Thursday, July 2, 2015

Easiest, Sexiest Cake in the World: A Bake Along Giveaway!

I love a good challenge. So I have a tasty one for you.

Deadline: Friday, July 10, 2015
Prize: The Secret Lives of Baked Goods

Here's what you have to do:

1. Bake my version of Cakespy's Better than Sex Cake (recipe below).
2. Post a photo on Instagram and tag @cocoinkitchen.
3. I'll buy you a Cakespy cookbook. 

Winner picked randomly on Friday July 10th. Happy baking and good luck, y'all!

Thanks to Vanilla Sugar Blog, I won myself a couple of Jessie Oleson's Cakespy cookbooks. These are the cutest cookbooks I've ever seen. Since Jessie is an illustrator, she has embellished the photos in her books with cute hand-drawn characters like robots, flowers and such. Everything comes alive on the pages. Even the cookies are smiling. We were planning a visit to my friend's house for the day and I was looking for something decadent to make for them. There are just so many tempting recipes, it is really difficult to choose just one to bake first.

So I asked a dear foodie friend to go through the books and pop little postie notes onto the pages that really looked catchy. There were so many that I had somehow missed, none of which I remember at the moment, but one that I just cannot forget. The postie on the page read "GET INTO MY BELLY!"

The page featured the BETTER THAN SEX CAKE, a claim that can only be validated by someone deemed an expert on both subjects. I will admit with considerable confidence that I know my cakes, the best of which must have chocolate. But, this one has nothing to do with chocolate, not a speck, not even a dusting of cocoa on top.

The appeal of this sinful little number is in its tropical flavours and in its creamy layers. Coconut, vanilla custard, whipped cream and the pretty pineapple, which is rarely seen in desserts these days. Why is that, anyway? This princess of fruits has been the symbol of hospitality in America since the colonial days. Sea captains returned from the Caribbean bearing exotic spices, rum and tropical fruit. Legend holds that the captain posted a pineapple near the entrance of his home to announce his safe return and invite friends to visit for an evening of stories and toasts.

Pineapple is what makes this inviting cake so moist and devilishly delicious. Cake mixes, canned fruit, boxed pudding are not usually on my shopping list, but they do make an appearance every now and then in our kitchen. If you know anything about pineapple plantations, you know that the first crop which is the best and sweetest is reserved for canning and readily available everywhere. But, I prefer the fresh fruit which is plentiful here in California.

Here you have two options. The quickie version uses boxed vanilla cake mix, instant vanilla pudding and canned pineapple. I have also included from-scratch instructions. Which you prefer depends on how eager you are to taste this cake. Of course, everything tastes better if made from scratch, but cake mixes are really yummy nowadays - No one will ever know you cheated. Either way, once you taste have this one, you will realize you no longer need chocolate. I'm going to make you a believer.

Easiest, Sexiest Cake in the World
Inspired by Cakespy 

Note: The instructions look long, but it's actually really easy to put together this cake.
Serves 8 (or 1 who doesn't share)

What to Get
For the Cake
1 box vanilla cake mix or homemade
3 free-range eggs
1 cup water
1 lemon, juice + zest
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 vanilla bean or 2 tsp extract
pinch salt

For the Custard
1 box instant vanilla pudding or homemade
2 cups cold milk

For the Finish
1 cup shredded coconut, toasted
1 can crushed pineapple or 1 cup fresh, mashed
2 cups heavy cream
4 Tb powdered sugar

What to Do
Preheat oven to 350*F.

Grease and flour 2 8-inch round cake pans.
Juice and zest one lemon.

Prepare cake according to the box instructions, except when measuring the water, include the lemon juice.
Then add the lemon zest, vanilla and a pinch of salt into the mix for extra flavour.

Pour batter into the prepared cake pans and bake 20-25 minutes, until you can smell the cakes.

Make the instant pudding by stirring the mix powder with cold milk.
Chill in refrigerator while the cake is baking.

Clean and chop fresh pineapple, if using. Mash with a fork. Measure about 1 cup. Set aside.

Transfer coconut to a nonstick pan and set onto the stove at medium-high heat until fragrant and toasty.
Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

Remove cake from oven. Use a fork to poke holes into it and top with crushed pineapple.

While the cake is cooling, whip the heavy cream with some powdered sugar.
Spread the vanilla pudding over the pineapple-top.
Spread the whipped cream over the pudding layer.
Sprinkle toasted coconut on top.

Chill in the refrigerator for at least one hour. Serve with icy homemade lemonade.

I am not a religious person, but found myself praying to God, Buddha, all the gods and goddesses to give me the strength to resist cutting the cake until we arrived at my friend's house. It was a very looooooong drive, y'all!

