Part two of my April Daring Bakers' Challenge was a sweet steamed pudding. This was an optional project I took on after having made my savory steak pudding and being rather unimpressed.

I found a chocolate pudding recipe online and doctored it up a bit with spices. The flavor came out fabulous, but as far as a steamed pudding versus a baked cake, I'll take the baked one. You can see that my pudding broke apart a bit and it was very crumbly, although moist. I attribute this to my using gluten-free flour instead of regular flour.

Serve this with a chocolate sauce, or some whipped or ice cream.

Spiced Steamed Chocolate Pudding

2 oz chocolate
1 tablespoon butter
8 oz plain or gluten-free flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
Pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon blend
1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1 egg
4 oz sugar
120ml milk with 1 teaspoon vanilla extract added

1. Lightly grease a 1.5 pint pudding basin.
2. Melt chocolate and butter together.
3. Sift flour, cinnamon, cayenne, baking powder and salt together.
4. Beat egg; add sugar gradually and continue beating till mixture is creamy. Add melted chocolate and mix thoroughly.
5. Stir dry ingredients alternately with milk mixture, beating until smooth after each addition.
6. Fill the greased pudding basin 2/3 full. Cover tightly with a roomy tin foil or greaseproof paper lid. Secure lid with string.
7. Place inside a large pot and pour water in until the pudding is half immersed in water. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 1 1/2 hours.
8. Serve hot with custard, whipped or ice cream.

The April 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Esther of The Lilac Kitchen. She challenged everyone to make a traditional British pudding using, if possible, a very traditional British ingredient: suet.

I was thrilled to see this as the challenge because I have wanted to make a steamed pudding for some time. It's been on my to-do list for about a year. My problem is not having a big enough pot to be able to put a bowl with the pudding in inside. So I borrowed one from Ann at Sacatomato. (Hint, hint for future gift!)

Why steam these puddings and pies instead of bake? An enlightenment hit me when I thought more about it. In the earlier centuries only large manors and castles had ovens. The small townfolk just had hearths and had to cook everything in pots or on spits. Steaming is a method of making a 'baked' good without an oven. Now you can have a 'cake' without having to bake it.

Suet is the really hard fat that is found around the kidney area of a cow. You might have come across pieces of suet in your raw steaks too. It's the harder, crumblier fat unlike the softer, slippery fat found throughout. You can get it from the butcher or buy it in some places after it has been processed.

I wanted to do the full experience of this challenge so I called Taylor's Market and ordered it. When I went to pick it up they gave it to me for free. That was a nice surprise and actually understandable since it is the fatty trimmings that would have gone in the garbage anyway. Thanks, Taylors.

So the first step was to take it home and render it. After you trim away as much connective tissue as possible, you then mince the fat or grate it on a grater. It's so hard and crumbly that I just minced it up with a knife and threw it in a pot. You melt the fat over very low heat. You have to be careful because fat is very hot. Many directions tell you to strain the liquid fat through a cheesecloth to remove all the other tissues. That's the fried bits you see in the pot. I just used a skimmer and lifted out the tissue bits and was left with the melted fat.

After it had cooled a bit I poured it into a tupperware and stuck it in the frig to harden. You want it to reharden into a block so that you can grate it again for the actual recipe.

The challenge required you to make a steamed pudding, use suet if possible, and you could choose whether you wanted sweet or savory. I wanted to do sweet initially, but then thought I ought to try the savory because that would equate to dinner. I found a steak & kidney pie recipe except that I made it with steak only. I had steak and kidney pie as a child because my dad is British and I never was a fan of the kidneys.

The first part of the recipe is to make the crust. It consists of flour, suet, salt, pepper, and water. The suet had to be grated to get it into very small bits to toss in the flour. You add enough water to get it into a nice dough ball for rolling and then roll it out big enough to fit into a ceramic or glass bowl. Then add the meat mixture, some broth, and top with a lid of crust.

I topped the lid with parchment paper, doubled aluminum foil, and then tied it tightly with string.

I filled the borrowed stockpot with about four inches of water and then used a small stainless steel bowl to help lift my pudding bowl. The pudding bowl sat above the water then. Lid on top and turn it on. The pudding had to steam for four hours. Here is the finished product...

