Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Coffee Muffins with Mocha Glaze

I have been craving coffee flavored sweets lately. Now, I am not one to go buy a frappuccino and I am also not one to make some coffee and put more than 2 teaspoons of sugar into it, but I really felt that some coffee-flavored cake or bread or muffin would be fantastic. The idea is not prominent in the baking world. Search "coffee cake" or even "coffee-flavored cake" and you mostly end up with coffee cake. Coffee cake to me does not deserve to be called that unless it's coffee-flavored! Also, I think coffee cake is way too sweet for breakfast, maybe even more oily and sweet than donuts. But I suppose that is why you eat it with coffee, because the bitter coffee will become palatable due to the lingering sweetness of the coffee cake (and vice versa).

After searching for a while and evaluating the various recipes available to me online, I came across this coffee cake muffin recipe at The ingredients in the muffin base sounded like an easy thing to put together and didn't have too much oil, sugar, or eggs (I'm stingy with my eggs and try to be healthy by baking with less fats and sugar). But, the recipe was filled with jam and had that same sugary topping seen on coffee cakes. I wanted just a pure coffee-flavored muffin, no other flavors or sugars to mask it. So, I borrowed her muffin base, excluded the filling and topping, and put my own mocha glaze on top. I have to say the results came out very well.
The batter only produced 10 muffins in my case, but they were soft, moist, spongy. They have a crumb that stays together relatively well, but still is tender and breaks away when you bite into it. I added 1/2 teaspoon of ground coffee (Cafe du Monde) to boost the coffee flavor, but I will have to add more next time. I also used leftover coffee from the morning, which was made just regular , not strong. Due to this and the predominant sugar and flour base, the coffee flavor was not as strong as I wanted it to be. So, next time, I will brew extra strong coffee (probably do Vietnamese drip coffee using my phin and Cafe du Monde coffee), and add a full teaspoon to the batter to boost the flavor.

In making the icing. I had too small an amount of powdered sugar and added too much coffee. It was runny and definitely not suitable for icing. So I melted some bits of a dark chocolate baking bar in the microwave and stirred it in until I achieved a consistency I thought would be good.
After the muffins cooled down, I iced them. First, I tried covering the tops, but that did not look that nice. So next I went with zigzags. Much better. Still, displeased with the ugly muffins, I sprinkles some of the Cafe du Monde coffee on top, and voila! I was finally pleased.
Hope you enjoyed my journey to achieve a good-lookin' coffee muffin. Now, to the spoils! The recipe!

Coffee Muffins with Mocha Glaze (makes 10 muffins)
Muffin Ingredients
1.5 cups of flour (I use Ultra-Grain Flour)
1/4 cups of brown sugar
1/4 cup of granulated (white) sugar
1.5 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
less than 1/4 tsp of salt
1 tsp of good quality, finely ground coffee (Cafe du Monde, Starbucks, Illy, etc.)
1/2 cup of brewed coffee, cooled to room temperaure (next time, I'll brew it extra strong)
1/4 cup of milk
1 egg
1/3 cup of vegetable oil

Glaze Ingredients
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 to 2 Tbs brewed coffee
1/2 oz to 1 oz dark baking chocolate
Extra coffee grounds for decoration (optional)


  1. Sift the flour, brown sugar, white sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl.
  2. Beat the coffee, milk, egg, and oil in a small bowl or large glass measuring cup.
  3. Make a well in center of your dry ingredients and pour the wet ingredients into the dry. Stir just until combined. Do not overmix. Set aside.
  4. Pre-heat oven to 350 deg Fahrenheit.
  5. Line a muffin tin symmetrically with 10 muffin liners. 
  6. Pour the batter evenly into the muffin liners (if you have enough to fill 12 muffin cups about 2/3 full, go ahead)
  7. Fill the remaining 2 unlined muffin cups with water about 1/3 full.
  8. Bake in the pre-heated oven for 18-22 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center of the middle-most muffin comes out clean. Let cool in the pan or 5 minutes, then cool completely on a wire rack.
  9. While the muffins are cooling, prepare the glaze: In a small cup, beat the powdered sugar and brewed coffee until the powdered sugar has dissolved. Heat the baking chocolate in 15 second intervals, stirring in between, until melted and smooth. Mix into the powdered sugar mix. Continue to melt and add chocolate until you achieve the desired frosting consistency.
  10. Once the muffins have cooled to room temperature, ice/glaze/frost/decorate. If desired, sprinkle coffee grounds on top of the glaze.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Multigrain Walnut Banana Muffins

