The circus arrives without warning…

Finished my book club’s “The night circus”.  It’s Erin Morgenstern’s debut novel, and I already cannot wait for her new books to come!

If you love fairy tales – you will find all the magic, and love, and good and evil, and complexity in this book… minus the fairies.  The first paragraph captivates and the story holds you tight till the last word!  What a delightful tale! 

Book club discussion questions

Profiteroles with ice-cream

The hardest part about today’s dessert, profiteroles with ice-cream, was the ice-cream.  Oh no, don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t making it, I was buying it!  The thing is, I am not an ice-cream snob – I love most of it!  Even the low-calorie kinds!  Some people (like my husband) are super picky about their vanilla, while I go by the rule – the more rum they put in those raisins– the better!

So, the kids and I went to San Francisco’s favorite – Mitchell’s Ice Cream.  The thing about this place –rain or shine – they always have a line.  Yes, there are plenty of other creameries in town, but apparently Mitchell’s is the IT!  So, I’m just standing in the line, looking at these other people waiting, wondering if they know something I don’t know, or if they are like me, lured by The Line…

Well, nevertheless, the result, in my opinion, is absolute deliciousness.  I’m sure some name dropping will make this recipe taste even better!  

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  • 113 g unsalted butter
  • 200 ml water
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 100 g flour
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup dark chocolate sauce
  • 1/2 pint Vanilla ice-cream


Preheat oven to 425 F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (I love my unbleached kind).  In a heavy saucepan, combine the water, salt, and butter and place over medium heat until the butter melts and the mixture comes to a full boil.  Add the flour all at once, stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon.  Keep stirring until the mixture has formed a smooth mass and pulls away from teh sides of the pan and some of the moisture has evaporated for about 3-4 minutes.

Transfer to the bowl of a stand mixer with a paddle attachment.  Start adding eggs one at a time and mix on medium-high speed waiting until each egg incorporates.  After all the eggs are added, the mixture will be thick and smooth.

Transfer the choux paste to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch (no. 6 or 7) plain tip.  Pipe out balls about 1 inch in diameter spacing them 2 inches apart.

If you end up with a bulge or a tail, it could be smoothed with a dump fingertip after you are done with the piping.

Bake until golden for 15-20 minutes.

Remove and let cool on a wire rack.

After the pastry is cool, heat the dark chocolate sauce, mixing with a spoon, until liquid.

Cut the pastries open and spoon ice-cream inside.  Top with chocolate sauce and serve.

Russian mom – the master of deception

Just in case getting my kids high on sugar wasn’t impressive enough, I have another great parenting “No-No” to brag about – I lie to them.  Well, technically, it’s not quite lying; it’s more of manipulating… as long as you are paying attention to the details.

Here is how it works.  My son is an extremely picky eater.  It seems he survives solely on bread and pasta.  The only meat he eats is charcoal grilled pork.  It’s almost impossible to make him try anything new.  So, as I’m making my chicken dinner, I keep asking James if he wants any pork and then I serve the chicken and rice to him.  Guess what, if it looks charcoaled enough, he’ll try it! Of course after the deed is done, some honesty doesn’t hurt, you know, technicalities…

Anyways, here is a “pork” dish that has high success rating among my kids.

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  • 1.5 tsp sugar
  • 0.5 tsp black pepper
  • 1.5 tbs soy sauce
  • 1.5 tbs fish sauce
  • 1.5 tbs canola oil
  • 4-5 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2.5 lbs chicken thighs


This is a great make-ahead meal.  In fact, I just froze 3 extra batches.

Place the first 6 ingredients in a zip lock bag and mix them well.  Add chicken thighs.  If freezing, lay flat in the freezer for up to 3 months; otherwise let marinate in the fridge for 12-24 hours.


If the chicken was frozen, thaw before cooking.

Preheat the broiler to 500 F.  Grease broiling pan with cooking spray. Place chicken thighs on it and broil for 5 minutes.  Turn the pieces and broil for another 5 minutes.

Sprinkle with cilantro and/or green onions.  Serve over rice with Vietnamese soy sauce and fresh cucumber.

