Faux-Oreos with Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Filling

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One thing I miss the most from when I used to live close to my sisters and my mom was the ability to always have a partner for a shopping outing or a lunch date. I knew I could ask them on the spot and I’d always have a partner in crime. I haven’t lived near my family for a while and I craved that familial contact.

Friendship has always been a hard thing for me. Growing up with depression and anxiety and the tendency to isolate, it was often difficult to keep and maintain friendships outside of my family. I moved to Santa Barbara almost three years ago not knowing anyone (except for Brian ;)) I made a few friends in my grad school program but it took me two years to establish a friendship that reminds me of how I feel with my family. I didn’t end up meaning to write a post about my friend Laura but this is what it has turned into. We live less than 400 meters away from each other. I feel comfortable texting her at the drop of a hat to come over for lunch or a baking expedition. She is one of the only people my dog Panza truly loves besides me and Brian (and my mom). I’m so thankful for you Laura.

Laura made these cookies (I helped a little). So one thing about Laura is that she loves, like is obsessed with Smitten Kitchen. She might be your biggest fan Deb Perelman. Laura had the idea to substitute cream cheese for the margarine or shortening in the original recipe and add vanilla bean. I have a surplus of vanilla beans sitting on my kitchen windowsill but at this moment, no actual vanilla extract. As Laura pointed out, the vanilla bean is reminiscent of the Oreo cookie crumbs that stick to the white filling after rusting around in the package on the way home from the grocery store.

Chocolate Sandwich Cookiesadapted from Smitten Kitchen

1/2 cup cocoa

1 1/4 cup flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup sugar

1 stick butter

1 egg

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Beat sugar and butter in stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment. Add egg and keep beating.

Add all dry ingredients and mix till just combined.

Roll balls of dough and place on cookie sheet. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes depending on size of cookie.

Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Filling – adapted from Smitten Kitchen

1 stick butter

4 ounces cream cheese

4 cups powdered sugar

seeds from 1 vanilla bean

Beat all ingredients together with hand mixer or stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment.

Citrus Scones + Homemade Candied Grapefruit

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I was born in California, Sacramento, CA to be exact. My sister Sahara was born just shy of two years later. And then we moved back to Albuquerque where my parents had met and married. It had been my dream for a while to move back to California at some point in my life. And here I am, almost three years living in Santa Barbara. When Brian and I first moved here we went on walks everywhere. Just down the bike path next to our apartment is a dead end street lined with kumquat trees, grapefruit trees, orange trees, and avocado trees. The kumquats were the first ripe fruit we went to pick in December, two months after moving. We took a plastic bag and picked to our heart’s content. I don’t even like kumquats and Brian doesn’t either but we were so excited that there was free fruit growing on public fruit trees we just couldn’t contain ourselves.

A few weeks ago, an amazing person gave me a heavy paper bag filled with freshly picked grapefruits and lemons. The lemons were easy to use up, in lemon bars, salad dressings, sparkling water. But the grapefruit I wanted to do something special with. So I candied the peel! It’s way easier than I thought to candy citrus peels. And then I had a whole bunch of candied grapefruit and I thought I’d put them in some scones along with lemon zest and then topped with a lemon and grapefruit juice glaze.

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Citrus Scones and Candied Grapefruit

Candied Grapefruit – recipe from Bon Appetit

3 grapefruits, peels removed

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup water

Instructions:

Cut grapefruit peels into thin strips.

Add to a pot of water that covers peels. Bring to a boil. Strain peels, add more water and boil and strain again.

Bring peels, 1 cup sugar, and 1/2 cup water to a simmer. Simmer for 15-20 minutes until peel is translucent. Drain peels. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool and dry.

When dry, toss peels in more sugar and more sugar until well coated.

Scones – recipe adapted from a Flour Bakery recipe on The Kitchen

2 3/4 cups flour

1/3 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

zest from 1 lemon

zest from 1/2 grapefruit

1/3 cup of chopped candied grapefruit peel

1 stick cold butter

1/2 cup milk + 1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/2 cup yogurt

1 egg

Glaze:

1/2 cup powdered sugar

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 tablespoon grapefruit juice

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

In a medium bowl combine flour, baking powder, soda, salt, sugar, and zests and grapefruit peel.