You all probably know: I LOOOVVEEE baking. It is a truly active activity with results that you can both eat and share with others. How awesome is that? What I don't like about baking is that the results can be bad for you, with all the sugar and butter. My family is generally really healthy, my mom especially. She eats loads of fruit and nuts, has cut out pastries and chips except for very rare occasions when she'll eat a few, and is always active. My mom is one of my strongest motivators to be healthy, strong, active, and more.

Balancing healthy and my love for baking is challenging. Most of my friends know I bake relatively low-sugar and low-fat desserts, with occasional splurges when attempting to impress others. For myself, I can't stand desserts that are too sweet. I seek out a wholesome balance of sweet and salty. Grains have a natural nuttiness and subtle sweetness that I have come to love. Nuts have a lot of fat, but these are healthy fats and good for you if eaten in moderation. Sugar is now emerging as the main culprit in rising rates of obesity, diabetes, and other health problems. It may seem like all sugar is bad, except for natural sources like stevia, agave, and erythriol. Those sources sound great and natural and all, but they are still added sugars. Maybe they don't cause spikes in your insulin but they are not an excuse to eat as much of these sugar sources as you want. Sugar from fruits, eaten naturally and not removed and processed, is the best way to take in your sugar.

Taking what I've learned from a variety of health resources, I attempted to make a banana nut muffin that would appeal to my mom and me: healthy yet tasty, without added sugars, full of grains and omega-3 walnuts. This muffin would be something you could eat and feel good about. Definitely not a dessert muffin, but something to enjoy in the morning with milk or an afternoon or after dinner snack.

Multigrain Walnut Banana Muffins
1 cup white whole wheat flour (or unbleached all purpose flour)
1 cup multigrain hot cereal (I used 7-grain hot cereal from Bob's Red Mill, or you can use 1 cup oats that have been processed in a food processor)
1/2 cup rolled oats
1 Tbs baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 egg
1/4 cup oil (olive or vegetable oil both work fine)
3/4 cup 2% organic milk
1 tsp vanilla
3 mashed over-ripe bananas (~1.5 cups)
1/2-3/4 cup cinnamon chips or dark chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped walnuts


  1. Mix the flour, hot cereal (uncooked), rolled oats, baking powder, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a large bowl.
  2. In a medium sized bowl, beat the egg, oil, milk, and vanilla.
  3. Make a well in the dry mixture and pour in the wet mixture. Mix just until combined.
  4. Add the mashed bananas. Mix just until combined.
  5. Add the cinnamon chips and chopped walnuts. Mix just until combined.
  6. Preheat the oven to 400 deg F and line 12-16 muffin cups.
  7. Fill the muffin cups 2/3 of the way up with the batter. (optional) Top each with a full walnut piece.
  8. Bake 12-15 minutes until a toothpick inserted the center of a muffin comes out clean. 
  9. Cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then finish cooling on a rack.

