Verdict: win

I have yet to make this cake, but one of my co-workers brought it in on Friday for my last day at work. He gave me the recipe, but dumb me left it in my lab coat pocket [along with my handy dandy RP kit compounding sheet that I made :( ]and I can't go back to retrieve it. I'm writing it down now from memory so I don't forget it later. The recipe is so simple, and the cake extremely rich and addictive. Google it if you want to see a picture!

Verdict: win

This was another sweet idea (pun intended) born from a promise with a co-worker to make German chocolate cake. Cake is difficult to bring into work because you need plates and knives. Cupcakes, on the other hand, are easily portable (liners!) and their individual serving size bypasses the messiness of cutting cake...and they're just so darn cute. Cupcakes > cake in my book.

I looked for German chocolate cupcake recipes, but nothing really stood out to me. I decided to adapt the recipe for German chocolate cake on David Lebovitz's website, which turned out to be incredibly easy to do. The biggest changes was the baking time (as noted below). I also skipped the syrup step, but next time I won't because the cupcakes (in my opinion) could have been slightly more moist. Nevertheless, the general consensus was that the cupcakes turned were great! I've never really cared for German chocolate cake, but these were fantastic and not cloyingly sweet. I loved the contrast of the slightly bitter chocolate icing with the sweet filling over a mild chocolate cake.

This was my first time working with real chocolate in a cake (vs using cocoa powder). It wasn't too hard! I will say that melting chocolate in a microwave WITH water mixed in scared me at first (usually this results in burnt chocolate...), but by zapping it every 10-30 seconds, then checking on it and stirring it, it turned out alright. It did look a little grainy, but once it was mixed into the batter everything looked and tasted fine. And just FMI (for my information), the cupcake tops will look domed in the oven, but they will sink after cooling.

Don't let the length of this recipe scare you (like it did me initially). There looks like there are a lot of ingredients and a lot of steps, but if you "mise en place" method when setting up, it made everything a lot faster and easier to work with. The only other trick is being careful not to over whip the egg whites. I used tips from my trials with making macarons: immediately stop whipping when you can lift the bowl over your head and the whites won't fall down, and very quickly but very gently fold it into the batter. Works like a charm :)

Verdict: win

You know those strawberry whipped cream cakes found at Chinese bakeries? The ones that are so light that they just melt in your mouth? Where the whipped cream is just teasingly sweet enough, leaving you begging for another bite? MMMMMMMMMMMMMmmmmmmmm... My new favorite is at Golden Delight Bakery in Columbus (their Pandan cake is fantastic too), though Mrs. Wu absolutely makes the best homemade ones.

I wanted to try making a cupcake version...but those strawberry cakes can be ridiculously hard to make. Again, it's the craft of whipping egg whites (since there's no chemical leavening agent in this recipe) that makes this cake recipe fickle. I feel that I've become better at whipping egg whites just the right amount now that I've tackled and conquered macarons, so I felt fairly confident with adapting this online cake recipe into cupcakes.

For the most part, the cupcakes turned out well (tasted better after spending a night in the fridge too). Slightly drier and the cake was more "eggy" than I would've liked, but the whipped cream was lick-off-your-fingers fantastic. I also used raspberries instead of strawberries just because they were in season (and made adorable cupcake toppers).

I'm going to keep my planned changes for the next time I try to make them short and sweet: 1) definitely brush the cakes with syrup to keep them moist, 2) try using cake flour, 3) use paper liners and fill them only 3/5ths to 3/4ths of the way full. I kept this description short, because in the end, I was craving Mrs. Wu's cake more than anything else. I'll have to ask her for her recipe :)

Verdict: Win

"You bring the milk, and I'll bring the cookies."

I've been asked a few times at work what I like to do for fun. Most recently when I started to describe how I love to cook/bake (no matter how much of a novice I am), it naturally segued into how much I love food, to what food I like, to what food the other person liked, to what we wished we could eat at the moment, to consequent drooling, and finally to the above promise.

And thus the search for the perfect oatmeal cookie began. I've tried a recipe once before, which led to tasty, but rather unexceptional, cookies. Relying on good ol' Cook's Illustrated, I think I found my ideal oatmeal cookie. Fortunately for spacey, sleep-deprived me (first few days of working early shift at 2:30 am took a toll on me...), these cookies were easy to throw together too.

