pick me up

tiramisu cupcake

Hello, pretty little boozy tiramisu cupcake! You will not last long, sitting there adorably with your mascarpone floppy mop-top.

tiramisu cupcake

Thank goodness you were poked up by a fork straight out of the oven, now you can soak up that espresso-marsala syrup deep into the core of your cakey being. And oh, my! You may be cute and sweet, but you pack a caffeinated boozy punch.

I highly recommend anyone who wants you in their life to watch the video(s) to get a better idea of how you, little cupcake, came to be constructed.

baking, burgers & sandwiches

red carpet brown bag

pan bagnat

Whilst packing for an all-day whale-watching excursion, I had a moment where I thought I’d slap together a good ol’ PB&J and call it a lunch. There is nothing dishonorable about this traditional option, but I decided on this day to honor the sea by treasuring one of it’s finest offerings, the humble tuna.

pan bagnat

On the Mediterranean coastline of France, the clever and life-affirming residents of Nice created the best tunafish sandwich known to mankind, and it is the pan bagnat. The best quality tuna is simply dressed in fruity olive oil and acidic champagne vinegar or lemon juice. Leave the gloppy mayo to your tuna melts. Then you add in some vegetables for crunch and flavor (artichoke hearts, peppers, red onion), some nice salty olives, aromatic fresh basil, and hearty hard boiled eggs. Add it all in loving layers to the partially hollowed out casing of a crisp baguette or boule. I used a mish-mash of this recipe from Food 52 and this one from Martha Stewart.

pan bagnat

The beauty of this sandwich is that you can use up a lot of stuff laying around your fridge, pantry, and condiments shelf. No, the beauty of this sandwich is that you can make it entirely ahead of time, press it down in your fridge under a heavy skillet or a baking tray weighed down with heavy books overnight. No, no, no the beauty of this sandwich is that you need to make it ahead of time, because the multitude of bright flavors really come together and then soak into the bread to make it taste even better after a night being pressed.

bourbon dark chocolate blondies

While you sit back and admire your work on a lunch well-packed, might I suggest adding these supremely easy one-bowl bourbon dark chocolate blondies? Whales will be watched, seas will be sailed, and tummies will be satisfied, fortified, and nourished to forge forward into the wild blue yonder.


German’s American cake

German chocolate cake
German chocolate cake is not German. The consummately American cake was created in the U.S. and named after an American chocolatier who worked at the oldest chocolate company in the U.S. In summary, German chocolate cake is named after German’s chocolate bar who created chocolate for bakers at Baker’s. Got it? More precisely, the cake was named after Sam German, who created a more sweetened version of dark baking chocolate at Baker’s, the chocolate company founded in part and owned by Dr. James Baker. Phew! Can we eat it now?

German chocolate cake

This beautiful version of German’s American Chocolate Bar for Bakers by Baker’s Chocolate Cake (which is a more accurate name for this confection, in my opinion) is brought to you by the Gramercy Tavern Cookbook. The cake layers are wafer-thin and deeply chocolatey. The filling substitutes the typical gooey sugar-bomb caramel with a more subtle, coconut milk-infused caramel that is chunky and crunchy. Double the recipe to achieve the height in the photo above to impress your guests visually, then barrage them with trivia about the cake as I have done to dazzle them with your knowledge. Or, as I should, just pipe down and serve it already.


a sip (or bite) to celebrate

guiness brownies with bailey's cream cheese swirl

Here’s to drinking, and to eating your drink. Not necessarily just for St. Patrick’s Day, the celebration of over-exuberant liver owners worldwide, these Guinness stout brownies with Bailey’s Irish Cream and cream cheese swirls should be part of any March celebration. (Especially if you double the amount of Irish cream in the recipe.) Completing your U.S. taxes early? Drink a brownie. Survived the ides of March? Drink a brownie. You value pi, but are not a pie-lover? Drink a brownie. So indeed, raise your adult chocolatey baked good to toast the good taste of our Irish friends all month long (and should the brownie-celebratory mood hit you during April through February, cheers to your own good taste!)


chocolate whats-its, cranberry whatnots and lemon thinglings

Well, there’s no snow here but there’s a Christmas tree – and where there’s a Christmas tree, there must be Christmas cookies. I think it’s one of the laws of physics (maybe number 25?)

