Dark chocolate salted caramel cheesecake bars

Let that sink in for a moment.

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Chocolate. Salted caramel. Cheesecake.

In cute, bite-sized bars.

I may never be the same again.

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I got an idea for this at approximately 10:30 PM. I was finishing up some homework, all showered, tired, and ready to sleep. I was thinking about cheesecake, since I’d been craving some for a while. Then one thing led to another and before I knew it, I was in the kitchen, setting out the cream cheese and crushing graham crackers. I know, I’m insane.

This was also actually my first time making caramel. It always freaked me out because I’ve read of its tendencies to burn, bubble over, turn grainy, etc. So when my first batch came out silky smooth and lusciously creamy, I was literally jumping up and down, squealing and dipping a spoon into the pot every other second. I’m guessing beginners luck, but I’m already dreaming up the countless things I can do with this.

So anyway I baked the cake at night, stuck it in the fridge, and the next morning, before school, I topped off the whole thing with chocolate glaze and the caramel.

And brought it to school to share.

There were no leftovers. (:

Orange Cranberry Dark-Chocolate Biscotti

Every year, my family lets me take over holiday baking.

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Strangely enough, I find it incredibly exciting and calming, from choosing what to make, then purchasing the ingredients, to pulling the finished product out of the oven. The quiet moments I have in the kitchen with my cookbooks, sticks of butter, and bowlfuls of flour and sugar make baking such a wonderful thing for me.

I had such a difficult time narrowing down the dessert options this Christmas. I made this long list, complete with scribbled recipes, and ended up only making two kinds of cookies and one cake (recipes to come!)

Although everyone enjoyed what I brought at our family gathering, the one that really stood center stage was this biscotti.

Perfumed with notes of orange and studded with bright cranberries and chunks of dark chocolate, and paired with mugs of coffee and tea, they were the just the right complement to a delicious Christmas dinner.

It’s this time of year.

College apps.

I’ve been awaiting/dreading this season for the last few months. I guess I expected it to be just knowing that everything I’ve done up to high school is going to be packaged up all nice and pretty in a lovely application, then sent off to numerous colleges. And I’d be chewing off all my fingernails, trying to wait for March/April to see whether I’ve gotten accepted to my top colleges or not.

Well, in reality, this was partly true, but at the same time, not really.

For starters, it was stressful, not because of the the application process itself (well, it was sorta nerve racking, although it quickly wore off…) but rather, from trying to narrow down my choices and deciding where to attend. Private liberal arts or public? Diverse student body or homogenous one? Large metropolitan campus or a quiet close-knit community?

So. Many. Choices.

And the hardest part about choosing is that Southern California has so much to offer. I can opt for liberal arts, public, private, Christian, etc. and I wouldn’t run out of choices.

After much contemplation, I have my list pretty much finalized. I’ve chosen schools that I think best reflect my personality, taking class size, student body, quality of education, and location into account. I hope that these colleges are a good fit for me, because I wouldn’t be able to bring myself to attend schools just for the name or popularity.

Also, the application essays.

I know that I have it in me to write something meaningful, to write from the heart.  But the process it take to get my words on paper, to write down what I want to say, isn’t exactly easy.  Time, patience, and constant revising. And most of all, I guess I’m a bit afraid that I won’t have anything interesting to say, that I’m only one in a sea of a million, and I wouldn’t be appreciated or recognized for who I truly am.

Now, since most of my apps are in, I can only pray and wait. I can stand straight with a smile on my face and prepare myself for acceptance or rejection. I’ll be okay, because I gave the best effort I had, and to me, that matters the most.

Not what people say about me, not what people want me to do, and not what people believe is the “right choice”.

I’ll just be myself. (:

p.s. : i’ve been really into persimmons lately. they’re so beautiful :DD

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THE STAR (:

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Kabocha Squash “Pumpkin” Ice Cream

I have this thing with pumpkin.

I love it in pies, cakes, cookies, frosting, coffee, and so on, but I can’t seem to eat it in its plain form. I’ve tried roasting a few, or breaking open the canned puree, but either way, it just tastes…strange. Like baby food.

On the other hand, kabocha is this bumpy, green-skinned gem of a squash. It not only tastes delicious alone, steamed or roasted, but is absolutely fantastic as a pumpkin replacement. It’s naturally sweet and less “wet” than a regular sugar pumpkin.

So when I tried pumpkin ice cream for the first time while eating out, I was initially a bit wary, wondering how much it would taste, well, like actual pumpkin. So you could imagine my surprise when I realized I really liked it.

 

As soon as I got home, I began digging around for a  recipe, and when I found one that seemed reliable, I decided to make it…with the substitution of kabocha squash puree for the regular pumpkin.

This was also my first time making a custard-based ice cream but in the end, everything turned out great. The ice cream was smooth, just sweet enough, and the flavor of the kabocha really shines through. Once I finish off this batch, I’m definitely making another.