Good oatmeal cookies are usually studded with plump purple raisins, but more often than not the store-bought variety use sad little wrinkled, wanna-be raisins. My experience with them have made me averse to any raisins in general. My co-worker at the other end of the promise didn't care for them either, and instead likes his oatmeal cookies plain! No hate for plain cookies, but I prefer any biscuits with a little pizzazz. I made a few plain cookies, but I adorned the rest with butterscotch chips I had lying around (hint: leftover from making frau brownies). Feel free to substitute with your favorite mix-in (chocolate chips, coconut, nuts, it's up to you!).

Lastly, for extra thick cookies, here's a tip: chill the cookie dough for a few hours in the fridge before baking. Do it. It leads to some satisfyingly handsome cookies.

***7:44 PM 6.24.12
Note to self: after munching on these for a few days, I feel like they're a bit too sweet for my taste. Scale down on the sugar next time.

Ugh, the little photo skills I had are rusty as well

Verdict: Win

I'm back! With the end of school and moving back home for the summer, I've been happily enjoying my mom's homecooked (delicious) food every day. There's been little need to post any planned "meals of the week" posts, but it's been over a month since I've updated this thing at all...and I've been itching ever since to be in the kitchen. Today I couldn't stand it any longer and decided to start with something simple to get my cooking/baking muscles back in shape: a coffee cake.

As always, King Arthur Flour is reliable for their recipes and their products (I love their line of flour - it's the only flour I use). This coffee cake comes together easily and quickly, but it does require a lot of bowls. In under 2 hours, I had a coffee cake reminiscent of a giant cinnamon sugar donut - and who doesn't love cinnamon sugar donuts?

Verdict: win

I have a new love in my life, and his name is Trader Joe's. Unfortunately it's a long distance relationship, so the last time we saw each other I tried to make the most out of it: I left with a big bottle of olive oil and a waxy, red round of smoked Dutch Gouda. I specifically visited Trader Joe's just for the Gouda. I've been obsessed with its nutty flavor on sandwiches, on plain bread, or just to nibble on.

I can't eat cheese too quickly (darn you, lactose-intolerance), and the Gouda's expiration date was around the corner, so I decided to throw together a mac and cheese. I used soy milk because that's all I had on hand, but it imparted a slightly sweet taste so I think I would've preferred regular milk. I also used way too much panko breadcrumbs to the point that I couldn't taste the sauce - I ended up scraping off as much breadcrumbs as I could. Vegetables (spinach, green onions, zucchini) and shredded chicken are a great add-in, and since the Gouda is subtle I often mixed in a teaspoon of pesto to my servings.

Verdict: Win

Finally! It's spring break, and I have (theoretically) all the time in the world to cook up a storm. Unfortunately, the kitchen I'm visiting has a sad collection of spices and cooking utensils (meaning all I have are salt, pepper, a medium-sized pot, a large skillet, and a baking pan). They get the job done, but I miss my spices and gadgets from home...

I've been eying the several sausage and kale soup recipes that have popped up on my Google Reader for the past few months. I didn't have a recipe on hand, so I winged it...with pretty good results, I think! I'm always hesitant to share recipes that I threw together without consulting a recipe. I never know if I'm committing a grave cooking faux pas...but this was too delicious not to post. The soup came together quickly and doesn't require much work. The best part is that I didn't need to season anything - the hot Italian sausage took care of it all. If spicy isn't your thing, mild or sweet Italian sausage could work well as a substitute.

Verdict: win!

Roasting a chicken is surprisingly easy, especially when I've got Kenji's amazing instructions by my side. Now, when the recipe says "season generously with salt and pepper," you should not hesitate from seasoning GENEROUSLY. I'm a firm believer that with a diet free of processed foods (the real culprit behind all the sodium us Americans consume), that you can season food as much as your heart desires without the bad health effects. Kenji's recipe also comes with a jus, but I preferred my roast chicken sans jus. So easy, and so affordable ($4 for the whole chicken!).

Oh, and can't forget the vegetables. As a side, I quickly sauteed yellow and zucchini squash with parsley.

Verdict: win

I love scones. Buttery, tender-to-the-crumb scones. My usual go to recipe is this chocolate chip scone recipe from Annie's Eats, but the strawberries I had prompted me to try a new scone recipe. I found this "Dreamy Cream Scones" recipe from America's Test Kitchen on Smitten Kitchen's site that looked so irresistible. I was hoping that adding strawberries would turn these into strawberries and cream scones, but the cream flavor isn't very pronounced. Nevertheless, these scones are incredibly tender and delicious. (Can you tell I tried to make my scones heart-shaped? Let's just say that the one in the photo was the best one out of the bunch).