There are very few troubles in life that cannot be remedied with cake. No matter where I go, whatever I see and taste, I somehow always find my way back to cake. Cake announces a celebration, even on Ordinary Tuesday.

Last night, I could not wait to get out of the office, slap my apron on and hit my baking station. Everything the recipe called for was already in my pantry. It was just so simple to make and fun to set up all those pretty layers. But, I could not work fast enough to see how it tastes.

The mercury is reaching for the stars already, with the evenings steady in the high 70's. This is not exactly the best weather for baking, but I was not about to let the thermostat stop me. My trusty little toaster oven saved me once again, because I had to see for myself what all the hubbub was all about.

Homemade is always best and with this recipe you do have that option. I made this cake again (big surprise) for my mother's birthday. She is not a fan of coconut, but absolutely loved it. The box + can version came out delicious, too. Stock your pantry well, because this cake can be made on a whim, in a snap, as soon as you feel you need cake.

I can not honestly say whether or not this cake really is better than sex. What I can tell you is the thing we all need is to sit on that swing on the front porch, counting stars, munching on a slice of this inviting little cake and forgetting all our troubles.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Fluffy Lemon Poppy Seed Pancakes

By most social standards, it is not ok to have cake for breakfast. (Who makes these silly rules, anyway?). It is, however, acceptable to eat batter fried in a pan. Here in the States, we call them flap-jacks, hoe cakes, hotcakes, pancakes or silver dollars. In other countries, they are given different names.

Australia: Pikelets

Denmark: Aebelskivers
Egypt: Atayef
France: Crêpes
Eastern Europe: Blinis
Greece: Tiganites
Japan: Okonomiyaki
Morocco: Rghaif 
Netherlands: Dutch babies
Venezuela: Arepas

Call them whatever you like, but the premise is basically the same no matter where you are in the world. Ask Daisy what she wants for breakfast on any day of the week and you are sure to get Pancakes! for an answer. Sometimes it's waffles, sometime's just cereal, but most days, flap-jacks take the lead, especially if they are cute and small, just like her. 

Lately, I have been experimenting a lot with pancakes and may owe you an apology for what I previously claimed to be the fluffiest pancakes on the planet.  A new no-fuss recipe gives you a more light and airy pancake bursting with the bright taste of lemons and the nutty hint of poppy seeds. No buttermilk needed. No laborious whipping of egg whites. No praying to the Pancake Gods that they turn out moist. These are guaranteed winners. Mom stopped by the stove a few times and could not wait for them to hit the breakfast table. She just ate them, standing there next to me, saying how delicious they were and that I should write down the recipe before I forget it.

I like to use an immersion blender and mix the batter in a pitcher so it's ready to pour with less mess. A blender works great, too. Just remember not to blitz the batter too long, otherwise the pancakes become tough and chewy. Unplug and go old fashioned with a bowl and wooden spoon. Don't worry about the lumps as they will work themselves out eventually. The batter  can be made the night before and chilled in the fridge overnight. This isn't compulsory. I made the batter and cooked it up right then and there. If you do happen to plan ahead and make the batter the night before, you will have more time to relax with a cup of coffee in the morning.

Fluffy Lemon Poppy Seed Pancakes

Note: These are sweet on their own and delightful with just a squeeze of lemon juice. If you prefer to use syrup, be sure to cut the sugar from the batter.

Makes 2 dozen 3" silver dollars

Wet:                                                Dry:                
 1 cup  milk                                     2 cups flour 
 3/4 stick butter                               3/4 cup sugar (omit if serving with maple syrup)
 1 lemon, zest only                          2 tsp baking powder
 4 free-range eggs                            pinch salt   
 2 Tb sugar                                      1 Tb poppy seeds    

butter for frying
lemon wedges 

Gently heat milk, 1/2 stick butter  and lemon zest until the butter has melted. 
Set aside to cool.

In a pitcher, whip eggs and 2 Tb sugar until fluffy, about 4 minutes.

Combine dry ingredients in a separate bowl.

Gently incorporate dry ingredients into the eggs + sugar mixture.
Slowly drizzle milk + butter into the batter.

Set a frying pan or griddle onto medium heat. 
Add a knob of butter to the center and wait for it to bubble and brown a bit.

Slowly pour about 1/4 cup of batter into the center of the pan.
When bubbles start popping up on top of the pancake, it's time to flip.
Cook another minute and transfer to a container with a lid to stay warm.

Continue making pancakes until all the batter has been used.
Serve with fresh berries, more butter and lemon wedges.

While she has never met a cake she did not like,  my little blue-eyed beauty just cannot resist anything with lemon and poppy seeds. So, this morning, she got a real treat. Fresh lemon always brings a taste of summer sunshine to the plate and poppy seeds add some nutritious elements.