A caution is that this is healthy and you know it while eating it. To make it more appealing for the general public without adding spoons of sugar, I added in some mini cinnamon chips. Yes, this is processed sugar and I just lectured against it above, but you can't persuade others to eat healthy if it's unappetizing. Therefore, I added 1/2 cup of cinnamon chips. Next time, though, I'll add 3/4 cup of cinnamon chips to bring out the cinnamon and sweetness just a tad bit more. I also think the dark chocolate would be better than the cinnamon chips.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Bánh Xèo (Vietnamese sizzling crepes)

One of the most unique and delicious Vietnamese foods that is not commonly known to most non-Vietnamese people is a savory meat-filled Vietnamese crepe called bánh xèoBánh xèo looks like a large omelette, but it actually does not contain any eggs at all! It is a rice flour-based crepe that is filled with mung beans, ground meat, shrimp, and bean sprouts, and served with fresh lettuce and herbs and nước chấm (fish sauce dipping sauce). The yellow color of the crepe comes from turmeric powder mixed into the batter, and from the mung beans added during cooking.  
If you've never had it, I REALLY encourage you to venture out from the usual noodles, pho, and spring rolls to try this. You will experience something truly unique and tastefully rewarding that you will be sure to brag about to your friends. 

I've never made bánh xèo myself, but my grandma and mom have and I've had it at restaurants. During my short break back at home with my family, my mom asked me what I wanted her to make for dinner. I suggested bánh xèo and she got real excited. She has only made it once before and was eager to try it again. Plus, we both knew how tasty the final product would be. Crispy pancake edges, creamy mung beans, caramelized sweet onions, salty-sweet nước chấm, umami meat, and refreshing greens! So many flavors! I'm surprised the food trend people and renowned food critics are not gushing over this yet!

The nước chấm for this Vietnamese dish is slightly sweeter than normal nước chấm used for things such as noodle salads (bun). To make the dipping sauce, you add fresh lime juice and minced garlic to sugar, let the acid and garlic permeate the sugar, add a lot of water, then add a good amount of fish sauce till you reach the right balance of sweet, salty, and umami. One site you can find some ratios for ingredients is VietWorldKitchen

To make the crepes, we used a pre-made bánh xèo mix. Here are some suggested bags to grab:

They are basically rice flour, self-rising flour, and turmeric, which are easy to make at home if you do not have access to these mixes. They also instructions in Vietnamese and rough English translations on the back.

Here is what me and my mom did:

Bánh Xèo (Vietnamese Sizzling Crepes)
1 bag of bánh xèo mix, 1 can coconut milk (8 oz), and 3.5 cups of water
2-3 stalks of green onion, green and white parts, chopped
1 lb of ground meat (normally pork, but we used chicken to be healthier)
1 lb of shrimp, cleaned, deveined (usually the hard skin/shell is left on, but we removed it because i don't like the sharp crunch)
2 whole yellow onions
Lots of garlic cloves, minced and divided
1 bag of mung beans (I think most bags are around 12 oz.), soaked for an hour
1 bag of bean sprouts, washed and dry
To serve
2-3 heads of lettuce
Lots of Vietnamese herbs (purple perilla, Vietnamese mint, fish mint)
Prepared nước chấm