I have no regrets.

 

Pumpkin Ice Cream

adapted from a passion for ice cream

3 large egg yolks

1/2 cup sugar

1/8 tsp salt

3/4 cup milk (any kind works)

1 1/2 cups heavy (whipping) cream

1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp ground ginger

3/4 cup kabocha squash (or pumpkin) puree*

 

1. In large bowl, whisk together egg yolks. 1/4 cup of the sugar, and the salt.

2. Cook the milk, cream, and remaining 1/4 cup sugar, cinnamon, and ginger in a saucepan over med-high heat, stirring occasionally, until almost simmering. Slowly whisk the liquid into the egg mixture. Return milk mixture to pan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly with a heat resistant spatula, until custard reaches 175 F, thickens, and lightly coats the spatula.

3. Cool over an ice bath until room temperature.

4. Stir in the puree, then when combined, strain through a medium-mesh sieve (you don’t have to do this, but it makes for a smoother ice cream)

5. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours

6. Churn in ice cream maker and try not to eat the whole thing straight out of the bowl.

Carrot Muffins

I love weekends.

Not just because I can sleep in (even though I don’t because I’m pretty much a morning person, talk about crazy teens, right?!), or because I have lots of time to do whatever I please (which, is again, NOT true in my case, due to a myriad of things I’ve committed myself to).

They hold a special place in my heart because that’s when I make dishes or bake treats for my family. We spend the most time together during the weekends, and since I love the feeling of gathering around the table, whether it be over comforting chocolate chip cookies or a three layer strawberry cake, or that failed pasta dish that we barely choked down (the things my parents do for me), I make time to create something nice for everyone.

I almost always bake in the mornings, because that’s when I feel the most at peace. After waking up, with early rays of sunlight peeking in between the slants of my blinds, the thing I do almost immediately is get out the stick of butter from the fridge. And then the flour, sugar, and vanilla extract. It’s become some sort of morning ritual. And when my parents start to wake up and enter the kitchen, and later (MUCH later) my siblings, they have the same question: “What’re you making today?”

These carrots muffins make a delicious morning breakfast. Or a snack. Although they aren’t pretty to look at, their taste more than makes up for their appearance.  Plus, it was super fun grating the carrots. It’s kinda like zesting a lemon (is that even a word?! because according to spellcheck, it isn’t). Or shredding cheese.

Yeah, I’ll stop now.

Carrot Muffins

1 cup all-purpose flour (swap in some whole-wheat flour, if desired.)
I cup granulated sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
pinch of ground ginger
pinch of ground cloves
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
2 large eggs
3/4 cups vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups grated carrots
handful of chopped nuts (optional)
handful of dried cranberries (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Grab a 12-cup muffin tin* and line with paper liners or grease well.
2. Place flour, spices, salt, baking soda, and baking powder in a medium bowl and whisk well to combine.
3. Place eggs, oil, and vanilla in a separate large bowl and whisk together well. Add sugar and beat until combined. Add flour mixture to oil mixture and mix until a few streaks of flour are seen in the bowl. Then add carrots, and nuts and cranberries, if using, Gently combine until everything is blended together.
4. Divide among the muffins cups and bake for about 18-25 minutes. (Check the oven earlier, to prevent them from burning)
5. When done, take out of the oven. Cool in tins for about 10 minutes, then turn them onto a wire cooling rack. Eat when warm, with some butter or cream cheese frosting (which I didn’t make because we were out of cream cheese).

*Might need more than 12 cups, since I think I got around 15 or so muffins, so it might be handy to get your 2nd tin out.

Strawberry Sour Cream Cake

Cake.

I know. I know. It’s been hot, like, pretty much everywhere, and in here, in Southern California, the last thing I possibly want to do is heat up a house when the air conditioners have done such a glorious job of cooling it down.

But this.

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I couldn’t resist. Especially because, I mean, they’re strawberries! And when you add butter, and sugar into all that, seriously, it’s amazing.

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I needed something sweet this morning, and this cake came together quickly. Warm out of the oven, with a spoonful of whipped cream, it made a great breakfast. (Cake for breakfast? Whaaaat?).

(:

Strawberry Cake

Slightly Adapted from Pastry Affair

1 cup (125 grams) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 cup (1/2 stick or 57 grams) unsalted butter
1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
1 large egg
1/2 cup (114 grams) sour cream
a handful of strawberries, sliced. (any other berry would work too.)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Grease a 9-inch cake pan (or cast iron pan).

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, and nutmeg. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg. Mix in the sour cream. Gradually add the flour mixture and mix until fully incorporated, stirring just until combined. The batter will be thick. Spread into the prepared pan and top with strawberries, pressing them into the batter slightly.

Bake for 45-60 minutes*, or until top is lightly browned and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool for several minutes before serving. Dust with powdered sugar, if desired.

(*Mine actually took like 30 minutes to bake…So I suggest checking it earlier.)