Daisy loves pancakes, but to be completely honest with you, I find them quite bland and boring. There really is only so much even the very best maple syrup can do and my li'l sweetheart doesn't much like syrup, anyway. So, I made these lemon-poppy seed silver dollars easy enough for her to just pick up by hand and enjoy. They are plenty sweet on their own and even better with nothing more than a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Spongy lemon poppy seed pancakes promise to give your tired old breakfast routine a bright and tasty makeover. Just be prepared to have company at the stove.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Sunday Morning Apple Fritters

Writing can be quite difficult. The pen should not be forced across the paper. Words should flow and pick up momentum on their own, falling into place as clear expressions of thoughts. Sometimes I have to wait a long time for my muses to appear and that can be really hard. Breakfast, on the other hand, should never be difficult, especially on a lazy weekend morning. After a long week of rush, rush, rush, we always look forward to the weekend - no alarms, no deadlines and very little on the calendar. What to eat can be a challenge. I often ask my little sweetheart what she would like. The response is usually either pancakes or waffles. How exciting.

Well, one morning a while back, I had this crazy idea to shake things up a bit. Inspired by Shawn and those yummy donuts he made for us over Christmas (his mom's recipe which I will give you if you're good), I whipped up a batch of apple fritters that turned out to be nothing short of amazing. It was a very successful experiment. My favourite pancake recipe + one apple, fried in peanut oil and tossed into cinnamon-sugar produced oddly shaped fluffy nuggets with warm, soft li'l cubes of sweet-tart apple inside.

Tomorrow, we leave for Cambria, a sleepy seaside town on the Central Coast resident to artists. There is nothing to do there but eat, sleep, repeat. We will be winding down and banishing the clock for a few days.

Everyone and everything seems at ease there. Nature flourishes with bees buzzing over rosemary blossoms and happy butterflies fluttering around wildflowers. Before we hit the road, I want us to have a special, but quick breakfast of warm apple fritters.

No special equipment is needed to make this recipe, but I suggest you grab yourself a spider. It's a Chinese cooking tool with a wooden handle and a metal spider-web head, perfect for scooping goodies out of hot oil. It also works well for fishing pasta out of boiling water. For frying, I prefer peanut oil as it will carry a high heat great.

Sunday Morning Apple Fritters
Feeds 4 hungry travelers generously

1 Granny Smith apple
3 Tb butter
1 egg
2 cups milk
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 lemon
2 cups flour
2 Tb baking powder
2 tsp cinnamon
2 Tb sugar
pinch salt
Cinnamon Sugar
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 cups peanut oil for frying

Heat a couple tablespoons of butter just until melted.
Remove from heat and set aside.
Beat egg and milk together.
Add vanilla, lemon zest and melted butter.

Sift flour, baking powder, sugar and salt into a big bowl.

Gently stir egg mixture into dry ingredients.
Wash and peel apple. Cut into small, 1/2-inch cubes.
Add the apple to the batter and stir until just combined.
Let the batter rest for a few minutes.

In the meantime, pour peanut oil into a deep, heavy-bottomed pot and set
it on low heat.

Line a dish with a couple sheets of paper towels and set next to stove.

Mix 1/2 cup sugar with another 2 tsp cinnamon powder in a small, shallow dish and set aside near stove.

Test oil with a drop of batter. It should float to the top and bubble.
Drop heaping tablespoons of batter carefully into the hot oil, maybe 3 or 4 at a time.
Do not over-crowd the pot as it will bring the temperature of the oil down too much.

Use a spider to flip dumplings gently so cook the other side.
Remove and set onto paper towels to drain.
Toss into cinnamon-sugar and coat well.

Cambria is such a magical place. Daisy loves splashing around the pool with Daddy and looking for critters in the tide pools. I'm looking forward to doing a whole lot of nothing. Maybe I will learn to sit for a while. Our days will be slow, just strolling around the little seaside town, looking at beautiful creations by local artists on display in cute shops. Wine and cheese by the fire with my family will start the evenings before dinner. As any salty sea captain will attest, taking in that crisp, sea air is the best thing for a tired soul from the bustling city. 

But, because we have a very long drive ahead of us, we will need to be well organized for the morning with a breakfast that will celebrate the start of our li'l vacation. That means a very tall cup of coffee and a treat. I cannot think of anything easier and more delicious that warm apple fritters tossed into cinnamon-sugar fresh out of the hot oil. 

