Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Gingerbread Cookies

Okay, since I am still waiting for D to come back from work (so he can help carry the last bit of Christmas shopping I have to do - I know, I am so behind), I'm going to try and get this post up quickly.

First, I want to apologize for the bad pictures. It was dark, I was tired, and my camera hasn't been the same since I dropped it at the beach. I am hoping Santa will bring me a new camera for Christmas. :D

I have been searching for a good and easy gingerbread cookie recipe. I like to make a gingerbread house each year, and I usually get the boxed set which are impossible to eat without breaking your teeth. I came across one on It boasted excellent remarks from other bakers. I tweeked it a little bit, and I can say this one is a keeper. I plan to make my house tonight, so hopefully I'll get pictures of it and post them up in the near future.

The pictures I have here are the cookies I made for family and friends to give out during the holidays. I have gotten wonderful feedbacks. So maybe this recipe will be one of your family favorites too.

Gingerbread Cookies
1 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 tablespoon orange zest (I used zest of 1 whole orange)
2 tablespoons molasses
3 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1. Sift together all the dry ingredients.
2. Cream butter and sugar together. Add egg, mix well. Mix in orange zest and molasses.
3. Add dry ingredients and mix until well combined.
4. Chill dough for at least 30 minutes.
5. Roll out to about 1/4" - 1/8" thick (flour surface as needed) and cut out shapes using cookie cutters or if you are creative, knife. Place shapes on cookie sheets about 1" apart.
6. Place cookie sheets in freezer for about 15 minutes. This helps the cookies keep their shape.
7. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
8. Bake for 10-12 minutes until cookies are lightly toasted on the edges (less time if you like a softer cookie and longer if you like a harder one).
9. Cool on cookie rack and decorate to your hearts content.
Hope you all enjoy it as much as I do. Happy Holidays!!

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas, everyone!
I know I've been slacking (no posts since October -Yikes!), but I have been busy taking pictures as much as possible, so I can catch up in the near future.

In the meantime, thank you all for your support and encouraging words on both my cooking and blogging. I would like to wish you and your family a Yummy Holiday Season and a Happy, Healthy, and Prosperous New Year!!

Claudia :D

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Mom's Birthday Cake

My mom's birthday was last week, and I've been wanting to make her something special.  Cupcakes just wouldn't do.  I hadn't made a tiered cake in quite some time so I decided I would make one for my mommy.  I love making fancy pretty things.  :)  I scoured through thousands of flickr photos and all of my cake books for ideas.  I have to say I was inspired by so many cakes.  You guys and ladies on flickr are true artists!!  So many ideas, so many beautiful cakes, but I needed something simple since I only had one day to do it.  I had to cook Thanksgiving dinner for my family of 18 the same weekend.  

I made a sketch of what I wanted to do so my mind will stay focused.  I see so many of you out there with gorgeous drawings of your creations, but all I could muster was swirls for the flowers and dots all over the cylinder and hexagon (brings back memories of geometry in JHS).  It's a pretty pathetic drawing since I'm a stick figure type of gal, but it helped immensely on staying focused.  I had my sisters over to brain storm on flavors and colors.  We originally agreed on MMF covered dark chocolate cake with ganache and cheesecake, but I was making cheesecake for Thanksgiving, so we switched that to sponge cake with lemon curd and homemade strawberry jam.  Our mom loves pink but we didn't want a princess-y girlie cake so we went for ivory/ light pink with pink accents.


I even signed up for gumpaste classes hoping I could make beautiful bouquets of calla lillies, roses, orchids, and every other flower that was offered in the class description.  Just my luck, first class was cancelled due to low enrollment, so I went to another school, signed up, purchased all the supplies, and waited only to find out it was postponed.  As my last option, I went to my local Michael's to take their classes, but classes had already began.  Boo hoo hoo... what do I do?!?  I had all the supplies already so I just played around with the rose kit a couple of days before and came up with flowers that remind me more of magnolias than roses.  They took me forever since my klumsy fingers kept ripping the petals and pulling the entire flower out of the wires.  I ended up with a handful of passable ones that I dusted with pearly dusts in different colors.  They aren't that pretty, but I liked them anyway especially since I made them all by myself.  I'm sure the light bulb will go off, and I'll have a good chuckle once I get into a class.

In the end, my mom loved the cake and was quite impressed with the flowers even though I saw all the flaws.  The cakes tasted much better than I had anticipated (we finished all of it), so all in all I'm quite proud of it and can't wait until my next one.  :D

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Awesome Desserts in Hong Kong

It's been a while since I've posted, and it's been even longer since I've posted ones that aren't related to baked goods.  (Well, there are more cupcakes, cookies, and a birthday cake coming up.)  As I was looking through my summer photos today, I came across these.  

