Saturday, January 29, 2011

Southern Lemon Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting and Strawberries.

For hubby's birthday this year, I decided to make 2 desserts.  I made chocolate hazelnut cupcakes for his actual birthday and a southern lemon cake for his birthday weekend (which involved his parent's company).

The chocolate hazelnut cupcakes came from a cupcake book that I got from my sister-in-law 2 years ago.  The book hasn't been too successful in providing good recipes.  I've used it to make Rocky Road cupcakes and Purple Velvet Cupcakes.  Neither recipes were that great!  I decided to give the book one last chance to impress me and if it didn't succeed, then the book was history.  The chocolate hazelnut cupcakes were decent.  They were edible but nothing to brag over.  The cupcake part was a bit on the dry side but it might be because I halved the recipe.  I won't even attempt to add the recipe to our blog though since it's not something I'd make again.  The book will stay on my shelf from now...

I've been watching TLC's The Next Great Baker for the past 8-10 weeks.  It's one of those shows where candidates compete to win money and a chance to be hired on as "The Next Great Baker" in Carlos' Bakery.  Every time I watch the show, I get hungry for cake.  I'm not much of a cake fan at all. But the cake designs are so appealing and some of the things the candidates bake look delicious.  In one episode, Dana makes a Southern Lemon Cake.  The judges are blown away by his cake.  Since then, hubby has been talking about Dana's Southern Lemon Cake.  So for hubby's birthday weekend with his parents, I decided to make a Southern Lemon Cake.

I searched hard for Dana's recipe on the internet, but of course it is no where to be found.  I looked up some recipes for southern lemon cake and lemon cake.  I ended up using this recipe from All Recipes but with a few modifications based on some reviews and things that I wanted in a lemon cake. 

Southern Lemon Cake


3 cups cake flour
(I didn't have cake flour so I used all-purpose flour.  1 cup cake flour = 1 cup all-purpose flour minus 2 tbsp of flour)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 eggs, separated whites and yolks
2 cups white sugar
1 cup butter, softened
3 grated lemons, zested
1 1/2 lemons juiced
1 small container lemon yogurt


1. Sift the flour, baking soda, and salt together. Set mixture aside.

2. Separate the eggs -- egg whites and yolks. In a medium bowl, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually add 1/2 cup of the sugar, beating until stiff glossy peaks form. Set aside. (I actually did this all by hand.  It was tough work.)

3. Cream butter or margarine and 1 1/2 cups sugar.  Add egg yolks, lemon zest, and lemon juice together until fluffy.  Add flour mixture alternately with the yogurt to the egg yolk mixture.  Gently fold in the egg whites and pour the batter into the prepared pans.  (I used 2 8" round cake pans.)

4. Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 30 to 35 minutes or until cake comes out clean. Let cake cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a rack to finish cooling.

The lemon cake came out dense, almost like a pound cake.  The lemon flavor wasn't too tart or overpowering.  I might actually add a little more lemon juice or lemon yogurt.  Other than that, it was delicious! 

On The Next Great Baker, Dana makes his Southern Lemon Cake with a cream cheese frosting and tops it with strawberries.  I found a cream cheese frosting recipe on All Recipes that got close to 2000 reviews at 4.5 our of 5 stars.

Cream Cheese Frosting

2 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups sifted confectioners' sugar


1. Cream together the cream cheese and butter until creamy. Mix in the vanilla, then gradually stir in the confectioners' sugar. 

Add vanilla and confectioners' sugar to taste.  Some reviewers said this frosting was too soft, too sweet, not sweet enough, not enough vanilla, etc.  I followed the recipe exactly because it was just right for my taste.  It would be perfect with a carrot cake or red velvet cake as well.  To change it up, I might add some food coloring, change the vanilla to almond extract, or maybe add some cocoa powder for a chocolate frosting.  It's definitely a recipe to keep.

With the cake baked and cream cheese frosting made, I had my first chance to decorate my cake.  I cut off the tops of the cakes to even them out for a flat surface. 