Cut butter into chunks and add to flour. Using pastry cutter or fork, cut butter into dry ingredients until mix is crumbly and butter is pea-sized.

Combine milk, yogurt, and egg. Add to flour and butter mixture. Mix with spatula until just combined.

Dump out onto floured countertop. Press flat and cut into circles or slices.

Bake for 15 minutes. When cool, combine all ingredients for glaze and spoon on top of scones.

 

Peanut Butter Chocolate Sandwich Cookies

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I have run into a lot of people in my life who don’t like peanut butter cookies. Both my sisters and my bf Brian included. I think they are crazy. Peanut butter has been a love of mine forever. In junior high and high school I made myself a peanut butter and jam sandwich every day. And I loved it. There is a format to my perfect pb and j. You start with hearty grainy wheat bread. You slather one side in salted peanut butter. And the other slices is the vessel for the jam. Not jelly, jam. Homemade raspberry freezer jam from my grandpa’s farm. And a weird thing, you know when you make your peanut butter and jelly sandwich and put it in a plastic bag to eat later for lunch. And then it gets kind of soggy and the jam soaks into the bread. I FRICKIN LOVE THAT. It’s kind of weird though and fresh pb and j’s are also great.

I eat dessert every day. I never thought I would be able to get to the place where I could keep dessert hanging around my house on a regular basis. I never “trusted” myself enough to do this. I also used to think that a perfect relationship with dessert meant that I would make a batch of cookies, eat no dough or perfectly warm out of the oven cookies. Instead I would put all the baked cookies away and when the craving came for a cookie I would mindfully eat the one cookie. This rarely or maybe never happens and I am okay with that. A lot of times when I makes cookies I eat some dough, some warm cookies, and have some after dinner.

Another peanut butter sandwich I “invented” in high school was a grilled banana, peanut butter, and chocolate chip sandwich. This was a popular dinner for me that combines both dinner and dessert. These cookies are a pair of another famous peanut butter duo – chocolate and peanut butter. It starts with a crispy rolled out peanut butter cookie. And then sandwiched between this and another cookie is a semisweet salted chocolate ganache. These cookies taste like home.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Sandwich Cookies – recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Peanut butter cookies:

1 cup peanut butter

1 stick or 8 tablespoons butter, room temperature

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 egg

2 cups flour

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

Instructions:

Beat butter and peanut butter in stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment.

When butter and pb are light and fluffy add sugars and beat a few minutes more. Then add the egg. Add flour, baking soda, and salt. Beat until mixture just comes together.

Dump dough out and divide in half. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours or overnight. *I rolled out the dough and cut into circles with a cookie cutter. This dough is really crumble and hard to roll out. Next time I would roll the dough into a log, refrigerate, and then slice and bake.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees and bake 8 to 12 minutes depending on size of cookie. Longer time for bigger cookies.

Chocolate ganache:

8 ounces chocolate

3 tablespoons peanut butter

2 tablespoons butter

1/4 teaspoons alt

Instructions:

In a bowl over a simmering pot of water combine all ingredients and stir until everything is good and melted and combined. Let cool at room temperature.

When ready to assemble cookies, either pipe or smear chocolate between two cookies to make a sandwich.

Strawberry Lemonade Cake and Body Positivity

Here is how I make a layer cake in pictures:

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I made two layers, then I used a long serrated bread knife to cut each layer in half.

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Using a pastry bag fitted with a large circular tip, I pipe a border around each cake layer. Then I fill with lemon curd or whatever filling I’m using.

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Then I thinly layer the cake in frosting creating my crumb coat. I bought a lazy susan at a thrift store and I use it as my rotating cake table. One tool that really helps to get a smooth and even coat on the outside of the cake is a flat bench scraper like this one here. I always wondered how people go their cakes so smooth and it definitely helps to have the right tools.