This is a little dessert shop my mom took us to.  She had seen a Hong Kong dining show introducing this place.  I don't have an address (no business cards available) and since I don't read Chinese no English name to share.  Sorry.  But I do know it's located next to Newport Theatre which is a famous older movie theatre in the Mong Kok District.

It's a very popular joint among the locals and movie goers.  It's tiny and super crowded, and they manage to maximize every square inch.  If you don't have a full table, you are forced to share.  So a small table for four could seat six most of whom are strangers.  But no one seemed to mind, and in fact it added to the atmosphere.

They had a small menu, but special dishes were posted on the walls.  My mom insisted on trying the "Stir Fried Rice Noodles".  It's actually fresh mango chunks with noodles which I believe is probably some sort of coconut gelatin strips.  

It really did look like rice noodles, but with a firmer texture almost like fresh young coconut flesh.  The mangos were perfectly ripe and the mango puree was so smooth.  The dish was fabulous!!  I could have eaten another bowl of it all by myself. 

My sister Jess ordered the "Steamed Rice Rolls" which were black sesame "noodles" stuffed with black rice and fresh mangos and topped with coconut milk and sesame seeds.  It was served warm and not as sweet as the other desserts.  I liked it, it was very creative, but on a hot Hong Kong night, I preferred the cold offerings.  

My mom also ordered the newest dish "Fruit Salad with Hawthorn".  It was a mixture of fresh fruits including cantalope, honeydew melon, mango, and hawthorn gelatin topped with evaporated milk.  Hawthorn is good for you on hot days.  It helps detoxify your body from the heat.  It is also an appetite enhancer.  Before this trip I've only had hawthorn candy, so it was a treat to try it prepared differently.

As for me, I chose a "Tower of Shaved Ice".  Yum - my mouth is watering just thinking about it.  Since my trip to Taiwan a few years back, I've been obsessed with shaved ice.  I have it everywhere I see it, and I still think Taiwan serves the best.  But that's left for another post.  

The shaved ice is served with a variety of fresh fruits.  I chose strawberries and watermelon.  Some of the other options were mango, coconut, cantalope, honeydew, Asian pears, and mixed beans and gelatins (which is the original way to eat shaved ice).  Almost every table had ordered this "Tower".  The ice, though not the finest I've had, was pretty fine and was surrounded by fresh strawberries and watermelon balls.  It was then all topped with watermelon juice and condense milk.  Oh, it was so refreshing and sweet.  I loved every bite and slurp.  (l0l)

As you can see, between the three of us we did a pretty thorough job on the desserts.  Everyone else pretty much ordered one dish per couple.  (lol - We love our desserts).  I can't wait until my next visit, so I can try a few more creative sweets.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Iron Cupcake Challenge: Dreamy Basil Mango Citrus Cupcakes

This recipe literally came to me in a dream.  When I heard this month's Iron Cupcake Challenge is basil, I was estatic since I've been growing my own pot of sweet basil.  My baby's been with me for about half a year now, and it's grown from a measley 3" pot to a whopping 10" pot, which it is outgrowing!

But when I think of basil combinations, I could only think of garlic, tomatos, eggs, Italian, Thai, Vietnamese cuisines... Okay, all my favorites, but not my favorites for cupcakes...  I could go licorice, but I'm not a big fan of licorice.  I consulted my friends and family, who were all very encouraging to make basil cupcakes, but we were all stuck on how.  My cousin Tony who is a French chef suggested lavendar.  Hhhhmmm, he suggested getting lavendar tea and infuse it into the cupcakes.  

I've never eaten anything lavendar, but I was willing to give it a try.  I was so excited with this idea that I went directly to six stores/ tea shops to buy lavendar tea.  But poor me, I didn't find any.  People looked at me like I was crazy.  Oh, if only my two attempts to grow lavendar had worked, I wouldn't have this problem.  Needless to say, I was disappointed and now contemplating skipping this challenge.  

That night I went to bed thinking how was I going to tell everyone I chickened out.  I guess with the stress of letting friends and family down, in dreamed a recipe.  I know, sounds crazy.  It was as if I was watching a movie, like Chocolat or Like Water for Chocolate (a couple of my favorite movies).  I had used basil, mangos, and oranges, and the reaction from eating them made people do funny things.  (lol)

I added lime at the last minute to cut the sweetness 

I woke up and told D I have to make basil cupcakes.  He was like "For breakfast?"  I didn't care, I jumped out of bed and started on the cupcake making frenzy before I could forget.  Looking back at it now, I guess I could have written it down and made them later when I was more awake and together. But the baking madness had started.  I tried to photo journal the making process like so many talented bloggers, but I didn't get too far with that.  