I found that there was way too much crust and ended up throwing half of it away. I wished that there had been more juice/gravy as well. If I were to do it again, I'd add more broth. And, actually, I might opt for Guiness and Worchestershire sauce as seen in another recipe. I found the whole innards - beef, onions, gravy - to be rather boring. Another change I'd make would probably be to just bake it in pie form instead of going through the hassle of steaming. The dough was nice and moist, but I guess I prefer the flakiness of pie crust instead.

So I didn't care for this challenge in terms of a savory pudding. But it made me curious enough to try a sweet version as well. So see my post in a day or so about my chocolate steamed pudding that I also made.

To end our Hollywood themed touristy vacation it seemed fitting to stop at James Dean's crash site.

Dean was driving Hwy 46 to go to a race in Salinas. There is a fork in the road where Hwy 46 meets Hwy 41. Dean was driving straight down 46 when a college student coming the opposite direction turned at the fork right into Dean's path. Dean was rushed to the hospital, but was dead on arrival.

We were expecting some sort of historical marker and actually spent an hour going out of our way trying to locate it. Turns out all that is there is just a CA Hwy sign that says that is the James Dean Memorial Intersection. No marker, statue, mound of rocks or anything. Really disappointing in that respect.

We had punched into our GPS looking for it under Places of Interest. It took us to 'James Dean's Last Stop'. This is where we took the above picture. It was where he had stopped for a final gas stop just 15 minutes or so prior the accident. Inside the gas station/restaurant they have a dummy made up to look like Dean sitting at the counter.

Michelle inquired and was told that even though everyone wants a memorial at the crash site, the State of California is not allowing it.

Oh well. We tried.

We were so close to Solvang that I could not NOT show it to Michelle. Michelle is new to California so this whole trip was a way of showing her some more of the state. Our visit with Anne took us only about five miles from cute, touristy Solvang.

Solvang is a Danish-y town in the Santa Ynez valley. In the early 1900's a bunch of Danish families gravitated to the region and started the town near the Santa Ynez mission. The architecture was to remind them of home and it has since become a tourist destination to see this European gem in the California countryside.

If you are gonna visit Solvang you might as well eat Danish. We stopped for lunch at an outdoor cafe and shared a cold lunch combo consisting of open faced meatball, roast beef, and cheese sandwiches. They were topped with pickled cabbage and cucumber. The cheese was Havarti. It was very typical European - light and simple with just a small square of rye bread. We both liked the roast beef but found the meatball boring. It was a pork meatball, sliced, cold, and with no hint of spice or flavoring.

We had to also give Michelle a taste of ebelskivers. (I still haven't tried my new ebelskiver pan/mix that I won last month.) These round pancakes are served with raspberry sauce and powdered sugar. Some people will put a piece of apple or a bit of jam into the center of the ball. We asked about this but the waitress says that as far as the town was concerned, they were not filled. They are always served here in threes and freshly made to order. Each of us happily had a ball to ourselves and I made quick work of mine. I should have bought a bottle of the sauce while I was there.

I looked at more of the menu to see what else they served, but it wasn't too varied - schnitzel and sausages. I think I'll stick to the Danish stuff I like best, the baked goods.
Copper Cafe on Urbanspoon

As you drive the 101 near San Luis Obispo you will come upon a one-of-a-kind hotel/restaurant - The Madonna Inn. My friend, Anne, had told us to stop here on our way home.

The place is famous for theme room accomodations. Our dirty minds were thinking of the kind where you can find a jungle, Elvis, cowboy themes. It wasn't quite that kitschy. The rooms still have similar themes and are kinda tacky, but not as, I guess, raunchy as we imagined.

But we were here for a pit stop and just went into the famous Copper Cafe. You can see the elaborate decor here.

We were immediately faced with huge cakes on display. Michelle and I both have sweet tooths and couldn't resist. We sat at the bar and ordered a slice of the pink champagne and the lemon/coconut cakes.

I swear the slices are a quarter of a cake each! Huge! We were sharing and could not finish both slices. They were good and fun. But don't expect anything special about the cake itself. Just typical regular cake under a lot of whipped cream frosting that's been flavored. Still, we enjoyed them.

Think of it as one of those touristy roadside restaurants like the Nut Tree or Andersen's Pea Soup. I can definitely see stopping here again for another pit stop and a huge piece of cake.

The Santa Ynez valley is beautiful! It is so easy to understand why the Reagans, John and Bo Derek, Fess Parker, and many other celebrities had/have ranches there. Of course the most famous of all was Michael Jackson and his Neverland Ranch.