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There are a ton of tutorials on the internet on how to frost a smooth cake but I thought I’d show you my methods.

I’ve also been wanting to write a post for a while that explains how I view body positivity. Since I label myself a body positivity blog this is especially important. In my own head I break down body positivity into a structural level and an individual level. On a structural level body positivity is equal and fair treatment of all bodies – of different weights, sizes, shapes, skin colors, gender and sexual identities, regardless of ability. And therefore the body positivity movement is an intersectional movement linked to other fights for justice like reproductive justice and Black Lives Matter. And within our society certain bodies are intersectionally marginalized meaning that they may be fat and of color and a sexual minority and therefore face more challenges than others.

I remember distinctly telling my therapist that when I was 25 pounds thinner I felt better about my body and that was holding me back from recovering and embracing my body as it is now. And she responded with “of course you did, but how was the rest of your life?” The rest of my life sucked, the only thing I had going was my body size which I only felt good about because we live in a society in which we are not only told that skinnier is better but in a world where skinnier people are actually treated better, paid better, receive more opportunities, etc. Social science research proves this. And this is where we get thin privilege. Even 25-30 pounds heavier, I still benefit from thin privilege because of my body type and stature.

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Now on an individual level, in my every day life, it is easier to begin by defining body positivity by what is is not — it is not always loving your body or always feeling good about yourself. But rather the ability to live in our bodies and appreciate how they carry us through life – but also not having to think about our bodies all the time. It’s taking the emotional work out of loving ourselves and just being. Taking pressure away from having to take action towards our bodies. My friend Laura, taught me the term to more or less describe what I am talking about – body neutrality.

In my journey towards healing and embracing my version of body positivity I can now form meaningful relationships. I can let go of control surrounding food and my body and enjoy the company of others. I made this cake for a friend and her family. They really remind me of how good and kind people can be. And how opening myself up to friendships and relationships is a powerful way of letting go of an eating disorder.

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Strawberry Lemonade Cake

Lemon cake — adapted from Saveur

2 sticks soft butter

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

4 eggs

zest from 2 lemons

1/4 cup lemon juice

2 1/2 cups cake flour

2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup milk

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour two 8 inch cake pans.

Beat butter, sugar, and lemon zest in stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment till light and fluffy.

Add 1 egg at a time until each is fully incorporated.

Add all dry ingredients. Mix for 5 seconds.

Add lemon juice and milk. Mix till just combined.

Pour batter into cake pans.

Bake for 20-25 minutes.

Lemon curd — adapted from Smitten Kitchen

8 egg yolks

1 1/2 cups sugar

1/2 stick butter or 4 tablespoons

zest and juice from 2 large lemons

Instructions:

Combine all ingredients in large heat proof bowl.

Over a pot of simmering water, whisk curd until it begins to thicken and coats the back of a wooden spoon. Cool.

Strawberry Italian Meringue Buttercream — adapted from Martha Stewart

5 egg whites

1 1/4 cups sugar

2/3 cup water

pinch of cream of tartar

4 sticks or 1 pound of cold butter

1 pound strawberries + 1/2 cup sugar

Instructions:

In a saucepan over medium heat combine sugar and water. Heat until syrup reaches 238 degrees or softball stage.

While the syrup is heating up, place egg whites in a stand mixer bowl fitted with whisk attachment. Begin to whisk until egg whites are foamy then add cream of tartar.

Continue to whisk egg whites until they are stiff but not dry.

When sugar syrup has reached 238 degrees. Remove from heat.

Slowly slowly pour syrup in a thin stream between whisk and side of bowl as you continue to beat the egg whites. Keep beating till egg whites cool down a bit.

Add butter one piece at a time. Keep whisking even if mixture looks curdled until buttercream is smooth and silky.

In already used sauce pan, combine trimmed and halved strawberries with 1/2 cup sugar. Cook until strawberries break down and turn from soupy to jammy. Remove from heat and cool.

When strawberry jam has cooled, whisk into the buttercream.

Empanadas + Isla Mujeres and Tulum + Ethical Travel?