I frosted the first cake.

Topped it off with sliced strawberries.

Added the second cake. 

And frosted the entire cake, topping it off with a few strawberries.

Let me say, getting the cake to be smooth is a big challenge.  It's no wonder people use fondant.  It probably makes a difference to have the cake tools to help smooth the frosting, which I don't have. 

And Voila!  My version of Southern Lemon Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting and Strawberries.

A huge hit!  The cake and frosting tasted great with the strawberries (or any berries).  It wasn't too sweet, too lemon-like or anything.  And for once, I actually ate all the frosting off my cake.  (I usually pick off all frosting from cakes.)  My in-laws asked for a small piece of cake, probably because it looked really sweet with the frosting.  After their first piece, they immediately helped themselves for seconds.  As for my hubby -- Happy Birthday Honey Bunches!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Perfectly Spiced Paella with Saffron Rice

The hubby's birthday was yesterday and I decided to venture off and make paella.  My taste pallet has changed a bit since getting pregnant.  Creamy foods don't appeal to meal.  Savory foods with lots of spices are usually what I am seeking for.  And my dessert cravings have gone down a bit...except when I watch cake shows on TV.  Paella was a good choice because it has a lot of different spices, it's savory, and I can eat shrimp (no oysters or clams in this paella).  I found this recipe on All Recipes but I changed it up quite a bit based on my party size of 2 and my desire to add in more vegetables.  Here's what I did:

Saffron Rice
2 cloves garlic, diced
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 cup uncooked white rice
1 large pinch saffron threads
1 bay leaf
1/4 bunch Italian flat leaf parsley, chopped
2 cups chicken stock
1 lemon, zested

Heat olive oil in a medium pot over medium heat. Stir in garlic, red pepper flakes, and rice. Cook, stirring, to coat rice with oil, about 3 minutes. Stir in saffron threads, bay leaf, parsley, chicken stock, and lemon zest. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce heat to medium low. Simmer 20-25 minutes.

Paella Topping
1 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into pieces
10-15 baby portabells mushrooms, sliced
1 red bell pepper diced

Mix all this in a bowl and marinade

1/2 onion, chopped
12 oz chorizo sausage, casings removed and crumbled
16 oz shrimp (I bought frozen shrimp, already deveined and cooked.)
16 oz diced tomatoes
1 cup of frozen peas

Heal olive oil in separate, large skillet over medium heat. Stir in marinated chicken and onion until almost cooked.  Stir in sausage and thoroughly cook meats.  Stir in shrimp bell pepper mushrooms, diced tomatoes and frozen peas.  Cover and bring to boil.  Mix topping with rice and serve.

The rice was just the right amount for a part of 2 (with a day of left overs).  And the topping made a serving for about 8-10.  It was a lot.  Both were delicious.  The saffron rice was amazing and had a lot of great flavors and spices.  It was the perfect color of yellow too with bits of green from the parsley and red from the saffron.  The paella topping was cooked great as well.  I'd probably cut the chorizo and shrimp in half since we had so much left over.  It might be because I added in more vegetables though as the original recipe didn't have the mushrooms, tomatoes or frozen peas.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Tang Ho (Chrysanthemum) Sushi!

When Jen and I took the How to Make Vegetarian Sushi class at Great News Cooking with Mineko Takane Moreno, author of Sushi for Dummies, one of my favorite rolls we had in that class was chrysanthemum sushi with a peanut-miso sauce. Unfortunately this great recipe was not in her book. I always wanted to make it again, but never could find chrysanthemum at my local 99 Ranch. Jen ended up finding out that the Chinese word for chrysanthemum was "tang ho" and that they sold it at 99 Ranch. Sure enough, I found it and had some delicious sushi for dinner!