Monday, June 1, 2015

Crack Pie

It is a bit past 3 am and I am wide awake. Apparently, my bladder has shrunk down to the size of a thimble and I have to wake up 12 times every night to rush to the bathroom.* Ahhh, the beauty of aging. Scientists invent everything to undo the signs of aging - miracle wrinkle creams, tone repair, facelifts, liposuction - everything except the most annoying one - interrupting precious beauty sleep with the incessant urge to rush to the bathroom at various ungodly hours. It gets worse when our new pup Ozzie wakes up and wiggles his fuzzy little butt after me. So, I have to scoop him up and carry him outside to do his own business. Then, just as I slip my flip-flops off and pull the covers over me, Milou wants to go outside. Does he need to pee? Does he want to find lizards? Who knows? After a decent 20 minutes of this ridiculousness, everyone's back inside the house and tucked in. I finally get back to bed, but I can no longer fall sleep.
This is usually when I get myself into trouble, wandering the WWW for all sorts of unnecessary, but extremely tempting things like waterproof, washable seat covers for food-stained dining room chairs. Sounds great, right? Sure, except they do not fit our dining room chairs. Evidently, it is just safer to stay offline and grab a magazine.

Bon Appétit is like Playboy for foodies. Sure, the writing is really good, but, in all honesty, it's the photos that grab and hold my attention, like the sight of something crackly, crumbly, giving way to the prongs of a fork. This temptation hails from a hip bakery in the Big Apple called Milk Bar featured in the very issue of the magazine I happened to be reading. One bite, perhaps sniff even, of this stuff and you will know how it rightfully earned the name Crack Pie. Unfortunately, it is a two-step process to make, first one big oat cookie, then a pie with a luscious sugar pie filling and the oat cookie as the crust. The cooling process is also lengthy. Crack Pie will test your patience, but prove well worth the wait, if you can wait.

The first time I made it, I was faithful to the original instructions. I made the big oatmeal cookie from scratch. Then I crushed it and pound the crumbs into the crust, which was blind baked. After the crust cooled, I whipped up the filling and tossed it into the oven for the final baking. It seemed like an eternity by the time we were finally able to taste the thing. So, I have a quicker version that I know you are going to love.

There are several great shortcuts to the crust portion of the original recipe. Skip the first step of making the oat cookie, then blind-baking the crust and just get some cookies from the market. While I don't normally condone the use of store-bought anything, here, I make an exception. Life is too short for a long-winded recipe. Get out there and grab your favourite brand of oatmeal cookies. If you cannot find oatmeal cookies that you like, graham crackers do just fine.  For a quicker homemade solution, pulse rolled oats to a flour consistency and follow my recipe. My crust is actually based on my mom's recipe for her famous cheesecake. It is the best part of the cheesecake and adapts beautifully to this recipe.

Sugar is a remarkable element, but working with it requires some experience. The long cooling process of this recipe is as important, if not more important, than the baking process.  So a bit of planning will have a decadent breakfast ready for you to enjoy in the morning. Who says you can't have pie for breakfast?

Crack Pie
Note: This recipe produces an irresistibly addictive end product. You have been warned.
Adapted from BonAppetit


3/4 cup ground oatmeal
1/2 stick butter
5 Tb sugar
pinch salt

3/4 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 pinches salt
1 stick butter, @ room temp
4 large free-range egg yolks
6 Tb heavy whipping cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
Powdered sugar (for dusting)

Butter a shallow 9-inch round pie or cake pan.
Blitz rolled oats in a food processor to a fine powder consistency.
Add butter, sugar and salt.
Pulse a few times until a dough forms.
Gently press dough evenly into the pie/cake pan.

Preheat oven to 350*F.

Blitz filling ingredients in the food processor until smooth.
Pour over crust and transfer to the hot oven.

Bake 15-20 minutes.

Cool to room temperature (about 2 hours), then transfer to the fridge and chill, uncovered, preferably overnight, if you can wait that long.

If you can't wait (neither could I), just let the pie rest at room temp for 15 minutes, then pop it into the freezer for another 15 minutes. We have the technology, after all. Why not use it?

It was another one of my favorite lazy weekend mornings spent over coffee in our breakfast nook. The Beatles crooned in the background while Shawn worked diligently on one of those rubber-band loom bracelets that he had hoped would keep our li'l blue-eyed beauty occupied. I was focused on making a cotton-blossom wreath for my friend's birthday while Daisy played doctor to Lucy, her sniffly toy puppy.

I can't remember whether it was Saturday or Sunday. The only thing that remains sharp in my memory is the aroma of sweet vanilla sugar, the softness of the gooey filling with the crackly top and the toasty crunch of that cookie crust. Thank goodness baking Crack Pie is perfectly legal, because it sure tastes like home.