Chocolate Friands

Who said you need to stress out about Christmas presents or spend a fortune to delight your friends and relatives?  I find that gifts from your own kitchen are great examples of a genuine desire to share good things with others. Oh, and don’t forget that they could be very cost-effective!

So, today the kids and I were working hard on trying to brighten our street up with Holiday cheer. 

First, we tried a new recipe from my beloved Tartine –friands.  It contained my favorite formula – chocolate topped with more chocolate!  How can you go wrong with that!? 

We ended up baking forty-eight extra rich and moist mini-cakes and glazing them with the sweet delight. 

Next… WARNING: bad parenting alert! Do not try at home! Our own cookie-connoisseur tested a few friands and pronounced them a great success… by getting sugar-high, running around the house, singing, dancing, and asking for more!

Finally, we draw simple holiday-themed tags, boxed our presents, and gave them away to the hungry neighbors as they were returning home from their busy days.  

Oh, and we went one step further – we got simple unbleached recyclable boxes, mini baking-cups, and tags, and they didn’t look all that bad!

Packaging cost (per present):

  • Mini cupcake liners         $0.24
  • Minicupcake box insert $0.19
  • Cupcake box                      $0.30
  • Tag:                                        $0.09
  • Twine: hmm??                  $0.05
  • TOTAL:                               $0.87

Produce cost:

Sorry, I’m a busy mom, no way I’d be calculating the per gram cost of flour..  Though, I don’t think I spent more than $10.00 on all the ingredients that produced enough cupcakes to fill 8 gift boxes! 

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  • 6 oz (170 g) bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • 1.5 cup + 1 tbs sugar
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tbs cornstarch
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 4 lg eggs


The Tartine book suggests cooking bittersweet chocolate with heavy cream, but I simply went with Fudge is my Life’s Dark Chocolate Sauce.


Preheat oven to 350F.  Line 24 mini-muffin-cup paper liners on a baking sheet.

Place the chocolate in a large mixing bowl.  In a small saucepan, melt the butter over med. heat until very hot.  Pour the butter over the chocolate and whisk until smooth.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the sugar, flour, cornstarch, and salt and mix well.  Add the flour mixture to the chocolate mixture in 3 batches, whisking well after each addition.  Add the eggs 2 at a time and whisk until combined.

Pour the batter into the mini-cups about 3/4 full.

Bake until the cakes just start to crack on top for about 12 minutes.

Let cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes before unmolding.

To make the ganache, warm up the chocolate sauce till liquid. Dip the friands into the sauce and let rest on the rack for about 1 hour.


Sharlotka with Cranberries

Some left over cranberries were getting bored in my fridge. So, I decided to make their life a little sweeter… by dumping them into a Russian apple cake called Sharlotka.  This was the first cake I ever made.   A classmate (a boy!) shared the recipe.  If a 7-year old me could master it, anyone can!

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  • 2 apples, cored, and diced (I like larger chunks)
  • 1 cup fresh cranberries
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour




Preheat oven to 350F.


Grease the cooking pan with spray-oil.  Place apples and cranberries on the bottom (I sprinkled mine with a bit of cinnamon, but it’s not mandatory).

Beat eggs and sugar till the mixture starts foaming.  Add flour, and beat until all ingredients are incorporated.  Pour the mixture over the berries and apples.

Bake for about 45-50 min, or until golden brown, and a toothpick comes out clean from the cake.


Remove from the pan to the wire rack and let cool.



Happy Holidays!

And, as my friend said “Yes, I have every right to say Holidays instead of Christmas.  But I don’t have a problem with Merry Christmas either ;-)”

One of the Christmas family traditions has been fulfilled – today we found the one and only, our gorgeous tree, chopped it down, brought it home, and dressed it up. 

Now, besides my full-time responsibilities as a cook, and a cleaning lady, and a mom, I have a temporary assignment of being a guard and protector of the tree, which pretty much takes most of the time, since the kids want to touch every decoration and pull every branch! 

We’ll see how many ornaments will survive this holiday season!


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