In the middle are luxurious Argentinean alfajores, or hockey pucks as Pat calls them. The crumbly cookies sandwich golden dulce de leche and then are dipped in chocolate ganache like these. You can also cover them in coconut and marvel at your fine fancy hockey pucks.

On the left are incredibly easy but richly rewarding cranberry shortbread which are buttery and punchy with bits of tart cranberry. These are convenient to make the dough ahead of time and slice and bake as you need them. And they look festive, too.

Lastly, these lemon almond cookies are fantastic and highly addictive little bites of bright lemon, which are especially refreshing if you’re over all the pumpkin spice blah-de-blah and cinnamon whatevers and peppermint who-cares. No judgement, just consider de-Grinching yourself instantly with a tin of these cookies (and if you feel like it, even share them.)

baking, lunch/dinner

what i had for dinner: comfort

Sometimes you seek comfort in a meal with friends to get over a break-up, sometimes to seek refuge from stress, and sometimes to celebrate something wonderful. Or, as a recent get together proved, for all three. In such a setting, the only suitable meal to accompany copious glasses of wine and frenzied let’s-just-getaway-from-it-all planning is comfort food. Comfort food that is heart- and tummy-warming, a suitable base for self-medicating/rewarding with alcohol, and makes you feel indulgent and pampered. Our meal fit the bill on all accounts and even got us pumped for that getaway adventure.

This gratin made with creamy polenta and Gruyere, hides an earthy layer of wild mushrooms and spinach underneath. It’s a great accompaniment to fish or meat and would be great on a holiday table as well.


I paired it with my go-to recipe for ridiculously easy salmon that also looks and tastes impressive: Ted Allen’s pan-roasted salmon. It makes a gorgeous plate and is great on its own or over a bed of arugula (which I lightly dressed with red wine vinegar and olive oil, salt and pepper).

The pan sauce is simply tomatoes, shallots, cumin, red wine vinegar and olive oil – bright and fresh and colorful.

Don’t think I forgot about dessert. This soul-hugging pumpkin bread pudding is  a scrumptious end to a comforting meal. I used Challah bread for its eggy sweetness, and made the recipe even easier by just using half-and-half for the dairy parts and 2 full teaspoons of pumpkin pie spice for the spices. For that extra squeeze of love, I topped it with a caramel whiskey sauce: just melt down brown sugar in butter and add a good splash of Jameson’s.


punkies…or something

So if brownies are from chocolate and blondies are butterscotch, then what would you call a tender, cake-like pumpkin bar chock full of gooey chocolatey chunks? An orangie because of the color? Or a gingerie? Or a punkie? I admit that these are all terrible names, I mean really really atrocious – but they don’t convey the wonder of these delicious pumpkin bars. With a few standby ingredients you can whip these up with the same handful of minutes it would take to read the directions on that store-bought boxed brownie mix. I added a generous amount of spice (I love my pumpkin spicy!) and a dollop extra of pumpkin (I love my spice pumpkiny!) and the results were perfect for a wintery snack while watching movies or with tea or maybe for after-breakfast breakfast. These chocolatey pumpkin bars (or whatever they’re best called) are beautiful piled high on a plate for sharing, and do be generous with the ice cold milk.


pumped up pecan pie

We’re hosting Christmas in SF again this year, and I’m so excited for: avoiding holiday highway traffic, driving by Tom and Jerry’s wild and wacky Christmas display, cooking up a storm with Anna in the kitchen, decorating the tree and arranging the presents just so, enjoying a glass of wine with a house full of roasting turkey aroma. I’m very lucky that the main deal, the Christmas meal itself, is a collaborative affair with B’s mom Anna expertly navigating us through the menu. This allows me to take my rightful place, as the slower, clumsy sous chef always standing at the ready.

Another thing I am looking forward to is making dessert. The Christmas dinner dessert, I believe, should be a comforting classic but with an enticing element of excitement. I don’t need a spectacular show-stopper because the meal itself is so rich and hearty – and I definitely don’t need something so complicated as to set myself up for a flailing failure either. Last year, I made a fragrant bourbon pumpkin pie with pecan streusel. This year, I’ve decided to go the way of a pecan pie, and this salted chocolate pecan pie  will please a lot of different tastes. Its gooey and sweet but also a touch salty like the best caramel, crunchy and nutty chock full of sweet pecans, and crumbly with smooth pockets of intense chocolate. If you or your loved ones are fans of any of the above, then this should be your Christmas dessert, too.

