Banana Pudding Cupcakes

Last week, I organized a surprise “Happy 20 Years” party for my boss. Everyone at my office loves partaking in potluck parties, so we made it a secret potluck. We had just had an impromptu potluck organized by my boss the week before, and I had made mini blueberry cheesecakes.  I had to think of a way to “top” my mini blueberry cheesecakes, but still be able to complete the dish on a weekday night and transport it easily to work.

Last summer I made traditional banana pudding for our summer picnic and a lot of it went uneaten. I think that it was because we had far too much food and no-one could really tell what mine was because that’s the nature of banana pudding! It’s yummy goodness hidden under a layer of whipped cream.  Banana pudding is one of my favorite desserts, so I chose to translate them into cupcakes. When trying to construct the ‘cake in my mind, my boyfriend said “I don’t know why you like cupcakes so much…” (he’s a pie guy at heart). Thankfully, he ate his words later and proclaimed “I think this might be the best dessert you’ve ever made!”

{Recipe & more pictures below}

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Chilled Chinese Noodle Salad (冷やし中華)

July’s Washoku Warriors challenge was to make one of two dishes: Hiyashi Chuka (Chilled Chinese Noodle Salad) or Somen (Thin Noodles on Ice). I chose to make the hiyashi chuka because it was very flexible and came together in just a few minutes.

The recipe had two different dressing recipes and I chose the one that required no prep time and had the least amount of ingredients. I added a little more sugar and a little less sesame oil for personal preference. Next time, I would add a splash of plum vinegar or citrus juice to brighten the dressing a tad. The original garnishes called for were red pickled ginger, tomato, cucumber, shitake mushrooms, egg, ham, and sesame seeds.

I wanted to keep with the color scheme, so replaced the tomato with red pepper and switched out sesame seeds with flax seeds and some black sesame seeds. I omitted the ‘shrooms since I don’t care for them, and replaced the red pickled ginger (beni shoga) with regular pickled ginger. I also don’t care for cucumbers so next time I’ll replace it with zucchini. I don’t really like sesame oil, so I was very worried about adding it into the dressing. In the end, I was surprised that the smell of sesame was so strong, but the taste was just right!

This dish came together so quickly, yet was satisfying and light–there will definitely be a “next time” for this.
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Nature’s Pride Bread

A few weeks ago my doorbell rang and I opened it to find a large box from San Francisco. I opened it to find three packages of Nature’s Pride Premium Harvest Hamburger Buns and Deli Rolls from the Foodbuzz Tastemaker program! Three packages of bread is a lot for us to eat, considering we’re a household of only two, but we tried our best! We ate sandwiches every day and grilled yummy Snappys on the weekend.

Unfortunately, we don’t like white bread, so the Country White buns didn’t really get eaten. I ate the Whole Wheat buns for lunches, and thought they were quite yummy. Many rolls we buy at the store for lunch sandwiches have too much bread and have a bad, chalky powder on the outside, leaving you with white-dusted lips. Not these! These were just the right amount of bread and I loved the dark, rich color.  I liked the fact that the buns were dense, but my boyfriend did not. I could see this bun standing up to a hamburger in strength, but it might stuff you until you were about to explode.

We like to think of buns and rolls as “treats” for a fancy sandwich, not for every day use. These would be great buns to buy for a grill-out, but my family is a potato-roll family! We can’t get away from that nice, orange-y color and mild, sweet after taste. I’m fine eating regular sandwich bread, or even sandwich “thins” since I like to taste my sandwich innards first, before the bread.

Sweet Charity 2010

Yelp (@yelpdc) had a contest recently via twitter to see who could think of the most inventive ways to use dessert in fashion. The prize was two tickets to the Sweet Charity event on June 21st!

I’ve been to events like this before — Washingtonian’s “Best of” party, and just the week before (via Yelp) Toast of the Town. This is by far the best event of this sort that I’ve been to. Maybe it’s because of my sweet tooth, but I loved every moment of it. Thankfully there were some savory stations–lest I go into a diabetic coma–but most of them were sweet. There were so many options that were so delicious that I didn’t have time to photograph everything.

My boyfriend (my +1) and I reached a consensus that Chef Geoff’s espresso brownie was the best dish of the night, followed by the dishes from the Ritz. Another great thing that set this event apart from others — the bar. This event was 100% open bar with beer, wine, and mixed drinks. The event was the whole bottom floor of the Mandarin Oriental, which contained many different rooms and hallways. Since it wasn’t just one big open space, there were a lot of different areas to explore and discover.

The end of the night was capped off with awards, a live auction, and a fashion show. The fashion show all had models wearing clothing that was a hybrid of chocolate, marzipan, and/or sugar and fabric. I think the theme was “movies” since there was a Cruella DeVil, “Birds”, Tinkerbell, and a few warriors.

All in all, the event had great people, great food, and it was for a great cause. I honestly would consider going again next year, on my own ticket!

Vegan Almond French Toast

A new Whole Foods opened near me recently. As part of their opening promotions, they invited Facebook users, Twitter-ers, and e-mail subscribers to take part in a “Rate the Recipe Challenge”. We were asked to visit their online Recipe section and pick a recipe that hadn’t been rated yet. After we submitted our recipes, we were given a $20 gift card to purchase ingredients and the promise of another $10 gift card as incentive to complete the challenge.

It was hard to decide on just one recipe to choose, but I ended up picking Almond French Toast. This recipe was french toast with a twist, it’s egg and dairy free! My review follows below.

One of my favorite foods of all time is french toast, and the best part is the spongy, eggy taste of the center paired with the crisp and sweet outside. This recipe came together very quickly and really delivered on the “french toast” experience. The protein and texture of the eggs are replaced with the almond butter and tofu, and the milk is replaced with almond milk. The batter for the last few slices in the batch had a more paste-like texture that sticks to the bread , but if you’re not afraid of getting your hands dirty, just wipe the bread down a bit between your fingers and this problem is solved. The bread is also a little dry because there is less liquid in this batter so it would pair great with some yogurt or extra syrup.

The best part of this dish was definitely the toasted almonds. I thought that topping the french toast with almonds wouldn’t taste good, but toasting them beforehand gives a wonderful crunch and brings out the natural sweetness of the nuts while providing a strong textural contrast.

The main ingredient in all french toast dishes is the bread, so this recipe can go all sorts of different ways depending on the type of bread you use. I made one batch using some whole grain bread and another batch using challah bread. I liked the challah bread better because it had a crispier outside and the lighter center of the bread soaked up the mixture better, but it really comes down to personal preference (and if you’re making an egg-free recipe, you should probably use an egg-free bread). The egg-free, whole wheat batch was served with some bananas drizzled with brown sugar syrup on the side while the challah batch was served with a smear of chocolate-hazelnut spread between slices.

This is a great recipe for those that love french toast, but can’t have it the traditional way due to dietary restrictions. This could be seen as a bit expensive to make if you didn’t have any of the ingredients, but most people have at least some of them. Also, this would be a great opportunity to utilize the “make your own nut butter” and bulk food sections at Whole Foods since this recipe only calls for a little of each ingredient.