My college friend, Anne, grew up in Los Olivos - which is also famous for being in the movie Sideways. We went to stay with her recently and she took us down to the Neverland entrance. She worked for Michael Jackson in 1998 as a cook and housekeeper. She even kept her old paycheck stubs and a piece of the Neverland stationery.

This was at the time of the Bad album and right at the beginning of the first child abuse accusations. She whole-heartedly supported MJ and says she would leave her child with him without any reservations. She told us many stories of her few months of working for him. For instance, the home on the ranch was built by a very wealthy family before he bought it and he never needed to make any additions to the house itself. That 'secret' room at the back of the closet where they said he abused children - she said it was originally a fur closet for the prior owner's wife. You walked into the walk-in closet and then the back room/portion was the climate controlled room for her furs. Because MJ was always childlike, he just turned it into a 'fort' area/playroom.

We were expecting to see the famous Neverland wrought iron gates. Not so. After later research I learned that they were auctioned off. There are just wooden gates there now.

What there is is a lot of signatures from fans. People have signed all the rocks and surfaces around the gate.

There were even a couple of flower bouquets left behind. We were bummed that the famous gates were gone. Still, it was nice to go visit and pay your respects. And it's doubly nice to get the perspective of a friend who worked there and believed in him.

There is only one actor I have sorta obsessed over - Russell Crowe. I think he is a fabulous actor.

I knew when I saw him in his first American movie, The Quick and the Dead, that he was gonna be a star. He just had that on-screen presence and acting ability. Over the years he's done some great work. And sure, Gladiator is great, but he didn't deserve the Oscar for that role. He deserved the Best Supporting for The Insider and Best Actor for A Beautiful Mind.

In my cubicle at work I have pictures of him, including a signed one from when I wrote him a letter (to Australia). People often asked if I had met him.

Then I found out he was getting his star on the Walk of Fame. I have tons of vacation time and my boss retired. So I have nothing to do at work. Why not add another item to my Things To Do Before I Die list? I decided this was my best opportunity to get to see him in person. My friend, Michelle, decided to come too, even though she's not really a Russell fan (she is now!).

We arrived the night before to scout out the area. His star was already placed in front of the Kodak Theater, but covered up. We got up at 5 a.m. to get there at 6 to snag positions for the 11:30 a.m. ceremony. We were admittedly over early. But there were about a half dozen other early birds as well. We made friends and lucky for us, they had extra tickets for the Tonight Show because Russell was gonna be on there in the afternoon.

First an installer showed up to finish prepping the star. He uncovered it and proceeded to polish it and then seal it. Then the rest of the crew came to erect tents because it was drizzling. Next came the guys to add the barriers, sound equipment, and staging area.

We were up against the barriers at curbside in perfect position until the press came. Then we had some press people in front of us which blocked our views a lot. But I still got some great pictures.

We saw Sam Worthington who is in Avatar and Clash of the Titans. The speakers for Russell were Jay Leno, Ron Howard, and Brian Grazer. Also there was Jeffrey Katzenberg and some of his costars from Robin Hood. And, of course, his beautiful wife, Danielle Spencer, and sons, Charlie and Tennyson.

After his speeches he worked the press corps on the other side. We called to him to come see us and that's when he came right over to us! I shook his hand and told him we had come from Sacramento to see him. He started to sign autographs and I got one. Then Michelle asked for a picture and he posed with us! I had my arm around his shoulders! He was so nice. Michelle and I were jumping up and down screaming afterwards, we were so happy!

Later we found out that we were on E! television! When we got to the hotel later, we saw ourselves!

Backtracking, we zoomed over to the Tonight Show and spent another couple of hours waiting for that. We ended up in 2nd row floor seats and got to run up to try and greet Jay Leno at the start of the show. Then Russell was the main guest, followed by Jenna Elfman and Sade.

What a great, awesome, fantastic day we had. We have been grinning all day long.
The Cowboy Way on Urbanspoon

Even though I tried to be good about not eating out while in Palm Springs, I had to succumb to my craving for some barbecue. Hence my visit to The Cowboy Way.

I had driven by a couple of barbecue places and a friend’s words rang in my head - “Check Yelp before you decide.” Probably wise words. The closest place to where I was staying had a pretty bad write-up. Then a soul food place I had noticed had mixed reviews and was in the next town. There’s a lot of distance to places in PS and so I chose The Cowboy Way based on proximity and some good reviews.