Fruit Puree

By the time they were done, D had left for work, and I was the only one who could taste it.  It was interesting.  The fresh mangos and citrus flavors were awesome, but the basil was a taste that makes you go, what is that?  It's so familiar, yet I can't quite place it.  I knew it was basil, but it didn't taste like basil.  I'm still undecided on this cupcake, but D thought they were good.  I would make it again as a "special" dessert for a fancy dinner party, but I think it'll be one of those love it or hate it cupcakes.  Maybe you will give them a try and tell me what you think.

Not so pretty cupcakes

Recipe for 12 Cupcakes:

1 ripe mango
1 lime (I added lime to my dream recipe since my mango and orange were very sweet)
1 orange
Handful of Basil

1. Dice mango and place in a blender (you can reserve some for garnish later if you like).
2. Zest the lime and orange, put half of zest into blender, and  squeeze 2 teaspoon of lime juice and 2 tablespoon orange juice into blender.
3.  Blend until smooth.

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter
2 eggs
1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 cup milk
fruit puree

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Line muffin tin with liners.
2. In a medium bowl, cream butter and suagr.  Beat in eggs, one at a time, then stir in vanilla. 
3. Combine flour and baking powder, add to creamed mixture and mix well.
4.  Stir in milk until batter is smooth.
5.  Pour into liners 1/2 way full.  Spoon in some puree into the middle of each cupcake until 3/4 full.
6.  Bake for 20-25 minutes.
7.  Cool on a wire rack.

Meringue Buttercream
3 egg whites
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter
1/3 cup puree

1. Whisk egg and sugar over a double boil
er until sugar has melted and the mix is warm to touch.
2. Using a whisk attachment, whisk on high speed until stiff peaks and glossy.
3.  Switching to a paddle attachment, add butter 1 tablespoon at a time.  Beat at medium-low speed until thoroughly combined before adding the next spoonful.
4.  The mix will look soupy, this is normal.  Continue beating on medium-medium/ high speed until mixture thickens about 15 minutes.
5.  Fold in the puree to buttercream. 

Frost cupcakes with buttercream and garnish with basil, citrus zest, and mango pieces (if there are any left - I ate all mine before the cupcakes finished - so I sprinkled on some sparkly sugar).

So vote for me at No One Puts Cupcake In A Corner starting Sunday, September 28 at 9am pst until Thursday, October 1 at 9am pst.  

The fabulous prizes include:
* a featured prize from ETSY artist Metal Sugar
* the best-selling book, Hello, Cupcake, by Karen Tack and Alan Richardson
* the adorable complete line of Head Chefs from Fiesta Products
* a luxury hostess apron from Jessie Steele
* a cookbook from Taste of Home
* a much coveted cupcake courier from Cupcake Courier

Thanks for visiting!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Bailey's Chocolate Mint Cupcakes

Bailey's Chocolate Mint Cupcakes
(for illustrations, check out Sharon's blog)

Chocolate Cupcakes (makes 24 - half recipe to make the 12 needed)
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
3/4 cup buttermilk
3/4 cup warm water
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Line cupcake tins.
2.  In a large bowl, sift together cocoa powder, flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.  
3.  Add the all wet ingredients, and mix until combined (about 3 minutes).
4.  Divide batter among cupcake tins filling about each cup half full.
5.  Bake for 20 minutes, rotating halfway.
6.  Cool on a wire rack before frosting.

12 chocolate cupcakes
1/4 cup Bailey's or your favorite Irish Cream
1/2 cup white chocolate
Cocoa Powder

1.  Cut out a hole in the middle of the cupcakes.  Keep the carved bits in a bowl.  (I cut my holes too large, so I shaved off the bottom part of cake and put the top back on).
2.  Melt the white chocolate on a double boiler and cool slightly before adding half of the Bailey's.  Stir thoroughly and add milk a little bit at a time until you get a thick creamy texture.  If it gets too runny, refrigerate until it thickens.
3.  Spoon cream into the cupcake holes (place tops back on if desire) and put aside.  
4.  To make the cake balls, add the remaining Bailey's into the cake crumbs.  Stir.  The mixture will be sticky.  Roll the mixture into 12 balls.  Refrigerate until firm and then roll in cocoa powder.
5.  Frost the cupcakes with frosting of choice (I used swiss meringue buttercream flavored with mint extract.  Sharon makes a caramel whipped cream to compliment her Bailey's with Caramel).  
6.  Top with a cake ball.
7.  Serve and enjoy!