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My favorite place in the world is Mexico. Specifically Cuernavaca, Mexico City and now Isla Mujeres and Tulum.

The idea of ethical travel has been on my mind a lot recently. I can’t help but be aware of my privilege as a light skinned tourist with a passport from the United States. Travel is awesome and I want to keep doing it but I need to ask myself, how can we ethically travel?

Here are some ideas I have:

stay at small hotels or airbnbs owned and run by Mexican families

eat at locally owned restaurants

tip well

speak Spanish!

buy souvenirs from local artisans

What else have you all got?

One restaurant that I was really looking forward to going to in Tulum is called Hartwood. Every single blog post I read about Tulum insisted on going to Hartwood. Hartwood was started by a couple from New York. A White couple from the United States. The food they make is all cooked over an open flame or blended in 1 blender plugged into their only outlet powered by a generator. This place is hip. Like the hippest restaurant I’ve ever been to. The ambience was pretty great. The bathroom was even amazing, dark and burning with pure copal. Drinks strong, creative, and beautiful. The food wasn’t too bad either 😉

The food served at Hartwood is all local fish, meats, and produce gathered the same day it is to be eaten from local farmers. We ate a salad of jicama marinated in orange juice served atop a swoop of mint cream sauce. Dotted with beet cream and punctuated by orange segments and toasted pumpkin seeds. Then a filet of local fish called RRRRRR. Served with roasted cauliflower, fresh beans, arugula, jalapeño, and lime. And lastly a roasted in its peel, platano accompanied by local honey, fresh chamomile and cinnamon. I ordered a cocktail of mezcal and jamaica with a salted habanero rim. My mom ordered a cucumber vodka cocktail. Our meal came out to around $75 US dollars.

So it was expensive. Mainly white tourists were eating there. The staff was a mix of light skinned men and women and a few darker skinned people. Now I keep asking myself, was it messed up that I supported this restaurant and spent that much money there rather than a different restaurant? And I don’t have an answer because I don’t think it’s a black or white situation. In some ways it is amazing what Hartwood is doing — sharing local food with those who might not have otherwise chosen to eat that way. And they support local farms and businesses in the purchasing of their food. On the other hand, white businesses in foreign countries (particularly countries like Mexico with a specific history of exploitation by the United States) are symbols of continued oppression of communities of color.

Here are some pictures of our meal there:

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What do you all think?

Many places, including Hartwood had empanadas on the menu. I got inspired and decided to make some vegetarian empanadas when I returned home.

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Empanadas

Dough – recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen

2 1/2 cups flour

2 cups whole wheat flour

3 teaspoons salt

2 sticks cold butter

2 eggs

2/3 cup ice water

2 tablespoons vinegar

Instructions: 

Combine flour and salt in a big bowl.

Cut in cold butter using pastry cutter or fork.

Mix eggs, water, and vinegar.

Pour into flour, salt and butter mixture.

Mix together then using hands, gather two balls of dough and wrap in plastic wrap.

Assembly:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Roll out one of the two chunks of dough to about 1/8 inch thick. Use a bowl or round cutter to cut into 5 inch rounds.

With each 5 inch round place a tablespoon of filling in the middle of the circle. Fold dough in half to form a half moon shape. Pinch ends of dough together using a fork or roll edges up to make a rope design.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until outsides are golden brown.

Filling:

1 sweet potato

1 onion

2 cloves garlic

1/2 cup cheddar cheese

pickled jalapeños

Instructions: 

Roast sweet potato till soft. Remove skin and cut up into chunks.

Carmelize onions and garlic in olive oil or butter.

Combine onions, garlic, sweet potato chunks, cheese, and jalapeños.

Strawberry Rhubarb Buttermilk Shortcakes

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Tis’ the season for rhubarb. I’ve been seeing it everywhere on Instagram and here’s some more rhubarb love for you.

When rhubarb season swung around every year my mom would make this strawberry rhubarb compote and we would spoon it on top of plain Greek yogurt for breakfast.

Strawberry Rhubarb Compote

1 pound strawberries

1 pound rhubarb

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup sugar

Instructions:

Remove stems and cut strawberries into quarters.