* An exaggeration for the sake of humour.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Cocktail Hour: Dragon's Kiss

Friday, I stopped by the grocery store on my way home from work, brain-dead and ready for the long weekend, my stomach grumbling like a caged beast. What usually happens in situations like this one is that I push the shopping cart up and down every aisle (I do not like missing anything), snatching this and that off the shelves, loading up on all sorts of fruits, vegetables, herbs, with the intention to make stuffed cabbage, Mom's herb stew, schnitzel, fish tacos, quesadillas with homemade mole sauce. Aren't you impressed? So, am I. By the time I get to my favourite cashier, the shopping cart is packed with all sorts of things and I have completely forgotten the main reason I was there in the first place (usually just milk). While pounding meat to a thin sheet for schnitzel is cheap therapy after a long day in the office, when I get home, there is barely enough motivation left to put the food away, let alone cook something from scratch like a  full-blooded Mexican grandma would.  

Not this time. I had my act together. It was probably the cheapest trip in the history of Coco Supermarket Raids, mainly because I was not hungry for a change. And I remembered the milk. But I also came home with dragonfruit. Shawn gave me the old "You keep buying these exotic things and just let them rot in the fridge." I said nothing, just cast a squinty-eyed look his way.
While I have not figured out what to do with the two paddles of cactus from a previous trip to the store, I knew exactly what to do with this dragonfruit. Well, I had an idea.

 Dragonfruit looks unreal with an electric pink peel, alien egg shape and dotty interior. I love dots. This was the first time I had noticed it in the produce section. I had to see what this odd little fruit is all about. Luckily, I practiced some self-restraint and bought only 2. The Old Colette would have picked up as many as she could hold in her arms. Now that I had it, what was I going to do with it? The inside was soft, almost like a pudding with an unexpectedly mild taste, something close to a pear. Apparently, most people just slice it in half, scoop the flesh out with a spoon and eat it. That's it? How boring. Something with such wild looks deserves a proper place on the menu, like a dazzling show-stopping cocktail. And, as luck would have it, the good folks at Cocozia had sent me a box of their delicious organic coconut water. I just could not convince myself to do anything but whip up a batch of tropical potion with a naturally vibrant green color.  Dragon's Kiss is a refreshing and nutritious drink that anyone can enjoy. Just nix the booze so the kiddies can raise a glass, too. 

Dragon's Kiss
Fills 4 martini glasses

2 dragon fruits
2 Granny Smith apples
2 lemons, juice + zest
2 Tb fresh parsley
2 Tb fresh mint
3 cups coconut water (I like Cocozia)*
1/2 cup ice
1 tsp sugar
2 shots Amaretto (optional)
4 edible sugar wafer butterflies
pinch chia seeds (optional)

Use a vegetable peeler to take 4 ribbons of zest off of a lemon.
Punch/cut a little star pattern out of each zest ribbon.

Peel and cut apples into large chunks.
Toss into pitcher of a blender.

Add remaining lemon zest and squeeze juice over the apples.
Cut dragonfruit in half and scoop the polka-dot pulp out.
Add to blender.
Add herbs, coconut water, ice sugar and Amaretto (if using).
Blend smooth, fill glasses and decorate with a pretty edible butterfly!

Using coconut water in any drink is a lovely substitute to ordinary water. Sugary store-bought cocktail mixes have no place in my kitchen. The Dragon's Kiss is so easy to make from scratch using the freshest fruit and herbs with a hint of coconut flavour. This isn't the stuff that comes in a can. Coconut water is extracted from young fruit. So it is light and mild in flavour. Cocozia tastes so fresh you'd think someone just climbed a coconut tree, grabbed a coconut and stuck a straw into it. Get ready for the hot summer with a vibrant drink that is sure to keep you as cool as a tropical breeze.

*This is not a paid post. I was given a sample of Cocozia coconut water to review. All opinions are my own.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Mother's Day Special: Interview with Chef Michelle Bernstein + Her Flan de Mama

My li'l blue-eyed beauty woke up this morning when I was off, brushing my teeth. That is when I heard a sweet li'l voice calling, "Maaamaaaaaa?" So, I rushed to the bedroom and found a cute, little girl, yawning and rubbing her sleepy eyes under messy curls. She fumbled to the edge of the bed and wrapped her arms around my neck. Then, she settled down and said, "Mommy, I want someteeng to eat. And juice. And I want to watch Hello Keetty," finishing with, "In bed.

Every morning, it's the same routine, serving her Royal Littleness while scrambling to get myself ready for work. Sometimes she asks for Peppa Pig or Pingu, but her demands are otherwise the same. It's that soft, warm hug that reminds me every day how grateful I am to be her mother. 

So I make a mad dash for the kitchen, get a bowl of blueberries rinsed, a sippy of mango-peach-orange juice (her fav) and gummy vitamins ready for delivery. After serving my little sweetheart, I make another mad dash, this time for my coffee. That is usually when crazy ideas cross my minds. Today it was making the batter for a cake before I leave for work so that when I get home all I have to do is toss it into the oven. Genius, right? 