Friday, September 12, 2008

New England Clam Chowder

I made this last week when the weather seemed more like mid-autumn rather than late summer.  I served it with toasted slices of baguette and a green salad.  This soup is hearty, super tasty, and fast and easy to make.  It's the perfect way to warm up.  

I first saw this recipe on Food TV (one of my favorite channels, but I can only watch after I've eaten, otherwise I get really hungry) on Dave Lieberman's show.  D was with me and he said, "Make that, and I'll eat it."  So I did and have since on many occasions.  It's definitely the BEST clam chowder I've ever had, and everyone I've ever made it for has agreed.  My brother in law even exclaimed that it's the most clam filled chowder he's ever seen.  (lol)  So if you like clam chowder, you have to try this recipe. 

New England Clam Chowder as prepared by Dave Lieberman

2 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 medium onion, diced
2 celery stalk, sliced into 1/4 inch pieces
3 tablespoon all-purpose flour
2 cups chicken stock or vegetable stock
2- 10 ounce cans clams in juice (I've bought one bigger can in lieu of 2 small cans once, butI find using 2 cans taste better, I think it's because of the amount of juice in the cans)
1 cup heavy cream 
2 bay leaves
1 pound potatos, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
Salt and pepper to taste

1.  Heat butter in a large pot over medium-high heat.  Add the onions and celery, sauting until softened, stirring often.
2.  Stir in flour to distribute evenly.
3.  Add stock, juice from clams, cream, bay leaves, and potato.  Stir to combine.
4.  Bring to a simmer, stirring constantly, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook until potatos are done (about 15-20 minutes).
5.  Add clams and season to taste with salt and pepper.  Cook until the clams are firm (about 2 minutes).

Serve and enjoy!  :D

Thursday, September 11, 2008

My First Eclairs

I remember as a child my dad would buy us boxes of eclairs and cream horns as special treats.  They were days my family, even my mom whose not into sweets, would sit around the dining table and devour all the contents in these boxes within minutes.  We would laugh at each other since we would be covered with the cream oozing out of the eclairs and powder sugar dusted all over us from the cream horns.  Ahhh, childhood memories...

Well, I haven't thought much about those days until I came across How to Eat a Cupcake's post about making eclairs.  (She has a great site where we get to vote on what type of treats she'll make.)  Hers looked so yummy that it made me want to make eclairs.  

I was at first a little skeptical that I could tackle this recipe since I've read a few other bloggers/ bakers have given it a try and had trouble with this fussy pastry.  But with some encouragement from friends and family I decided to give it a try.  

I got it right on the first try.  YEAH.  It's probably just beginner's luck, but I'll take it anyway.  I used Martha Stewart's recipe from her Baking Handbook (it has become my baking Bible).  It wasn't that bad to make, but it was time consuming and a lot of cleaning afterwards.  I did have a few minor problems.  I had made the chocolate glaze too thin and ended up having to dunk and spoon on 3 layers, making my eclairs look messy.  Plus since I piped the cream into the eclairs through a hole on one in, I discovered some of the cream didn't make it into all of the pastry.  I had a few hollow eclairs.  :(

Nonetheless, they tasted pretty good.  D was at first reluctant to try one (he too is not into sweets), but after I told him they were fancy longjohns (lol) he gave them a try and gave me a thumbs up.

Recipe for Chocolate Eclairs:

Pate a Choux
6 ounce semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
2 1/4 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
Pastry Cream

1. Make pastry cream at least 2 hours beforehand

Pastry cream recipe:

2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
Pinch of salt
4 large egg yolks
1/4 cup cornstarch
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

1. In a medium sauce pan, combine milk, 1/4 cup sugar, vanilla, and salt.  Cook over medium heat until mixture comes to a simmer.
2.  In a medium bowl, whisk together yolks, cornstarch, and 1/4 cup sugar.  Whisking constantly, slowly pour about 1/2 cup of the hot milk into the egg mixture.  Continue adding and whisking at 1/2 cup at a time until all of the milk has been added.  
3.  Pour mixture back into sauce pan and cook over medium-high heat, whisking constantly, until it thickens (about 2 minutes).  Do not overcook, otherwise you will have scrambled eggs.
4.  Transfer to a mixing bowl.  Add butter, and beat on medium speed until the butter melts and the mixture has cooled (about 5 minutes).
5.  Cover with plastic wrap, pressing directly to the surface of cream and refrigerate until chilled, at least 2 hours or up to 2 days.