  1. Take the soaked mung beans and boil them in water for a few minutes. You only want to add enough water and to boil it long enough for the beans to soak up the water and not get mushy. Put into a bowl and set aside (drain excess water if any).
  2. Dice 1 whole onion, mince the garlic. 
  3. Saute the onion in oil until it starts to turn yellow, then add half of the garlic. Once that begins to turn brown, add the ground meat. Season with a bit of sea salt and black pepper. Use your spoon or chop sticks to break up the meat and cook through. Pour into a separate bowl and set aside.
  4. Saute the remaining garlic till just brown then add the shrimp. Add black pepper. Cook through (do not over cook). Remove to a separate bowl and cut the shrimp in half lengthwise (the shrimp as they are are too thick to fold nicely into the crepes). Set aside.
  5. Slice remaining onion into thin strips. Saute in lots of oil until caramelized. Remove to a bowl lined with paper to soak up excess oil.
  6. Prepare the crepe mix. Add the turmeric powder to the rice flour mix. Pour in coconut milk and water. Stir. Add in diced green onions. Let sit for ~10 minutes.
  7. Wash the lettuce and herbs. Put into colanders to drip dry. Prepare the nước chấm if not done so yet.
  8. Now prepare to make the crepes. Take the individual bowls of crepe batter, meat, shrimp, mung bean, and bean sprouts and place them near the stove. 
  1. Using a large nonstick skillet with a wide base (~10 inches) over high heat, pour in a generous amount of oil to cover the surface. Throw in some meat, shrimp, and onions on one side, then pour a small ladle of the batter into the pan, distributing the batter into a thin layer. Plug up any holes with extra batter. Immediately throw onto the half with the meat and onions, generous spoonfuls of mung bean then bean sprouts. 
  1. Fry until the edges are lifting and the crepe is crispy. Fold the crepe and remove to a plate. Repeat with remaining batter and fillings.
  2. To serve: place crepe on a plate, serve with lettuce, herbs, and nước chấm. Provide bowls for the dipping sauce. Use chopsticks and spoons to eat. 
  3. Traditional way to eat (messy): break off a piece of the crepe. Take a full lettuce leaf, top with fresh herbs and the piece of crepe. Fold over like a little lettuce burrito, dip into the nước chấm and eat. 
  4. Alternate way to eat (clean): break up crepe into a bowl, top with ripped lettuce and herbs. Drizzle in however much nước chấm you want. Eat with chopsticks.
I hope this is helpful to anyone looking to try a new ethnic dish. It is very time-consuming for sure, but the results are rewarding and the presentation is fabulous. Everyone will be oohing and aahing at your next dinner!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Mango Cream Scones

I baked scones at midnight a couple days ago because:

  1. I was craving scones
  2. I had leftover dried mangoes
  3. There was some sour cream and heavy whipping cream in the fridge
  4. I was very sleepy from studying

That last point obviously points to baking at midnight. Derrr

I looked around the web for some scone recipes, and I usually go to EatingWell and CookingLight for relatively healthy recipes. This slideshow was nice and I selected their Apricot Scones recipe to model my midnight baking off of. I pretty much did everything in the recipe, but made it delicious again by using heavy cream and sour cream instead of buttermilk (plus I didn't have buttermilk and didn't want to use skim milk+lemon juice), and I used dried mangoes. I also cut them into squares, because I really don't like the triangle shapes they come in. Makes it hard to share with someone. Like, oh, let me break this evenly in half and give you an awkward shaped triangle or rectangle.
Drawn by me!! :-D
Just no. Make them squares or circles, but triangles are just selfish :'(

The scones come together sooo easily. They're great; they barely stick to your hands even when you knead or pat them out. I used a little less sugar, cream/egg mix, which may have contributed. When they get close to baking, you can smell the soft aroma of butter, cream, and slight sweetness in the air. They brown lightly and break easily. Mmm mm!!! These were so good, they made me remember why I love scones so much.

Mango Cream Scones (makes 12 squares)
Adapted from CookingLight
2.5 cups flour (I use Ultra-grain flour)
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/3-1/2 cup granulated sugar (I bet you can try mixing part brown sugar if you want)
3.5-4 Tbs salted butter, cold, cut into small cubes
6 dried mango slices (more or less to your liking, probably like 1/4-1/2 cup chopped)
1/4 cup heavy (whipping) cream
1/4 cup sour cream
2 large eggs

1. Preheat oven to 400 deg Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and lightly grease with oil or butter.
2. Soak dried mango slices in warm water while you prepare the batter.
3. Mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, and sugar in a large bowl. Cut in butter with knife, fork, or hands till the mixture resembles coarse sand. (I use my hands and try to incorporate the butter well without melting it. It is imperative that scones use COLD butter)
4. In a medium to large measuring cup or small bowl, mix sour cream and buttermilk. Beat in eggs one at a time.
5. Drain mango slices. Chop up into small pieces.
6. Mix just enough of the wet ingredients into dry till you have a slightly sticky, not too wet batter. Mix till just incorporated. Add mango slices and mix to incorporate. Knead in the bowl about 4-5 times.
7. Place the dough on the prepared parchment paper, dusting hands with flour if necessary. Pat out into a 1/3-1/2" thick rectangle and cut into squares using a wet or floured knife. Separate pieces and place evenly on the baking sheet, reforming cute rectangles as needed.
8. Bake in the 400 deg F oven on the middle rack for 18-20 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool on the pan for 5 minutes, then on a wire rack for another 5 minutes.
9. Enjoy warm with some milk, tea, or coffee. They are great as breakfast, afternoon tea snacks, or midnight snacks!!!

