cupcakes

Petite Sammycakes cupcakes

Easter cupcakes from Sammycakes

Easter cupcakes from Sammycakes

Gorgeous German chocolate cupcakes...again..yes, from our Sammycakes

Gorgeous German chocolate cupcakes…again..yes, from our Sammycakes

IMG_4551

You Can Call Me Cheese Maker…Sort of…

I’ve been wanting to make my own ricotta cheese for a while. Growing up, ricotta, which  in our Italian home we pronounced “rigorta,” was a staple.  Mom used to make a creamy, buttery, linguine with ricotta sauce as a standard item on our meatless Fridays.   This dish was a favorite with grilled Italian sausage when prepared for our Sunday menu.

My enthusiasm for making the ricotta was almost thwarted after reading a comment from a commenter on a blog claiming that “it was not possible to make ricotta  unless I had a cow or five sheep (which I don’t).”  This commenter also said that eight gallons of milk would be needed to end up with a small bowl of ricotta. While Bon Appetit had a recipe that looked doable,  I put it aside  – until two weeks ago, when we went to a chef friend’s for dinner.  My husband’s and my role with the dinner was merely to bring some wine – the chefs were doing all the cooking.  One chef, in charge of the appetizers,  brought in a two cup container filled with fresh ricotta he had just made.  It was tender, cheesy, fragrant, and delicious spread on a rosemary cracker.  He said it took 12 minutes to make using 1/2 gallon of fresh whole milk, 3 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice and 1 teaspoon of salt to end up with approximately 2 cups of finished product.  Re-energized, I gave it a try.

My first effort came out better than I expected.  It was easy and really good.

My husband used this to top an heirloom tomato tart he had seen Chef Michael Symon make on the t.v. show, The Chew.  Below is his tart in the making…

Our collaboration worked!  Am happy that I didn’t give up on the idea of making my own ricotta…next on my list is making fresh mozzarella cheese, then a decadent burrata.  My sister met a cheese maker who will show us how.

 

Roasting the tomatoes with a bit of olive oil and garlic

Roasting the tomatoes with a bit of olive oil and garlic

Making ricotta cheese...then a tomato tart from my heirloom tomatoes topped with fresh ricotta

Making ricotta cheese…then a tomato tart from my heirloom tomatoes topped with fresh ricotta

IMG_2954 IMG_2960 IMG_2961 IMG_2965

Gorgeous heirloom tomatoes for the tart

Gorgeous heirloom tomatoes for the tart

Small Bites…

Seems the trend in food today is offering “small bites”.   It’s all the rage and I just love it.  The opportunity to “graze” over food offerings is what I so enjoy about an afternoon tea menu…several bits and bites of savory to sweet that won’t get you too stuffed, while taking your taste buds on an adventure in flavor and texture.   It’s struck me that tapas, antipasti, hors d’oeuvres, canapes, dim sum, charcuterie platters, and finger sandwiches all hit the same need to satisfy that little hunger pang that comes on about 3 p.m. — and into happy hour.

My recent seasonal favorites to serve during these warm summer early evenings are a bit of savory and sweet – and happen to be vegetarian (although not vegan).

Bite sized appetizer... grapes encrusted with toasted pecans and bleu cheese...cheese plate in a bite and Wild mushroom pate on a pita cracker...

Bite sized appetizer… grapes encrusted with toasted pecans and bleu cheese…cheese plate in a bite and Wild mushroom pate on a pita cracker…

IMG_2435

These luscious and versatile little crackers are found at Trader Joe’s Markets.  Panini Girl’s blog offers many many outstanding recipes.

Whether serving these bites for afternoon tea or with a glass of the bubbly…grazing and sipping is an optimum way to socialize and relax into the rest of your day or night.

Here’s a pretty plate of small bites I recently had at Chef Michael Mina’s Stonehill Tavern Restaurant located in The St. Regis Hotel in Dana Point, Ca.  – Beautiful and whetted your appetite before dinner…now these bites took some time…but were worth it, particularly the crispy risotto cake.