Well, that is when it happened. For the first time in my life, the words "I 've got butter in my cleavage!" came flying out of my mouth. There I was, creaming some butter with sugar in my stand mixer when a big, fat chunk of cold butter curve-balled right out of the bowl, landing in my blouse. Clearly, the butter was not softened enough.  Now we know. All operations in the kitchen came to a screeching halt as I made a mad dash to the laundry room, then the shower. 

It is not exactly a great feeling, being assaulted by a dairy product. Life in the professional kitchen is a foodie's fantasy, but in reality, it can be quite hectic. I wondered how hectic. So I asked someone who would know. James Beard Award winning executive chef, cookbook author and owner of several fab Miami restaurants including the famed Michy's needs little, if any introduction. That would be Michelle Bernstein who is one very busy lady. 
With her husband and mother at her side, it's a family affair presenting gourmet dishes with an eclectic take on Latin favourites. Balancing motherhood with a demanding culinary career, she still manages to find time as founder of a local chapter of a program that engages youngsters to learn to cook and eat better, something we all strive to do for our kids. 

Casting her signature bright smile also makes her the perfect TV personality and may have contributed to her victory on Iron Chef. But, you do not have to go as far as Florida for a taste of her creations - Just fly Delta, business or first class. Despite her dizzying schedule, the acclaimed chef made time to share a few, fun facts with me.

Coco: Growing up, who cooked? Mom, Dad or both?
Chef Michelle: Mom cooked and still does; in fact for Christmas Eve she made a Roast Goose (18
pounds) and braised cabbage!!! Dad makes great salami and eggs, but that’s it...

Coco: What's the best thing they cooked for you?

Chef Michelle: Everything she makes is good, literally. I guess my favorite is when she makes
gnocchi in cream sauce paired with braised chicken thighs with pizza spices.

Coco: How many siblings do you have?

Chef Michelle: One older sister

Coco: What do you do for fun?

Chef Michelle: Go to the beach with our son or biking or grilling out with friends.

Coco: Like all moms, mine is a fabulous cook, but always asks my dad or me to taste her dish

and tell her if it needs more salt, heat, etc. Do you sample your dishes yourself before
you send them out?
Chef Michelle: As a chef, I always (as all kitchens do) have pans filled with plastic tasting spoons
all over the kitchen to make sure our reductions and sauces and broths are always on point; I even
make our garde manger cooks try the lettuce before plating a salad.

Coco: What is your biggest challenge as a female chef?

Chef Michelle: I don’t see the difference.

Coco: What's the best chocolate? (You do like chocolate, yes?)

Chef Michelle: I do.  I like finding new and different chocolates; I don’t care about combinations
of flavor or fillings, just really good quality chocolate. I tried a dark chocolate bar called Pacari recently that was unforgettable.

Coco: Do you love shoes or handbags?

Chef Michelle: Both; but I have a bit of a shoe...problem.

Coco: Do you prefer sweet over savory?

Chef Michelle: SAVORY always; you can keep the sweet…

She may not have a voracious sweet-tooth, so you can bet your first-born that Michelle Bernstein's desserts are absolutely fabulous, especially one from her own mother. This Mother's Day, don't just buy Mom a pearl bracelet or an iTunes gift card. Make something for her, like a silky, rich flan and serve it as breakfast in bed.

Yes, for breakfast. Why not? Flan has all the breakfast basics in check: Eggs, cream cheese, milk. How decadent would that be? Chef's Michelle's recipe is flawless and easy to follow. The chef uses an ovenproof glass baking dish, but metal works really well, too.

Just remember to make your caramel first, even the night before. Wait for it to cool completely before adding the custard. Sugar retains a lot of heat and, if the caramel is still hot, it will start cooking the eggs in the custard, making the flan taste "eggy." Wait for the caramel to cool, then add the custard. Blend the custard to a perfectly smooth consistency. An immersion blender works very well.

Flan de Mama
Courtesy of Michelle Bernstein

Flan                                                                                                       Caramel
1 14-oz can sweetened condensed milk                                               1 cup granulated sugar 
14 oz whole milk                                                                                  3/4 cup water 
4 oz (1/2 a brick) Philadelphia Cream Cheese, room temperature
5 large Grade A free-range eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ cup granulated white sugar
1 tsp lemon peel, finely grated

Equipment: 9 inch glass baking dish, large baking pan, aluminum foil


Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
Place all the ingredients into a blender and mix until smooth with no lumps, about 3-5 minutes.Set aside.

Place the sugar and water in a small pan. Cook over medium-high heat until it becomes golden, making sure not stir at any time.
Once the caramel is ready, pour it into a 9-inch glass baking dish, covering the base and sides up to an inch in height.

Carefully pour the flan into the prepared dish with the caramel.
Place the dish in a baking pan, and pour in enough hot water to reach halfway up the sides of the flan dish. Cover only the glass baking dish with aluminum foil.

