Category Archives: Restaurant Recreations

Dark Chocolate Almond Lace Cookies (Copy Cat Recipe)

Dark Chocolate Almond Lacy Cookie (Trader Joe's Copy Cat Recipe)

I wanted to share how delicious these crisp, chewy toffee cookies turned out. I love the Dark Chocolate Almond Lacey Cookies from Trader Joe’s. So when Little Bird insisted we do a mommy-daughter baking project during Baby Bird’s nap yesterday, we tried out this copy cat recipe featuring a honey toffee and orange zest.

We used this recipe from My Jerusalem Kitchen with local honey. We made them exactly as written with a few small changes. I think they taste better than the store-bought. The orange zest and cinnamon add more levels of flavor. The store-bought can be pretty addicting, but these went really quick!

My notes on making Dark Chocolate Almond Lace Cookies:

  1. We used Trader Joe’s Almond Meal in place of the finely chopped almonds. The recipe still worked great and it was a convenient swap.
  2. I baked them on silicone mats instead of parchment paper. Again, worked well and a reusable option.
  3. We made the sandwich version with melted chocolate in the middle. Our yield was a dozen sandwich cookies. I might double the recipe if making to share.
  4. Please use organic citrus anytime you are zesting or otherwise eating peel. p.s. Our orange tree smells AMAZING right now!

Dark Chocolate Almond Lacy Cookie (Trader Joe's Copy Cat Recipe)

S’mores Baked Alaska

S’mores Baked Alaska is a recreation of a delicious dessert we have had several times at Waypoint Public in North Park. A meringue top is toasted, like a perfect campfire marshmallow, covering a scoop of chocolate ice cream and a crunchy graham cracker crust.

S'mores Baked Alaska recipe

This recipe was also the perfect excuse to try out the blowtorch Papa Bird gave me for Christmas. Being a food blogger, cooking gadgets are always a good call for gifts. As usual, Little Bird helped out on every step, except maybe the blowtorching. The recipe is actually pretty easy. The crust is just graham cracker crumbs with melted butter, pressed into pans. You could make crumbs easily with a food processor, but giving a three-year-old license to whack anything is fun. It’s also a good emotional outlet, as I learned during a school social work internship.

I thought about making something more like homemade marshmallows for the top (like this David Liebowitz pie), and thought I had gelatin leftover from the last time I made pumpkin cheesecake with cranberry gelee, but I was out. I might try marshmallow next time, if I’m feeling ambitious, but a simple meringue totally worked. We topped it like the restaurant with a drizzle of chocolate syrup and graham cracker crumbs. Yum!!

S'mores Baked Alaska recipe from Waypoint Public

Our whole family has always enjoyed Waypoint Public. It is one of the few places with an indoor play area. That’s not McDonald’s. But an actual restaurant with tasty food. In fact, their executive chef, Amanda Baumgarten, was a contestant on Top Chef. Tip: They have a back room for private events. We hosted my sister’s baby shower there in December. All of the staff were very accommodating.

S'mores Baked Alaska
 
Author:
Recipe type: Restaurant Recreation
Cuisine: Dessert
Serves: 3 4-inch pies
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
 