If you’ve never been to PS you should know that it has a one-way loop through the downtown district. Back in the 80’s this was the ‘cruise’ for us during college spring break. Basically my years shut down PS to spring breakers after all our partying made us unwelcome. I have the newspaper stories in my scrapbook to prove it. Ah, those were the days.

Cowboy Way is located on the secondary road, coming back the other way. Less traffic and less businesses. It qualifies as a hole-in-the-wall type of joint. There’s a counter with about 15 stools and it’s a bare bones operation. On the wall there are framed awards and reviews saying how good they are. This, coupled with the reviews on Urbanspoon, led me here. I managed to snag a stool in an empty place right before the rush hit. I noticed many people came to pick up take-out orders.

I ordered a half rack of babyback ribs with a side of mac n cheese. Let’s just categorize it all as - mediocre. The ribs were fine, but nothing special. Tender enough and covered in a sauce. But it wasn’t anything that stood out as unique, original, or noteworthy. Especially bad, the mac n cheese which tasted like it was made from the powdered cheesey stuff like you get in the famous blue box. How was this all award-winning when it seemed it came from a jar/box? Perhaps I’m spoiled by our fine BBQ establishments in Sac, like Sandra Dee’s.

I was more impressed by the pulled pork sandwiches which my dining neighbors received. These things were huge! It looked like perhaps I had made the wrong menu choice.

Interestingly, as well, was that I witnessed the waitress several times get packages of pre-cooked ribs out of a frig to give the kitchen. They weren’t store packages, but ribs that had obviously been prior cooked and then wrapped in saran wrap until they would be needed. I think I’d prefer to have freshly cooked and had I seen this before I had ordered I probably would have walked out.

So, in summary, if this is the best that the area has to offer for barbecue, I’d say try some other cuisines and save barbecue for your return home.

With the economic downturn there has been a lot of store closures. Not only that, but companies that had planned new stores put a halt to them. A good example is the partially built Sonic Burger over off Truxel in Natomas. A wooden shell of a building unattractively sitting there hoping to be finished.

One of the companies that had big plans for the Sacramento area was a new grocery chain called Fresh & Easy. They are a branch of the British food giant, Tesco, also known as the British Walmart. A couple of years ago they had announced about seven stores for the Sacramento area. I think the first was gonna be in West Sac. Anyway, who knows when they will come to our area now. I also know of them because my ex-husband has them as a client - and they are a big one. I'm sure he'd like to see them come to the area as well.

If you check out their site, they talk about how they think that fresh and healthy should also be affordable. They keep their overhead low by building small stores that are energy efficient and have low staffing. The 'easy' comes from a lot of already packaged meals that are ready to eat or just take a quick zap in the microwave.

Today I got to see my first store in person. And they are different. The stores are small, similar in size to Trader Joe’s, and certainly not glitzy. More of a minimal or simplistic approach to design. There definitely is a lot of prepackaged meals. But Nugget markets also have a lot of prepackaged meals and I would have to say that Nugget's are more appealing in terms of looks and packaging. I can't give you a for-sure on the pricing, but I'd say they are pretty comparable. Like many food companies, they have their own store brand of products. Since I was staying at a friend's vacation house, I chose a couple of the packaged meals for the two days I was there. Finally I went to the checkout lane and was getting in line behind someone else when I realized that there are no cashiers. All of the lanes are self checkout. One guy was hopping between all the lanes and helping or bagging for people - it wasn't very busy in the middle of a weekday morning.

Do we need another grocery chain in Sac? Could they make it in an area that already has plenty of grocery competition? Do they fit an unfilled niche? My personal opinion is that they would need to find underserviced neighborhoods. They certainly would want to steer clear of any Trader Joe’s or Nugget market because those stores have nicer packaging of their meals and more appealing stores. I don’t know. We have our Walmart. Do we really need the Brits bringing in theirs?

I got this recipe from and it is great! So easy to do and faster. I have my own lemon tree and so I'm always looking for things to do with the lemons. I make candied peel also. Anyway, I took the candied peel and made great biscotti with bits of it in it. Then serve those with this lemon curd. Yum!