Nutritional Info (1 of 12 scones):
195 calories, 7 g fat, 28 g carbs (9 g sugar), 5 g protein, 222 mg sodium

Monday, January 20, 2014

Quick Dan Dan Noodles

Dan dan turkey noodles

I always wanted to try dan dan noodles, but I've never gone to a restaurant to try them before. I heard about them by reading food blogs online, and it seemed simple yet satisfying. After forgetting about it so many times, I finally had the means and the memory to make it!

I looked up a recipe as a guideline and then started cooking with what I had on hand and to my preferences. Instead of traditional ground pork, I used ground turkey, which is generally heralded as healthier than pork or beef. I try not to eat a lot of pork anymore, in part because I do not eat that much meat anymore and because my mom decided one day pork was bad for us and decided not to cook it anymore at home. I also do not eat or buy beef very much because of the low amount of meat I just normally eat, and because I don't really know how to cook chunks of beef.

I doubled the recipe, but added much less soy sauce and other salty sauces than called for because I do not like things to be too salty. Despite this, the sauce came out still very salty and I will remember to lightly dress my noodles and meat with the sauce. I did not have sesame paste, but I did have leftover toasted sesame seeds from yesterday's sushi prep, so I threw those into my coffee/spice grinder, along with 4 garlic cloves, and a 1/2" knob of peeled ginger. I ground this into a chunky paste for the dan dan sauce, in place of the recipe's sesame paste. I also did not have hot chili oil nor Sichuan peppercorns, but I have an awesome Vietnamese substitue: Huy Fong chili garlic sauce! You should have this in you kitchen. I like it even better than Sriracha for cooking.
I tossed a huge glob of this into the sauce and DANNGGG was the sauce spicy. I can't ever imagine eating true Szechuan/Sichuan food. I think my tongue would light on fire and I'd die on internal burning.

So, if you don't have typical Chinese ingredients at home, but have access to soy sauce, vinegar, chili garlic sauce, fresh vegetables, sesame oil, sesame seeds, and Chinese wheat noodles, it is very easy to make a Dan Dan-like noodle dish at home in nearly 30 minutes!!!

Pauline's Easy Dan Dan-like Noodles (Serves 3-4)
Meat Ingredients
1/2 lb (8 oz) ground turkey
1 Tbs grapeseed or olive oil
2 Tbs soy sauce
1 Tbs vinegar
1 tsp Chinese five spice powder
Black pepper to taste
(I added some chopped kale leaves too. Yay vegetables!)
Sauce Ingredients
4 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
2-ish Tbs sesame seeds (toasted, optional)
1/2" knob of ginger, peeled, coarsely chopped
1 cup of water (I accidentally added 2)
3-4 Tbs soy sauce
2 Tbs vinegar
2 tsp white sugar
3-5 Tbs of Huy Fong chili garlic sauce (to your spicy desire)

8 oz (3-4 servings) dry Chinese wheat noodles
Other veggies (I used alfafa sprouts and thinly sliced carrots, but you can throw in spinach, green onions, bok choy, or none at all, but veggies are so good for you!)