If you use strawberries, however, be aware that the scones should be eaten as soon as possible. The fresh strawberries can turn the scones soggy within a few hours. Freezing the scones before baking for future use is always an option, which is what I did with half my batch. Subbing dried fruit or chocolate chips is an option as well.

Verdict: Win

My photo's horrendous (it screams AMATEUR and how much I want a macro lens...), but don't let that fool you into thinking that this dish was anything but great. I grew up eating pork often, but we never ate pork chops. For the longest time I thought that pork chops would be difficult to cook since I'm not familiar with them at all; however, looks like all you need is a meat thermometer to make it fool proof. I loved that I could finish an open bottle of wine and break out my cast iron skillet. The dish comes together so quickly, the onions and mushrooms are a perfect complement to the juicy pork, and it doesn't hurt that the sauce is lickably-fantastic.

Verdict:Win

I call this dish "Leftover Pho." I had leftover pork bones, so I made a broth with the bones and vegetables that needed to be used before they went bad. I had an excess amount of pho noodles from last week's pad thai, so I threw those in (I guess that makes this pho?) along with some stir-fried pork. Lastly, I had plenty of salad greens that I just tossed in until the greens wilted. With a dollop of sriracha this bowl of soup was so homey, and so satisfying...call me a soup-as-a-main-dish convert (Mom would be so proud). Below is my rough recipe, but if I've learned anything this past year of cooking, it's that sometimes recipes don't have to have set rules.

Verdict: win

I love those kinds of recipes that you stumble on and just happen to already have most of the ingredients on hand. And it's about time that I whipped something up in the kitchen. It also doesn't hurt that it's a recipe by Marc Bittman, and it was featured on Serious Eats...love!

To be honest, I had my doubts about this dish when I was making the sauce. Something about odor of fish sauce and tamarind makes my stomach churn; however, minimal sauce is used and the flavor turns out to be quite balanced. I did add a tablespoon of peanut butter (since I didn't have peanut oil) and a splash of soy sauce at the end. DY would've liked more eggs too. Most importantly, do not be tempted to skip the lime! Lime juice makes this dish complete.

The most time consuming part is slicing the Napa and peeling the shrimp, but after that the pad thai comes together so quickly. Perfect for a birthday dinner in!

Verdict: win!

When I was but a wee toddler, my father tricked me into tasting a sip of beer. I instantly hated its bitter, hoppy taste and since that moment I've rejected any encounter with the offensive, carbonated beverage. For better or worst, David's been coaxing me to try other types of beers...and now I might be a little obsessed. Who knew beers didn't have to be hoppy? My latest obsession is the Left Hand Milk Stout I had at Chumley's. Even better, it was nitro-poured, so it was super smooth and minimally carbonated. Call me childish, but I hate bubbly drinks.

Anyway, I've been wanting to make chocolate cupcakes with milk stout for a while. Finally had the time this past weekend. I'm not really a frosting girl, so I like these cupcakes plain. The stout flavor is pretty mild, but the chocolate cupcake is still superb. As expected from a recipe by Smitten Kitchen! Visit her website for her complete Irish car bomb cupcakes recipe.

Verdict: win

Not my ideal perfect cookie, but these are by far the easiest tasty chocolate chip cookies to make. Best for people who don't like to deal with creaming butter.

Verdict: epic

Named after its creator, a local high school German teacher, this recipe has been passed on by word of mouth across the community. Legend has it that the recipe has even appeared in a Purdue University dining court. Frau brownies consist of a triple layer of childhood flavors combined into a decadent treat. The base is a cakey brownie followed by a thick spread of marshmallow fluff which is topped by a crunchy mix of rice crispies with equal parts melted peanut butter, chocolate chips, and butterscotch chips. Best served warm and when feeling nostalgic about being a kid again.

(On another note, I entered this recipe into the "So You Wanna Be a CakeSpy? Contest!" hosted by Jessie O of CakeSpy. She's awesome. Check it out.)

***update 12/17/12
I'm a CakeSpy finalist! I need your votes/feedback for a better chance to win, though. If you like this recipe, would you please vote for me? Complete voting details are here. (Otherwise, just go to this facebook photo of Frau brownies then "like" and comment on the photo itself). Contest details can be found here. Thank you all so much for the overwhelming support :)