Some notes on this recipe: I recommend toasting the pecans to round out the flavors. Also I royally failed on the crust end. I think what happened was that the pie was too full and some of that caramel like filling oozed over the edge and behind the crust: effectively super-glueing the pie crust to my dish. I had to chisel out shards of pie crust and the plated dish was more like chocolate caramel pecan cobbler (a delicious, delicious, cobbler). So use whatever crust (ready-bought or from scratch) that you like but watch the level of the filling, chill the dough, and flour that crust before laying it in the dish. Or, just get out some bowls for a scrumptious cobbler and call it a success.


coco cake: candied orange, cardamom, olive (oil)

When I think of Monisha and Max, I think of colorful, vibrant, adventurous people full of laughter and sweetness, so I knew that the last cake for their wedding picnic I wanted to make a crazy show-stopper with a jumble of wild, but ultimately harmonious, flavors.  Part 3: olive oil cake with candied oranges and cardamom. (Read part 1 here and part 2 here.)

This Mediterranean-inspired cake is bold, bright, and comforting and transports you to a warm, sunny place just by looking at it.  It is kind of labor intensive because you have to make the candied oranges, but boy are they worth it. You’ll be rewarded with the tart-sweet-bitter chewiness of delicious candied orange slices in a cardamom syrup that will eventually be poured over the cake.

One trick I learned: blanch the sliced orange three times in fresh boiling water (rinse slices gently and replace the water each time)  as this helps to remove the bitterness from the white pith in the orange skin. If you enjoy that bitter contrast, don’t worry about this step.

You can make the candied oranges ahead of time and save them in the refrigerator between waxed paper in an airtight container.  You also won’t use up all of the syrup (I found that half is enough to soak the cake without making it soggy – you want it to flavor every bite) so save the leftover orange/cardamom simple syrup for fruit compotes and clever cocktails.

The cake is crumbly from the semolina, fruity from the olive oil, earthy and moist when drenched with cardamom orange syrup, sweetly fresh from the chewy candied orange, and warmly crunchy from the pistachios – just a bounty of textures and a melody of flavors. Once composed on the plate, the vivid palette lures you to join the party, and all you can do is lift up your fork in celebration.


key coco lime

The second cake I made for Monisha and Max’s wedding picnic was a play on this super-delish margarita cake that we all enjoyed. For Max I chose a refined chocolate cake with warm and soothing flavors, so for Monisha I wanted to make something more tropical that was vibrant and bright. Part 2: Key lime coconut bundt cake. (Read part 1 here.)


I went to my trusted source, Gourmet, for this stellar Key lime coconut cake recipe. The zesty acidity of the limes are in perfect contrast to the toasty crunch of coconut, yielding a cake that is somehow quite refreshing. This cake is wonderfully moist from the Key lime simple syrup and has a delicate crumb, with bits of chewy coconut throughout.

I tried the cake with only regular Persian limes as well, and let me tell you: fresh Key limes really make this cake sing – the result is less sour and more aromatic, especially if you use slightly yellower (sweeter) Key limes. If they’re not in season, you could use bottled key lime juice or alternately the more common Persian limes.

I tried the syrup/glaze two different ways. Above, I soaked the warm cake in syrup and added the coconut on top (as called for in the original recipe). I also tried mixing the coconut straight into the glaze, which will then set more into a formed topping that you can see below. My preference was for the glaze in the cake with coconut added separately as the fresh lime permeates every crumb of cake rather than be concentrated (and for me, overpowering) in the topping. However, by mixing the coconut into the glaze it definitely sticks to the cake better, so I’d consider adding a bit less lime to the glaze if you go this way.

For the moistest, most flavor-packed cake: use half of the glaze on the bottom of the cake while it is still cooling in the pan by poking holes with a skewer or toothpick. After 5 minutes, turn out of the pan and add the rest of the glaze to the top (poke some more holes on the top, too).  The result: a really tender cake with sweet toasty coconut and tangy, aromatic Key lime that actually tastes even better the next day as the flavors meld over time.