2.  Make Pate a Choux when ready to make eclairs.

Pate a Choux Recipe:

1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
4 large eggs

1. In a medium sauce pan, combine butter, salt, sugar, and 1 cup water.  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat.  Immediately remove from heat.  
2.  Using a wooden spoon, quickly stir in all the flour until combined.
3.  Return pan to medium-high heat, and cook, stirring constantly until mixture pulls away from the sides and a thin film forms on the bottom of pan (about 2 minutes).
4.  Transfer to a mixing bowl.  Mix on low speed for about 1 minute to cool the mixture slightly.  Increase speed to medium and add eggs one at a time, beating until each is incorporated before adding the next.  Test the batter by touching it with your finger and lifting to form a soft peak.  If a soft peak does not form, you may need to add another egg, adding a little at a time.  Use immediately.

3.  Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. with racks in the upper and lower thirds.  Line two baking sheets with parchment.  With a ruler and a pencil, mark lines about 3 1/2 inches long on the parchment, spacing them about 1 1/2 inches apart.  Turn parchment over with marked side down.
4.  Fill a pastry bag with a 1/2 inch plain tip with pate a choux.  Pipe along the lines on the parchment paper.  Gently smooth tops with a moistened finger to ensure even rising and a prettier pastry.
5.  Bake for 10 minutes, reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees F.  Continue baking, rotating the sheets halfway through until the pastries are golden brown, about 25 to 30 minutes.
6. Transfer pastries and parchment to a wire rack to cool completely.
7.  Place chocolate in a medium bowl.  Heat 3/4 cup cream and corn syrup in a small sauce pan over medium heat until bubbles begin to appear around the edges.  Pour milk over the chocolate.  Let stand about 5 minutes, then stir until smooth.  Let cool, stirring occasionally.
8.  Insert a wooden skewer into one end of the pastry to form a small opening to pipe the pastry cream in.
9.  In a mediu bowl, stir the pastry cream until soften.  In another bowl, whip the remaining 1-1/2 cups cream to stiff peaks.  Fold the whipped cream into the pastry cream in 2 batches to lighten.
10.  Transfer cream mix into a pastry bag with a filling tip (1/4 inch plain tip).  Insert the tip into the opening of each pastry and pipe to fill.  You can also cut the pastry in half and just spoon or pipe in the cream.
11.  Dip the top of each eclair into the chocolate glaze, let excess drip off, and place, coated side up, on a wire rack to set.  
12.  Refrigerate in single layers in an airtight container up to 1 day.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Ivy's Cupcakes

Yeah,  I made my first cupcake sales!!  I have only been making goodies for friends and family, so I am very estatic that someone outside of people I know want my cupcakes.  When Acme asked for the SPCA cupcakes, she told me to provide my info, so anyone interested could order my cupcakes.  She made me signs and little flyers for people to pick up.  I was very nervous yet excited with the fact that someone might want my cupcakes.  I worried that no one would like my cupcakes, and that my friends and family have just been nice by saying they taste good.  

So when I received an email from Ivy asking about ordering cupcakes, I was jumping for joy.  She said she had my cupcakes at the SPCA and wanted some to take to a farewell party.  YEAH!!  Then she asked how much I charged,  oh no, I hadn't figured that out yet...  Oh well, I knew what all the designer cupcakeries were selling them for and I knew how much they were being sold for at the grocery stores.  I didn't want to scare her, so I went for the just a little more than grocery store prices.  (Now I know why bakeries charge more, making from scratch and the packaging costs alot.)  

Right away she told me she wanted two dozen.  YEAH again!!  And she would like a variety...  hhhmmm, my recipes can be halved to make a dozen at a time, so I suggested her to order two types of cakes with two types of frosting and I could interchange them.  She requested chocolate/ chocolate, vanilla/ chocolate, vanilla/ vanilla, and chocolate/ vanilla cupcakes.  She wanted them elegant and not too cutesy.  I asked and she said flowers and colored sugars were okay.  I went through some of my flickr contacts' pictures for inspiration.  So many beautiful cupcakes, if any of you have the time and like looking at cupcakes, search through flickr.  There was one with a purple flower on top of vanilla buttercream.  I thought it was very elegant, so I went with that.  