1. Prepare the meat topping: Heat a large skillet on medium-high heat. Add 1 Tbs of oil, then toss in the meat and cook, chopping into small pieces. As it starts to turn brown, add the kale (optional), soy sauce, vinegar, Chinese five-spice powder, and black pepper. Continue stirring over medium heat until the meat and kale are fully cooked. Remove from the pan and set aside.
2. Prepare the sauce: Puree the garlic cloves, sesame seeds, and ginger in a food processor (or spice grinder) until you get as minimally chunky paste as you can. Meanwhile, heat 2 cups of water in the skillet from step 1. When it gets warm, throw in the paste and stir to distribute throughout the water. Add soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, and chili garlic sauce. Taste and adjust accordingly. Let cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes.
3. Boil the noodles according to package directions, adding vegetables in the last minute. Drain.
4. To assemble: Place noodles with vegetables in a bowl. Top with meat, then drizzle a ladle of the sauce on top, about 1/2 to 1 full lade is good, depending on how salty/spicy you want it and how much you are eating. Garnish with green onions or more sesame seeds, if desired. Enjoy!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Giant California Rolls

My senior year of undergrad at Berkeley, my best friend there taught me how to roll sushi. It was a really fun experience and tasty. I also tried this raspberry beer called Framboise and I was genuinely surprised that there was a beer out there that I liked. Sometime after that, I invited a bunch of my Vietnamese Student Association friends over to my apartment for a sushi rolling party. We made a lot of different rolls, but primarily imitation crab meat filling if I remember correctly. Every time, we made maki rolls, which are sushi rolls with the nori seaweed sheet on the outside. Recently I wanted to try my hand at making California rolls, where the rice is on the outside, then the nori, and then the fillings on the inside.
Maki sushi on left. California-style sushi on right. source

I prepared the crab filling using canned crab meat this time instead of imitation crab sticks. I simply drained the water from the can of (sustainably caught!) crabmeat, and added 2 Tbs of mayo and about 1/2 to 1 Tbs of Sriracha. I also sprinkled in some lemon pepper seasoning and ground black pepper. Seeing as it was still too moist (I did not drain it that well) and my eyes thought it was not enough meat, I sprinkled in vegetarian pork floss (something like this).
For vegetable fillings, I sliced some avocado, cucumber, and carrots into thin strips. I also washed fresh alfafa sprouts. I just looked up the health benefits of alfafa sprouts. One cup of alfafa sprouts contain about 10% women's DV of vitamin K. It also contains vitamin C and phytoestrogens, which can help reduce risks of heart disease, cancer, and osteoporosis. Alfafa sprouts also contain saponins, compounds linked to reducing LDL cholesterol and raising HDL cholesterol - although the site did not say how much saponin a cup of alfafa sprouts contain nor how much saponin is needed to be effective. Nevertheless, alfafa is a green vegetable and is definitely healthier for you than filling up on fatty, meaty fillings!
Ingredients all prepped.
I made the sushi rice using Kokuho Rose brand sushi rice. I washed a cup of rice under water for a while (they recommend doing it till the washing water is clear, but this brand says "No washing necessary", so I only did it briefly), then spread it out to dry for ~30 min along the walls of a colander. After cooking the rice, I mixed 1-1/2 Tbs rice vinegar, 1 Tbs sugar, and 1/2 Tbs salt. I poured the vinegar mixture over the rice and mixed it in with chopsticks. To add something a little extra, I toasted white sesame seeds in my toaster oven and mixed some in as well.

To assemble, you spread the rice in a thin layer on top of a sheet of nori, completely covering the nori. Sprinkle more sesame seeds if desired. Place a plastic sheet on top then flip it over. Place it on a sushi rolling mat and then put the fillings inside. I spooned on 1/4 of the crabmeat, then generously added all the vegetables. I tried rolling it over, but my rolls were not tight and I had forgotten how to correctly roll these, since I had done it so long ago. My rolls ended up looking like sushi burritos! HUGE! I ate two that night, because my friend and I made 3 altogether. I know sushi is not good the next day and did not want to waste those last 4 slices of my sushi.
HUGGGEEE sushi roll
After slicing into 8 pieces.
The nori I got is not that good. I will have to buy a better brand next time. Do any of you have suggestions on good nori for sushi?

Next time, I will definitely read up on the proper sushi rolling technique and also cut my avocados thicker.

In all, after not cooking for a month because of being on winter break at my mom's fully stocked house, it was good to get back into preparing my own meals. And sushi is a great first meal back at school!

Oh, and Happy New Year, everyone!