Place the pan in the center of the oven, making sure not to get water inside the flan dish [Editor’s note: pour water into baking pan once it is in the oven to ensure no spillage]. Cook for about an hour, or until the flan is set.

Let the flan cool completely, then refrigerate until very cold. When ready to serve, remove the flan by turning the dish upside down on a large plate.
Tomorrow, the famous Michy's of Miami reopens as Cena by Michy with a fresh new look and innovative menu. Cena means supper in both Italian and Spanish,  The new restaurant features mouthwatering creations like Sunchoke and Potato Hash, but Chef Michelle's Flan de Mama is a family classic. With Mother's Day peeking around the corner, we are lucky she shares her recipe. Flan is the Latin cousin to the French crème caramel. For years, I've been using the same recipe. It's fullproof, delicious, never eggy. But, now, I am officially ruined.  This morning I ate the last of it for breakfast with fresh raspberries. Michelle Bernstein's flan is sheer luxury that you can recreate at home. Rich, creamy, luscious and so easy to make that you will have it ready when Mom opens her eyes on Sunday morning, because she deserves the very best of everything.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

How to Eat a Cupcake + Other Bits of Kitchen Wisdom

In the last three decades, food shows have flooded the airwaves, inspiring more and more Americans to cook at home. Anyone can master the most basic and important techniques that guarantee consistent success. Find out why garlic should be the first thing you should chop, what to do when you do not have any buttermilk on hand, why all-purpose flour is so versatile, what causes egg shells to crack, what al-dente means, how to cook the perfect steak. Most importantly, you will find out how to eat a cupcake without getting a frosting facial. These simple tricks will have you cooking like a champ in no time.

How to Eat a Cupcake
You didn't think someone had to tell you how to eat a cupcake, but I want to share this neat little trick I found with you, because there actually is a science to it.  Most of us attack a cupcake head-on, making ridiculous expressions, trying to avoid getting a facial with the frosting and failing miserably. Sometimes the frosting is sacrificed in the process and not eaten at all. What a waste. The most practical and delicious way to enjoy a cupcake takes 4 simple little steps:
1. Remove the wrapper
2. Gently split the cupcake in half
3. Place the bottom over the frosting
4. Eat your neat, little cupcake sandwich.
Your life will be better forever.


Garlic is one of those super-foods. The ordinary, often overlooked plant is actually quite extraordinary. Not only is it essential to adding beautiful flavour to any savory dish, it also contains heart-healthy, antibacterial, anti-fungal, anti-cancer properties, prevents food poisoning and fights off vampires. The potency of the beneficial compounds is destroyed by the heat of cooking. So, the first thing that goes onto my chopping board is always the garlic. I take 2-3 cloves of garlic and give them a good bashing with the flat of my cooking knife. Then I mince and smoosh the garlic against the cutting board. Finally, I collect the minced garlic in a little bowl where it must rest at least 10 minutes. This is sufficient time for the precious allicin compound to develop. As Dad explains, allicin is crucial to the heart-healthy, anti-cancer, antibacterial qualities of garlic that would otherwise be destroyed by the heat of the cooking process. So, while my garlic rests in that little bowl, I move on to the rest of the ingredients. If you are worried about stinky breath, just drink a cup of black tea after dinner. No one will ever suspect you ate any garlic.


There are those who believe buttermilk imparts a very special delicate texture to your pancakes. While that may be true, you will probably never catch me reaching for the carton at the supermarket. It is one more less-often used ingredient that will soon turn into a science experiment in the fridge. So, when I need it, I make my own. 

Homemade Buttermilk

1 cup milk
4 tsp lemon juice or white vinegar
15 minutes

Fancy Flours

The recipe calls for cake flour, but you don't have any? No problem. Use all-purpose.
Most of us do not stock-pile what I call specialty ingredients. Cake flour is one of them. It is basically all-purpose flour without the gluten. In the old days, I used to spend a pretty penny on a small of box of precious cake flour.
Nowadays, I just get 5-pounders of the regular stuff and use it for everything, including fluffy sponge cake. It turns out perfectly every time. The trick is to not overwork the batter. Vigorous mixing causes the gluten to develop and results in tough, chewy baked goods. Once the flour is added to the bowl, just mix gently just until the flour disappears. Then, your cookies and cakes will turn out beautifully every time. And, because cake flour wasn't enough, there is also another fancy flour. Self-raising, Self-rising, whatever it's called. If that recipe calls for cake flour or self-rising flour, don't chuck it. Just make your own. Here's how:

Cake Flour

1 cup flour
2 Tb cornstarch

Self-rising Flour

2 cups flour
1 Tb baking powder
pinch salt

Hens all over the world would be grateful if we just stopped stealing their eggs, but vegan baking is challenging and limiting. Not everything can be made well without the traditional addition of eggs. Case in point, sponge cake. I should like to see someone successfully make a vegan sponge cake that is both delicious and airy. So, I use eggs, but I don't buy just any eggs - They must be free-range, free-roaming, because I want the girls to have a chance to stretch their legs and breath fresh air. And I handle them with care.