This a recreation of a dessert from Waypoint Public restaurant in the North Park neighborhood of San Diego, CA.
Ingredients
  • 8 graham crackers
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 cups chocolate ice cream, slightly softened
  • 3 egg whites
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar (optional but helps hold peaks)
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • chocolate syrup
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350*F. Place 8 graham crackers in a gallon-sized zip-lock bag and seal. Use a rolling pin to crush the crackers until they are broken into uniform crumbs. See video above. (Or pulse in a food processor.) Place ½ cup of graham cracker crumbs in a mixing bowl with the melted butter. (Reserve the rest of the crumbs for decorating.) Stir the crumbs and butter until combined and then press into three four-inch tart pans or ramekins. Put the mini pans on a baking sheet and bake for about 6 minutes. Allow to cool completely, but leave on the baking sheet.
  2. Place a scoop of ice cream in each cooled crust. Leave a rim of crust around the edge uncovered. This will allow the meringue to completely surround the ice cream and make a good seal with the crust. Place the baking sheet and pans in the freezer to chill a bit while you make the meringue.
  3. Separate the eggs and place in a clean bowl of a mixer with the vanilla and cream of tartar. Using a wire whisk attachment, beat until soft peaks form. Slowly sprinkle in the sugar a little at a time, and beat until stiff peaks form.
  4. Pipe or spoon the egg white mixture over the ice cream, making sure you bring it all the way down to the edge of the pie. Using a kitchen blowtorch, carefully toast the outside of the meringue.
  5. Decorate with a little chocolate syrup and graham cracker crumbs and eat right away.
Notes
You can refreeze any leftover pies.

 Continue for step-by-step photos and a video of the blowtorch in action. Continue reading

Sweet Potato Pecan Pie from Chef Matt Gordon

While learning about the Mama’s Kitchen Pie in the Sky fundraiser, I had the opportunity to watch Chef Matt Gordon of Urban Solace and Sea and Smoke demonstrate his recipe for Sweet Potato Pecan Pie. He gave me permission to share the recipe below. Chef Gordon also dropped lots of pie knowledge and tips during the demonstration. Fortunately, I took furious notes and share his best tricks and tips for making pie here.

sweet potato pecan pie

Don’t forget that you can save yourself the time and trouble of baking by having Chef Gordon and other top San Diego restaurants and bakeries make a pie for you. Purchasing a pie for $25 will provide over 8 healthy meals to neighbors in need. That’s a win-win-win. You can also donate a pie to clients as well.

chef matt gordon baking sweet potato pecan pie

Chef matt Gordon’s advanced Pie making Tips

  • A cold kitchen and cold hands are best for pastry. The butter should never melt. The chef said that he sometimes goes into their walk-in refrigerator on hot days. Interestingly, he shared that the best pastry chefs often have naturally cold hands.
  • Use parchment paper between the dough and your rolling pin to roll out the dough more easily.
  • Adding egg yolks to the dough (as this recipe does) is called an “enriched” recipe. It is great for wet batters (such as pumpkin pie and pecan pie) when you don’t want to pre bake the crust. Although this recipe calls for brushing the crust with egg white before putting the filling in, he says it isn’t necessary for an enriched crust.
  • Citrus zest adds great flavor to any baked goods, such as this crust.
  • Wet finger can band aid together a tear in the crust. As you want to handle the dough as little as possible, never ball it up to roll out a second time.
  • Many home cooks have spices in the cupboards for ages. Fresh spices make a huge difference. (I love grating fresh nutmeg with a microplane.)
  • Use raw pecans. (I had always wondered which was better for pie!)
  • Setting the oven to 325ºF (instead of hotter) can prevent over browning the crust. You can use a bit of foil, too. (I use a pie shield.)
  • Don’t use the fan if you have a convection oven. A conventional oven is actually better.
chef matt gordon baking sweet potato pecan pie
Continue reading for a printable recipe.

Continue reading

Fresh Vietnamese Spring Rolls with Zucchini Noodles

Fresh Vietnamese Spring Rolls, or gỏi cuốn, are also called salad rolls or summer rolls. They are light and refreshing, and much healthier than fried spring rolls. Over ten years ago my friend, Quentin, invited me over to dinner at his mother’s house. She is originally from Vietnam* and put out a spread of delicious ingredients for us to roll our own fresh spring rolls. I’ve never forgotten it. (*Similar to how I’ve learned a lot of Mexican sweets living in San Diego, we also benefit from a large Vietnamese population here.)

how to make fresh vietnamese spring rolls

I think “Salad Rolls” is a better description for fresh spring rolls, as they are light and fresh with lot’s of greens, herbs and lean proteins. Many restaurants also put in rice vermicelli noodles. I took it one step healthier and used raw zucchini “noodles” made from cutting an enormous garden zucchini with a julienne peeler. Handy gadget. The wrappers are made from rice. The rice paper comes in hard discs that are softened in a few seconds in warm water.