Cut rhubarb into 1/2 inch slices.

Place all ingredients in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Cook until strawberries and rhubarb have melded together and some of the water has evaporated so that you have a thick sauce. Let cool and store in an airtight container. Lasts a few weeks in the fridge.

Buttermilk Shortcakes – recipe adapted from Tartine Bakery from Alexandra’s Kitchen

2 1/3 cup flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup cold cold butter

3/4 cup buttermilk

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Combine all dry ingredients.

Cut in butter with fork or pastry cutter.

Add buttermilk and mix with fork and then hands until just combined.

Drop on to floured surface and roll into a flat rectangle 1 inch thick.

Use circle cutter to cut out circles of dough.

Bake for 15 minutes.

To assemble:

Cut open a shortcake.

Slather on some compte.

Pile on cut fresh strawberries.

Add some whipped cream.

Place top of shortcake on the cream and repeat till you’ve got a beautiful shortcake tower!

Babka French Toast

 

 

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This babka french toast is bomb. Maybe top three most delicious things on this blog. It takes a bit of work because you have to make the babka first, or you could buy some babka. I wasn’t planning on making french toast with this babka. I had a loaf in the freezer and the brilliant idea came to me one day.

I never tasted babka until a trip to New York city a year and a half ago. I had planned an epic food journey through New York including Breads Bakery. The chocolate babka at Breads did not disappoint one bit. To me, reminiscent of a cinnamon roll in a loaf form and with chocolate hazelnut filling to boot. And it was warm, never underestimate the power of a warm baked good. I seriously can’t believe that I never tried babka before.

Chocolate Babka – recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Dough:

4 1/2 cups flour

1/2 cup sugar

2 teaspoons yeast

3 eggs

1/2 cup water

1 teaspoon salt

2/3 cup butter, room temperature

Filling:

1 cup chocolate chips

1/2 cup butter

1/2 cup powdered sugar

1/3 cup cocoa powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

Instructions for the dough:

Combine flour, sugar and yeast in stand mixer bowl.

Add eggs and water. Mix using paddle attachment on stand mixer.

Slowly add the butter and salt.

Mix for 10 minutes until butter is fully incorporated and dough is shiny and smooth.

Let dough rise overnight in the fridge or for a few hours at room temperature.

When ready to form, if at room temperature, refrigerate or freeze for half an hour before handling. It is much easier to form the dough if it is cold.

Make the filling:

Melt chocolate and butter together in saucepan over low to medium heat.

Add powdered sugar, cocoa powder, and salt. Mix till fully combined. Let cool.

Assembly:

Split dough into two equal balls. Leave one in the fridge.

Take the other and roll it out into a large rectangle about 10 inches by 12 inches.

Spread half of filling evenly over the dough leaving a 1/2 inch border.

Tightly roll up the dough hot dog style. Transfer to a cookie sheet and freeze for 10 minutes.

Remove from freezer. Trim ends off the log of dough.

Make a cut down the long middle of the log. Pinch one end of today gently together.

Twist the dough, lifting one side up over the other and vice versa till you reach the end.
Transfer the babka to a loaf pan or 8 inch cake pan.

Repeat with other ball of dough.

Cover loaves and let rise 1 1/2 hours.

To Bake:

Heat oven to 375 degrees.

Bake for 30 minutes or possible more if the loaves need to brown up a bit more.

Eat in the next few days or freeze like I did.

French Toast

1 egg

1/2 cup milk

2 tablespoons brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

pinch of salt

sprinkle of cinnamon

butter for the pan

Instructions: 

Whisk all ingredients in a shallow pan.

Remove loaves from freezer. You can obviously do this without frozen babka but it is easier to cut this way and holds together better when you soak it in the egg mixture.

Dip babka slices in egg mixture and let absorb some of the liquid.

Heat a skillet on medium heat. Add a chunk of butter.

Carefully transfer babka slice to skillet. Cook for a few minutes on one side and flip and repeat. Serve with whipped cream. No maple syrup needed unless you want, then go for it 🙂