I tried piping flowers out of royal icing, but they wouldn't dry in time, so I cut out purple and pink fondant flowers before heading to bed.  Once in bed, I couldn't sleep.  I felt the pinks and purples were too cutesy, so I got out of bed at 2am and made a new batch of fondant and cut out 30 large and 60 small white flowers instead (I always make extra since I'm a total clutz).  After that I fell asleep soundly.  A few hours later I got up early to make the cupcakes and buttercream.  I tested the packaging (which I purchased at Michael's the day before) to make sure the cupcakes wouldn't bang into each other (tissue paper helps).  I still had to decide what to do with the flowers...  I went through my boxes of stuff, and pulled out two bottles of pearly dust I had purchased a while ago.  

I dusted some of the gold onto a flower and WOW so elegant.  I went with it.  I dusted half the flowers with gold and then found some light pink royal icing and painted the other half of flowers with the pink icing.  I topped the flowers on the frosted cupcakes, and if I may toot my own horn, they were so pretty.  I felt they still needed something, so I added silver dragees to the chocolate frostings and pink flowers and sprinkled clear crystal sugar on the vanilla and gold ones.  Now they were complete.  

I boxed them one more time and walked around to make sure they were secure in their bed of tissue paper.  When I was satisfied, we (the cupcakes and I) waited patiently for Ivy to pick them up.  When she called, I felt my heart jump out of my chest.  I was so nervous.  But she really liked them, and thanked me for them.  Later that night she wrote back and said they were a big hit at the party.  I'm so happy!  Even now I can't stop smiling.  Thank you, Ivy for the opportunity!! 

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Steamed Fish with Lime and Chili - "pla neung manao"

Well, I decided I need to take a break from cupcakes.  The next post will most likely be a cupcake one (sigh)...  I can't help it.  I've caught the cupcake bug!  :P    

Anyway, today I'm going to feature one of D's favorite meals ever.  The first time I had this was back in '97 in Pattaya, Thailand on the beaches of Coral Island.  The whole fish was covered with chili and lime and then steamed to perfection.  When we visited this past summer, we couldn't find a good vendor selling this dish.  Needless to say, we were disappointed.

But now I can make my own.  This recipe was the main reason why I purchased Lemongrass and Sweet Basil by Khamtane Signavong.  It's sweet, savory, sour, and SPICY.  It's so good and so easy.  The flavors are easily adjustable to taste and preference.   The recipe I list below is my adjustment to D's palate.


* 1 1/2 pounds of firm white fish (we love halibut, if no fish, use scallops and/ or shrimp)
* Chinese cabbage (napa cabbage) chopped in large pieces
* Handful basil leaves
* 2 tablespoons sliced lemongrass (bigger pieces for easy removal or tiny pieces if you prefer to eat it)
* 2 teaspoons finely chopped cilantro

Sauce Ingredients:
* 2 red Thai chili finely diced
* 3 garlic cloves finely diced
* 2 tablespoon fish sauce
* 4 tablespoon fresh lime juice
* 2-3 teaspoon sugar (powder preferred)
* handful of finely chopped cilantro

1.  In an oven/ steamer safe plate (I use a pie plate) layer with Chinese cabbage, basil, and lemon grass.  Lay the seafood on top.

2.  Place in steamer, cover, and steam over boiling water until done (about 10-15 minutes).  I don't own a steamer, so I use a large skillet with a lid.

3.  In the meantime, you can make the sauce by combining all ingredients and mixing well until the sugar dissolves.  Taste to adjust to your palate.  Extra sugar may be needed depending on your fish sauce.  Add more chili peppers if you prefer more spice.

4.  When the seafood is done, remove from steamer, drain off the juices.  If you would like to remove the lemongrass, do so now.  If you would like to plate the dish, do so now.

5.  Spoon the sauce over the seafood and cabbage and sprinkle with fresh cilantro.  You can also garnish with lime wedges.

6. Serve with steam rice and enjoy the taste of Thailand!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Richmond, BC's SPCA Cupcakes

Vanilla Cupcakes with Fresh Local Blueberries

My cousin Acme works at the local SPCA.  Her love for animals is limitless, so when she asked me to bake a few cupcakes to raise funds for the furry creatures, I couldn't say no.  

Double Chocolate Cupcakes

Well, I got a little overboard and ended up baking about 120 cupcakes.  I know just a little overboard.  :P  It was a labor of love, but I'm not complaining.  I loved every minute of it.  It was my opportunity to try different recipes and different piping techniques.  

Vanilla Kitty Cupcakes

I really had bigger plans, but my skills are still quite limited, and since these were for people outside of family, they might not be as forgiving.  So I kept it simple, and I think they came out pretty cute (for the most part).