Stunning "amuse bouche" plate...each bite packed with flavor

Stunning “amuse bouche” plate…each bite packed with flavor

IMG_2619 IMG_2620 IMG_2622

Try putting together a perfect little bite that encompasses savory, sweet, crispy, and softness all at once… if nothing more, a bit of cheese on a cracker almost gets you there 🙂

Enjoy…

Who Doesn’t Love a “Thrown Together” Chocolate Dessert?

I adore my husband for many reasons; one being that he has delightful, interesting,  food and wine loving friends – many who are chefs (lucky me).  Recently we were at his Welsh buddy and awesome chef’s house for dinner.  He always makes the meals look effortless.  They are full of flavor, texture, and balance.  He uses incredibly high quality ingredients and keeps things simple.

He’s been on a healthy, fitness lifestyle for the last couple years and has reflected this in his menus…sometimes that means “no dessert”.  He had none planned for the delectable and light dinner we had this night…however, as we finished our meal, there was a little red wine left that needed something to go with it…chocolate came to mind and chef does a mean chocolate souffle…so in 30 minutes he whipped together  this spectacular individual chocolate souffle.  He has mastered a technique using sugar and butter to prep the ramekin which lets it drop freely and enticingly onto a plate.  The recipe is an old one from Gourmet’s Best Desserts Cookbook.  He effortlessly performed in front of us – whipping up this elegant dessert…the difficult part was waiting the 15 minutes for them to bake, but wow, was it worth it.

Coating the ramekin with butter and a bit of sugar

Coating the ramekin with butter and a bit of sugar

What a satisfying way to end the meal…I enjoyed it with a nice cup of hot tea…being from Great Britain, excellent tea is always on

Step by step...Chocolate soufflés...from old Gourmet recipe...awesome dessert

Step by step…Chocolate soufflés…from old Gourmet recipe…awesome dessert

IMG_0572 IMG_0573 IMG_0574 IMG_0581 IMG_0587 IMG_0589 IMG_0593 IMG_0598 IMG_0599 IMG_0602 IMG_0605 IMG_0608 IMG_0611hand in this kitchen.  He even has an instant hot water spicket – works efficiently and easily in making an individual cup of tea.

What an exceptional and memorable way to end a meal…and with a baking demonstration to boot.

Teatime can be anytime…particularly when chocolate is around.

 

It’s Tea Time At The Lavender Lounge Tea Company

In the sleepy Southern California beach community of San Clemente atop the 31 Flavors Ice Cream shop sits a cozy, inviting and contemporary urban tea lounge where a diverse group of locals and tourists stream in and out to satisfy their tea needs.  The Lavender Lounge tea shop delivers on the tea.  They are known for blending signature beach blends; serving hot, iced and textured teas…either grab your tea on the go or relax in their casual, easy atmosphere.

The other day, I met a friend for a Saturday morning chat at the lounge.  Their hours of operation state that they open at 10 “ish”…. so about 5 minutes after 10, the gate across the stairway opened and several of us happily walked up the stairs to order our tea.  We opted for morning breakfast teas, served hot…I had a malty, flavorful and perfectly steeped Assam with a little milk (of course :-))

I really like the new labels on their tea canisters…they offer dozens of teas, which can be overwhelming to grasp in some shops, but were easy to differentiate between black, green, beach blends, rooibus, and herbals which were color schemed per the photos.  What a delightful way to start the weekend.

The lounge is known for offering their textured teas… choose a tea blend, served iced. Many go with a fruity beach blendz – add a scoop or two of your favorite flavor of “choobies”… a sweet gelatin, petitely cubed so they go through the large straws used for drinking this deliciously sweet cold drink.

The tea barista really knew her stuff and steeped a perfect cup of tea…I appreciate that you can choose a traditional style tea service, including buttery, crunchy and mouthwatering raspberry shortbread cookies, or choose from contemporary flavored textured iced teas.

Enjoy…