1 cup white sugar
3 eggs
1 cup fresh lemon juice
3 lemons, zested
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted

In a microwave-safe bowl, whisk together the sugar and eggs until smooth. Stir in lemon juice, lemon zest and butter. Cook in the microwave for one minute intervals, stirring after each minute until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a metal spoon. Remove from the microwave, and pour into small sterile jars. Store for up to three weeks in the refrigerator.
Tip: If you over cook the mixture a little, or forget to stir, you can pass the mixture through a fine sieve to remove the bits of cooked egg.


If you read my post about the Fancy Food Show in January, you might recall the story of the stupid women who had no clue what a vanilla bean was and promptly put them in their mouth and chewed on them like Twizzlers. Turns out it was at the Rodelle Vanilla booth and after the rep read my story he offered to send me some vanilla.

I've been so busy with all sorts of things and other cooking projects that I couldn't get around to testing it in a vanilla focused recipe. I knew that I wanted to use it in panna cotta because that way I would be able to really get a good taste of the vanilla. Also, I'd never made a panna cotta before. So easy! Sadly, it's so easy that I may be too tempted to make it on a regular basis - which is not a good idea for anybody watching their weight. Sigh.

I was right with the vanilla. Your tastebuds are able to focus on the flavor of the vanilla alone, without competition from anything else. The Rodelle vanilla was mild with a bit of sweetness to it. It was light enough not to overpower the delicate cream of the panna cotta.

Panna Cotta (taken from

1 envelope of unflavored gelatin
1/2 cup milk
2 1/2 cups heavy cream*
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean or 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

In a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over 1/2 cup milk; let stand until the gelatin is softened, about 5 minutes.

In a large saucepan, combine heavy cream and sugar. Add vanilla extract or vanilla bean. If using a vanilla bean, slice the bean lengthwise and scrape out seeds into cream (add whole bean to cream for additional flavor). Bring cream just to a simmer (do not let it boil), whisking occasionally until sugar has completely dissolved; remove from heat and remove vanilla bean pod. Add the softened gelatin mixture and whisk to completely dissolve the gelatin.

Strain hot cream mixture into a large glass measuring cup with a pouring spout; pour into ramekins or custard cups. NOTE: Don't skip the straining step as it removes any bits of undissolved gelatin and insures a nice smooth dessert. Also, don't let the cream mixture cool before straining. If using a vanilla bean, lightly swirl the cream to distribute the seeds evenly. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours or overnight.

To unmold and serve, carefully dip bottom of each ramekin in a baking pan of hot water briefly. Run a thin knife around edge of each ramekin to loosen it from the inside of the bowl. Wipe the outside of the mold dry and place on individual chilled serving plate (topside down). Invert the custard onto the plate and carefully lift off ramekin (shake gently to release). Garnish with berries or fruit of your choice.

As I've said in many a post before, I'm not a creative cook. I follow recipes and then tweak them. So I've never entered a recipe contest before since that requires creativity. Well, here is my first attempt at creating a recipe to enter into a contest.

Back in January I posted about my entry but couldn't post the recipe. Now I can. I didn't win or place. Interestingly, there is a similarity of my recipe with the actual winner of the Sweet category. Admittedly, theirs sounds/is better.

The contest is the Chocolate Adventure Contest and required, obviously, chocolate as well as one or more adventuresome ingredients. The co-sponsor of the contest was Scharffen Berger chocolate and required use of their product. The adventure ingredients included such things as sumac, paprika, crystalized ginger, pandan leaves, and more. I chose to go with the rice flour and peanut butter to create my Peanut Butter Filled Chocolate Mochi Cakes.

Peanut butter filling
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar, sifted

Makes: Approximately 30 candy centers.

Put butter and peanut butter in a medium bowl. Microwave on high for one minute. Remove from oven and mix until smooth. Stir in confectioners’ sugar, blending well. Add more confectioners’ sugar, as necessary, to form a pliable mass. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for about an hour.

After the peanut butter filling has finished cooling in the fridge, start on the mochi dough.

Chocolate Mochi dough

1 cup rice flour
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup Scharffen Berger Unsweetened Natural Cocoa Powder
1 1/4 cups milk
powdered sugar

Place rice flour, sugar, cocoa, and milk in a nonstick pan. Place on low heat and stir constantly until dough thickens. Place the dough on a floured surface and divide into 12 pieces. Press the pieces into rounds. Place a TBSP of filling in the center of each dough round and stretch the dough to enclose the filling. Shape into a ball. Place into refrigerator to cool. When chilled, remove and dust cakes with powdered sugar.


Peanut Butter