Vanilla Doggie Cupcakes featuring "Foaming" Mouth Dog

Jess came over and helped me make the chocolate doggie and kitty theme candies.  I certainly wouldn't have been as patient as she was, I prefer cakes, cookies, and cupcakes.  She painstakingly colored in each layer of chocolate for the details.  She was a bit upset with the "foaming" mouth dog, but I thought it was cute.

SPCA Cupcakes

In the end, I don't know how much my cupcakes raised (I'm afraid to find out I spent more than the SPCA got).  But I had tons of fun and can't wait to do more cupcakes!  

SPCA Cupcakes

To help out an animal in need, please donate to your local SPCA or BC's SPCA.  Thanks!!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Dark Chocolate Cayenne Truffle Cupcakes

Lately I've been obsessed with cupcakes.  What's not to like.  They are the only cakes you can eat on the go; they are the only cakes you can eat all by yourself without feeling guilty (I usually will eat three at a time); they are some of the most artistic desserts in the most fun flavors and with the cutest decorations; they work for all occasions from birthdays, weddings, showers, or just because I feel like having one today day (which getting an entire cake would seem like a huge indulgence), and the biggest reason I make them is because they are the only kind of sweets my husband will eat willingly.  

As I went searching for cupcakes on the world wide web, I discovered there are many like me!  There are so many sites and blogs about cupcakes.  I would spend hours each day devouring the contents on these sites.  Everyone out there is so creative and inspirational.  

Cupcakes on their way to be tested.

That's how I discovered Iron Cupcake: Earth.  Yes, like Iron Chef but with cupcakes, and everyone on Earth can participate.  Each month there will be a secret ingredient and each participant will have to come up with a recipe, post it on their page with photos and descriptions, and have everyone else can vote on their creations.  How fun is that?  

This month's challenge is the CHILI PEPPER CHALLENGE.  The prizes this month are a cupcake courier from Cupcake Courier, a luxury hostess apron from Jessie Steele,  a cookbook from Taste of Home, an original artwork from Esty artist, Cakespy, a set of cute kitchen utensils from Fiesta Head Chefs, and the best-selling book Hello, Cupcake by Karen Tack and Alan Richardson.  How awesome is that!


As a newbie baker, I found this to be a bit intimidating.  I've had a peek at other challengers' sites and WOW, there's some unique and gorgeous cupcakes out there.  But D thought this would be a great opportunity for me to expand on my usual cupcake recipes.  

So this month I'm starting small and simple.  My inspiration is a box of chocolates D had given my for Valentine's Day last year.  They were a box of spicy dark chocolate truffles from Daniel's Chocolates.  At first bite, you just taste the smooth, bitter dark chocolate, but then afterwards the back of your throat will feel a slight heat from the peppers.  It's quite an aphrodisiac.  I wanted to recreate that feeling.  

The saved one

I think I came pretty close with this recipe.  I made a batch for my personal taste testers, my family (all 16 of them).  Everyone raved how yummy they were, and everyone loved that kick from the peppers.  I ended up having to fight my nephew for the last one since I didn't take any good pictures beforehand.  He took a tiny bite off the top of the frosting.  Oh well, at least I got it back and took these pics.  

So try my recipe, it's very simple (it's a variation from Martha Stewart's One bowl chocolate cake), and don't forget to vote for me at 
No One Puts Cupcake In A Corner from Sunday, August 31, at 9 a.m. pst until Thursday, September 4, at 9 a.m. pst.

Dark Chocolate Cayenne Truffle Cupcakes

To make cupcakes:
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/4 cup cocoa powder
2 cups sugar
3 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 large eggs plus 1 large egg yolk
1 3/4 cups milk
1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups warm water

1. Preheat oven to 350F.  Line two standard 12 cup muffin pans with paper liners.  
2. In a large bowl, sift together flour, cocoa, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cayenne pepper.  Whisk ingredients together gently.
3. Add the eggs and yolk, milk, oil, vanilla, and warm water to the dry ingredients.
4. Whisk mixture until the wet and dry ingredients are well incorporated.
5. Divide batter evenly among the muffin cups, filling about 2/3 full.
6. Bake for about 20-25 minutes.
7. Insert toothpick through the center of one cake, if it comes out clean, the cupcakes are cooked.  If it comes out with crumbs attach, put back into the oven for another 2 minutes.  Repeat as needed until toothpick comes out clean.
8. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

To make dark chocolate frosting:
1 pound best-quality semi-sweet chocolate, finely chopped
6 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
6 tablespoons boiling water
1 1/2 cups unsalted butter at room temperature
1/2 cup powder sugar
Pinch of salt

1. Place chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over simmering water.  Turn off the heat, and stir occasionally until chocolate has melted completely (about 15 minutes).
2. Once melted, place chocolate on counter to cool.
3. In a small bowl combine cocoa powder, baking soda, cayenne pepper, and boiling water.  Stir until well blended.
4. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter, sugar, and salt on medium-high until light and fluffy (about 3-4 minutes) scraping down sides as needed.  
5. Add melted chocolate, beat on low speed until combined (about 1-2 minutes) scraping down sides as needed.
6. Beat in cocoa mixture until combined (about 1-2 minutes).