Mongolian Beef

After having some success with Mapo Tofu from tweaking the recipe at, I thought I would try their Mongolian Beef Recipe. I cannot say I was a huge fan. It definitely needs some tweaking but I'm quite not sure where.... Still looking for some staple Chinese recipes.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Caramel-Topped Semolina Cake

I saw Dorie make this on Martha Stewart's show in December and was interested. A cake that used farina as its base and contained no butter? This I have to try! It also looked easy and quick, which it was.

I mostly followed the directions, except I used a 9" cake pan since I don't own any 8" ones. The cake came out very flat. I also used almond milk instead of whole milk since I never have cow's milk in the house. I've made it twice now and both times I had trouble flipping the cake over after it was done baking. The first time was probably my fault. I forgot to run a knife around the edge in my haste and the edges stayed stuck in the cake pan. The second time, I sprayed the pan with non-stick spray and ran the knife around but I think the non-stick spray made the cake move too much within the pan and it squished itself to one side. I guess if I try this again, I won't use non-stick spray and I'll just run the knife around the edges?

Despite my troubles, you should try this cake. I hesitate to even call it that, as it is very custard-y in texture and not like a cake in the traditional sense. It is almost flan-like, but much more delicious. Jon didn't care for it, saying that I've made better, but Rich and I devoured it.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Nine-Ten: Mercy of the Chef

Jon and I finally got around to celebrating our birthdays (only 2 months late!) and went to Nine-Ten last night. It was my first time for dinner and Jon's first time ever. The restaurant is small and located within The Grand Colonial Hotel on Prospect Street in La Jolla. We didn't have any problems finding street parking on a Wednesday evening, but they do offer valet (for a fee).

I made the reservation through OpenTable and noticed that they surprisingly read my requests because we were seated in a private area and they knew it was Jon's birthday. I was beginning to think no one ever read my requests because they were never honored!

The service was stellar and attentive, without being snobby or pretentious. Almost immediately after being seated, we were given two complimentary flutes of rosé champagne to celebrate the birthday dinner as well as fresh bread.

Jon decided on this restaurant because we were both interested in their "Mercy of the Chef" dinner, which is a 5-course tasting menu of dishes created by the chef's inspiration for $70. We were each brought different items which was great because we were able to sample 10 different dishes!

I am not going to be able to list the details of every dish (sauces, garnishes, etc) because they were quite lengthy and I can't remember them all... even the server struggled to tell us what everything was and couldn't remember the exact names of things!

This was a bite of salmon. It tasted very fresh and not "fishy" at all.

First course: salads
Jon: salmon salad with pieces of potato salad, topped with potato chips and roe

Jen: shaved cucumber salad with watercress and truffle oil (sorry this was taken in the middle of eating it because all other pictures were blurred)

These were both very good.

Second course: seafood
Jon: salmon with pomegranate and pureed celery root

Jen: swordfish with fingerling potatoes and olives

I liked these also. I generally don't care for swordish because it's too chewy/tough but these pieces were very tender.

Third course: main
Jon: lamb with yellow and pureed red beets and greens

Jen: turbot over some kind of vegetable with a truffle sauce

The turbot was very buttery and cooked perfectly. I couldn't figure out what else it was served with - seemed like some kind of shredded vegetable underneath it. Jon's lamb was also good. We both think lamb as being too "gamey" for us but this didn't taste like that. His was served with some kind of dark leafy green that I loved - seemed like it was a Chinese green of some sort.

Fourth course: cheese plates
Jon: goat's milk cheese and quince

Jen: a harder, peppery cheese (can't remember the name), toasted almonds

Both were served with different types of bread, including an interesting walnut bread.

Fifth course: dessert
Jon: coffeecake topped with bacon, butternut squash ice cream

Jen: chocolate mousse with creme fraiche, coffee, and banana ice cream

We both got candles on our plates!  Although beautifully plated, I was not as impressed with my dessert. Jon's seemed so much more inventive and unique.

They also gave us a couple of complimentary truffles (sorry, no picture) at the end that were good. Overall, I enjoyed the experience. Though very expensive for us, the food was high-quality, tasted good, and the service was excellent. Definitely a splurge though!

Happy Birthday to us!
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