Cooking eggs seems like the easiest, most basic thing anyone can do in the kitchen, but it can actually be a bit challenging. Between Jacques Pépin and my coworker friend Danny who is an egg connoisseur, I learned the secret to cooking eggs perfectly every time.

Crack eggs against a clean, flat surface.
Breaking them against the rim of the mixing bowl or frying pan can introduce bacteria and break the yolk.

Before cooking, puncture a tiny hole into the rounder end of the egg. This releases the pressure from air pocket inside the shell and prevents cracking.

Take eggs out of fridge, cold.

Collect them in a shallow pan in a single layer and cover with enough water to cover the eggs.

Add a pinch of baking soda. This will make the shell slide right off.

Once the water just starts to bubble, wait 8-10 seconds, 

then take the pot off of the heat, put the lid on.
Let the eggs rest in the hot water
*6-7-minutes for a soft yolk
*10-12 minutes for hardboiled.

Remove, peel and enjoy!

How to Cook Pasta
It sounds quite ridiculous for someone to have to tell you how to cook pasta. How hard could it be?
You boil some water, add some olive oil, toss the pasta in and Bob's your uncle. Well, that is what I thought, until I heard what I heard on the radio one morning on my way to the office. That's when I realized I had been doing it wrong all along. Anyone can do it right with a few tricks to guarantee perfect.

Knowing when to take the pasta out of the hot water is the secret. Al dente is Italian for to the tooth and marks the point at which the pasta should be drained. It will continue to cook from its own residual heat and that of the sauce to perfect consistency. Overcooking pasta will give you nothing more than a bowl of mush.

The pros recommend 5 quarts of water for every pound of pasta. That's 1 gallon + 4 cups or 20 cups of water. That may seem like a lot. 5 cups should be enough plenty.

Add 1/4 cup of salt to the water and put the lid on.
Once the water has reached a rolling boil, add the pasta and stir gently. This helps keep the pasta from sticking. Do not add olive oil to the cooking water.

Different shapes of pasta cook differently. Refer to the package instructions for cooking time.
Most will achieve al-dente consistency in 5-7 minutes.

Scoop a cup of the starchy pasta water and save it to add to your sauce as needed.

Drain the pasta, but do not rinse it.

Serve in bowls to help keep the pasta warm longer.

How to Cook Steaks

The secret to fancy steakhouse food is simple: Good quality meat, a thermometer and a bit of patience. The most delicious food takes time to prepare and this is one of those techniques you will want to master.

Look for the best quality of meat you can afford. Homegrown Cow offers a variety of meats from humanely treated livestock delivered right to your door.

Traditionally, steaks are seared first, then finished in the oven. We are going to turn the tables and bake first, on low.

The magical numbers are 275*F for the oven and 125*F for the inside of the steak, regardless of the size and thickness of the meat.

Get a probe thermometer to take the guesswork out of the process and consistent results, Something that has a long probe and an alarm that will alert you when the internal temperature has reached target (like this).

Preheat oven to 275*F.
Season steak on all sides. We love Snider's Prime Rib dry rub.

Place steak onto wire rack over baking tray and transfer to warm oven.

Bake until the internal temperature is 125*F.

For a 2-inch thick, 1-pound piece of steak, it will take close to 1 hour to get the internal temperature up to target. After the steak is taken out of the oven, it will continue cooking. Once the internal temp reaches 135*F, a quick sear in a cast iron pan, 1 minute on each side crisps the outside with a beautiful thin crust and the inside to a perfectly even medium-rare. You can also grill it, which is what we prefer. Then, slice and serve!

Shortening can be stored at room temperature for 1,500 years and won't ever spoil. (A slight exaggeration, of course.) Its consistency stays creamy and makes pastry beautifully crumbly. But, I'm a butter girl through and through. My best friend is a cardiologist and confirmed butter is better for your arteries than shortening. So, there you go. I keep my butter in the fridge, which is fine unless the recipe calls for soft butter. Then I have to plan ahead, put a couple a sticks on the counter for a bit while. When there isn't enough time to wait for it to warm up to room temp, I fast-forward to the future by nuking it in the microwave or heating it on the stove. These both sound like great ideas, but you end up with bubbling hot liquid and a big chunk of solid butter in the center, not exactly the creamy, soft consistency we were going for. So, go low-tech and grate the butter like it's cheese. This works perfectly. Not only do I pump up my biceps, the shredding exposes more of the surface area to the elements and brings the butter to room temperature quickly with perfect consistency.