How To Make Fresh Vietnamese Spring Rolls

You can’t get more straightforward instructions than the back of the packaging!

fresh spring roll instructions

Here are my suggested fillings, feel free to only use what you like and to get creative:

  • Grilled Shrimp, Leftover Chicken, Steak or Tofu
  • Salad Greens
  • Fresh Herbs including Thai Basil, Mint, Cilantro , Scallions and Lemon Basil (use a LOT of herbs)
  • Cooked Rice Vermicelli or Raw Zucchini Noodles
  • Chopped Peanuts
  • Bean and Pea Sprouts and other raw veggies

Dipping Sauces for Salad Rolls:

  • The most common is a peanut sauce, easy recipe follows.
  • Another traditional is called nước mắm phawhich is a clear, sweet and sour with a little fish sauce. A girl I once worked with gave me her mom’s recipe, I’ll have to hunt around and see if I still have it.
  • You can’t go wrong with Sriracha!

fresh vietnamese spring rolls with zucchini noodles

Easy Peanut Dipping Sauce for Fresh Spring Rolls

That’s it! Warm in a sauce pan over low heat to mix easier. You can add a little water to thin, if needed.

True story: When I first made these rolls at home, I went to a Vietnamese market in search of peanut dipping sauce. I asked the young man stocking where it was. He didn’t think they had it and asked his grandmother. She laughed and (with her grandson translating) explained they always made it. She swore all you needed was these two ingredients. I usually can’t restrain myself from throwing in a little sriracha and nước mắm, but try it as is!

Shopping Notes:

The best prices are in Asian markets. These ingredients are pretty common, so you can usually find them on the “ethnic” aisle of big grocery stores. If you can’t find them easily, I’ve included some affiliate links to Amazon. Have fun and let me know if you have any questions!

Corn Pudding Cake

I was craving an alternative to the corn bread or corn muffins I usually make with chili. I love the creamy corn pudding at Indigo Grill (a popular San Diego restaurant) and searched for a similar recipe. Unfortunately, all the recipes I found were the same one, using processed, packaged and canned foods. If you follow my recipes, then you may have noticed we prefer to eat whole, real foods that have not been processed. I even found the Indigo Grill recipe published and, strangely, it claimed to be the same processed mix. One intrepid blogger made it from scratch, but first she recreated the cornbread mix, the creamed corn concoction, etc. and then followed the same recipe. There had to be a simpler way! So, I whipped up my own version with corn meal, flour, eggs, milk, butter and yogurt. It was very moist and delicious, but slightly more “cake” then “pudding.” Maybe somewhere in between. It was a keeper!

 corn pudding cake

Corn Pudding Cake Recipe

  • 3/4 cup corn meal
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • (optional) 1/2 cup brown sugar or honey
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 stick of butter
  • 1 cup of milk
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup of plain yogurt
  • 1/2 cup of fresh or frozen corn kernels
  • (optional additions) thyme, green onions, cheese (omit the sweetener)

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Use the end of the stick of butter to grease a round soufflé pan or baking dish.

In a small sauce pan, melt the rest of the butter. Take off heat and allow to cool slightly. In a medium bowl, add to the milk, yogurt, eggs and a liquid sweetener, such as honey, if using.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients. Include sugar if you are using it, but not honey or a wet sweetener.

Combine the dry and wet ingredients until just mixed. Add the corn kernels and any additional ingredients. Have fun and make it your own recipe!

Bake in greased dish for about an hour, just until the middle is set and not liquid.

Serve warm as an appetizer or along chili. (I promise to share my chili recipe, soon.)