Spread or pipe onto cupcakes and enjoy!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Peaches and Grapes from Japan

While shopping at the Elements Shopping Mall in Hong Kong ( same place where I bought the PETiTS cupcakes), my family and I decided to check out the upscale grocery store Three-Sixty.  They sell many foreign products at foreign prices, but we weren't turned off by the prices since there were food items we haven't seen since past travels.  We were actually quite excited and spent over an hour scouring up and down all the aisles.  Plus there were samples available, my family never turns down free food or drinks. (lol)

We came out of there with several bags of goodies, but our prize purchases were two Japanese water peaches and a box of Japanese perfume grapes.  (I'm not sure what the true names are, but water peach and perfume grapes are direct translation from Cantonese).  

I've never had the grapes before, so I was excited to try one.  Both Jess and mom said they don't like them much due to their weird perfume-y taste.  Looking inside the box, I can see the grapes were HUGE.  I don't really like grapes with seeds, and I know big grapes equal seeds.  Bummer.  

But these were very expensive grapes, so I wasn't going to let them go to waste.  As you can see one small box was $336 HKD which is about $48 USD.  At that price if it meant eating them all by myself, I was up for the challenge.  

I bit my first grape in half, so I can pick out the seeds.  The skin was thick and crunched when I bit into it.  The flesh of the grape actually popped out of the skin when I chewed.  And you know what, NO SEEDS!  Yeah, I love these grapes.  But wait, they taste weird.  It did taste kind of perfume-y.  Hhhhmmm, not so good.  

Dad had a few, stopped eating and said he rather have the peach.  Oh man, I was going to have to eat all of it myself.  Great...  But as I was sucking the flesh out of the skin (the skin can be a bit tart), the taste grew on me, and I was starting to enjoy them.  

Watching me eat, Jess decided to give the grapes another try, (our family gives food many chances to change our mind - pork fat candy, I have a feeling we will meet again).  She actually liked the skin more than the flesh.  She felt the skin was the best part being crispy, crunchy, and fruity, kind of like candy.  

Watching Jess eat, mom eventually came around and said she would lend us a hand in finishing.  We knew she couldn't help herself, and we eventually polished off the entire box.   Yum!

Now for the peach.  Ohhhh man, these are so good.  They are much better in Japan (I think Japan exports their rejects), but these were better than any other peach I've had outside of Japan.  If you've had one before, you know exactly what I'm talking about.  If you have not, you must try one at least once in your lifetime.  

When we first had them in Japan some 15 or so years ago, we visited a fruit stand where the shop owner was furious with dad when he tried to pick a peach up.  The owner came over and yell at dad and showed him a sign that said "NO TOUCHING".  Dad was confused since he'd never shopped for produce without touching or smelling.  The owner said by touching even with gentle pressure, we would bruise the fruit and the juices would break through.  Then he guaranteed us that each peach was equally sweet, juicy, and ripe, and it would be the best we would have ever eaten, if not we can come back for a refund.  

We bought one for $6 USD.  Yep, it was outrageously expensive.  We never did get our money back, instead we had bought a whole box to carry back to Hong Kong to share with dad's family.

When we saw they were selling them at Three-Sixty for $45 HKD (about $6.50 USD), it was a bargain, and we grabbed two!  (And went back for a couple more the next day!)

A little advice, when you bite into one, have a large towel available preferably somewhere near your mouth and arms.  It's that juicy!  The juice just flows like a water fall out of the fruit, hence the name water peach.  The skin is thick and can be eaten with the flesh, but this leads to more overflowing of juices due to the force of the bite.  Instead  after the first bite, we chose to peel the skin off, which comes off like peeling a sticker from its sheet.  The juice is sweet and fragrant, very similar to peach candy or more like the Japanese peach drinks.  

A fellow blogger, whose Japanese, told me the peaches are killer with vanilla ice cream.  OMG, that sounds so divine!!   I must try them with ice cream next time.