Thursday, June 26, 2008

Birthday Cupcakes

I made these cupcakes for my cousin, Acme's birthday.  I didn't know it was her birthday until yesterday when my uncle invited us to dinner tonight.  It gave me the perfect opportunity to make cupcakes!  And they are so good and easy to make!

Ever since I watched Martha Stewart's Cupcakes Week, I've been obsessed with cupcakes.  I've been dying to go to all the cupcake places around this area especially Trophy Cupcakes in Seattle.  I've also tried a couple of recipes.  I've made Trophy Cupcakes' Chocolate Graham Cracker Cupcakes which were SO GOOD and failed miserably at Bakerella's Cupcake Pops (but will try again once I've licked my wounds - Bakerella, I bow down to you).   

For Acme I made vanilla cupcakes and frosted two different flavors.  One was with lemon meringue buttercream and the other was with chocolate buttercream.  I got the meringue buttercream recipe from Taste Goblet.  It was my first try at meringue buttercream.  I've been avoiding it because I was scared of making the meringue, but this recipe was really easy and so, so, so good.  I could eat it straight out of the mixing bowl!!  It is THE best I've ever tasted.  Taste Goblet, you're such such an angel for the super detailed and descriptive recipe.

For the lemon cupcakes I made one batch of buttercream, one batch of lemon curd (recipe from William-Sonoma's Cakes), and one lemon's worth of candied lemon slices.  I folded in 1/2 cup of lemon curd into the buttercream to give it the lemon flavor.  Once the cupcakes cooled, I spooned a layer of lemon curd on top of the cake, then piped a mound of buttercream, and topped it with a slice of lemon (on some I sprinkled them with white sparkling sugar).

With the chocolate one, I mixed in 6 oz. of melted semi-sweet chocolate into the buttercream (add in after the butter step).  I piped it onto the cakes and sprinkled them with chocolate shavings (a few I decorated with fondant flowers).  

I made both buttercreams last night and didn't use them until this afternoon.  The lemon came out great after beating it again with the mixer, but I had some problems with the consistency of the chocolate one.  There were a lot of air pockets, and I wasn't able to smooth it out, but it still tastes great.  So I would suggest using the chocolate meringue buttercream immediately after making it.


After it was all done, I had to taste both of them.  They were both SO YUMMY!!!  I have to say, I am quite impressed with myself.  :-P  I just hope my cousin will like them as much.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Surf and Turf Dinner with a side of noodles?

This is the look our dog Chia gave me last night as I was preparing dinner.  She stuck to me like glue hoping I would accidentally drop just a tiny morsel of food for her to grab before I could pick it back up.  Ah, but unlucky for her I was making steak and salmon, and no way would I drop that on the floor.  (lol) 

It was a one pan dinner, so great in the cleaning department!  First I seasoned the steak, a sirloin, with salt and pepper.  I like to keep things simple.  I have seasoned it many ways in the past including with steak sauce, garlic salt, seasoned salt, mixture of soy and worchestershire sauces, oyster sauce, ... but salt and pepper is still my favorite.  I put a little bit of extra virgin olive oil in a heated pan and gently laid my steak in it.  I like my steaks rare to medium rare, so it only takes about 4-5 minutes of each side.  My cousin, Tony, taught me that if the steak feels similar to the cushy part of my palm under the thumb, then my meat is medium rare.  I love this tip because in the past I've always either over cooked or under cooked. 

For the sides, I usually make caramelized onions, garlic spinach, and mushrooms in butter and red wine sauce, but I wanted something different.  I was craving potatoes, but when I went to the market, I found these super fragrant tomatoes on vines.  I never noticed them before.  Size-wise they are between a roma and a cherry tomato.   I bought a few vines full and am so glad I did.  I had sliced them in half and cooked them in the pan around the steak during the last few minutes of cooking.  No seasoning, no oil needed, they just soaked up the steak juices.  They are SO sweet and tomato-y.  WOW!  I don't know if I would put them in soups or pasta dishes since they are almost like a fruit, but it was a pleasant surprise.

After I finished cooking the steak and tomatoes, I sliced a Yukon gold potato, seasoned with salt, pepper, thyme, and e.v.o.o. and threw them into the pan.  It was a bit laborious to cook in the pan, I could have fried them or stuck them in the oven, but I was going for less cleaning.  In the end it wasn't too bad.  It took maybe 10-15 minutes to cook all of it.  If I had thinner slices, it would have been done much faster.

So now onto the salmon.  Same as the steak, simple salt and pepper, but this time at the end of the cooking I hit it with a few squeezes of lemon juice to cut out any hints of fishy-ness.  And done!  So quick and easy... 

Oh, but D had other plans for me, he was feeling noodle soup for dinner.  I guess one pan clean up was too good to be true.  I started to protest, and he said he would make it, so I had to jump in.  His concoctions usually leaves a BIG mess and an even bigger tummy ache.  :-P  So I threw a pot of water onto the stove, pulled out any "leftover" veggies from past meals, and found some scallops, black forest ham, and pork dumplings.  Once the water boiled, I tossed a handful of Chinese noodles and the dumplings to cook for a few minutes, and then threw everything else in.  I seasoned it with a little salt, white and black pepper, and some chicken bullion.  Done!

Oh, but Chia looked so sad not having had anything to sweep off the floor.  Plus everything smelled so good.  In the end she didn't get any sirloin, but she did get a gourmet meal of turkey and veggies with gravy from Natural Choice dog food.  :-P 

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Craving for Fried Okra

Today was a very hectic day even though it's Sunday (and we didn't even get to church - so bad).  D had a class until 4pm and a business meeting afterwards.  I needed to drop off our auntie and uncle from New Zealand at the pier for their cruise to Alaska (they'll be having 24 hour food service and king crab legs - I'm so jealous) and then run tons of errands.  

By the time I was done, I was starving.  All I've had the entire day was a bowl of cereal for breakfast, it was almost dinner time, and I had no food at home.  It was fast food or fight my way into and out of the market for fresh fruits and veggies.  I decided to go healthier and head to the market.  Of course I would choose the weekend to finally get groceries.  The place I go to is always packed, but weekends are insane.  I've actually seen two ladies fight over a bag of grapes!  

Anyway, to get to my point... I came across fresh okra.  I love okra, especially fried okra!  Not many Chinese have eaten okra, but having grown up in the South, I've always eaten fried okra.  (yummy, yummy)  These okras were so
 fresh and plump!  It brought back childhood memories of my parents taking us to Grandy's for fried chicken, hot rolls with honey and butter, and my favorite, fried okra.  I can eat a ton in one sitting.  I was definitely satisfied after my BIG plate of okra! 

I don't know what's the proper way to make fried okra, but this is a quick and easy way:
1. Cut the okra (about 1 pint) into rings 
2. Soaked them in milk (you are suppose to use buttermilk, but I improvised).  

The coating consisted of flour and a mixture of seasoning and spices.  You can use just about any kind you like but this is what I used today:

6 heaping tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
salt and pepper to taste

3. Dredge the milk soaked okra in the flour mixture, 
4. Carefully working in small batches fry in hot oil.  Each batch should be done in about 2-4 minutes.  
5. Remove from oil and put on paper towels to drain excess oil.  

If you like crispier okras, double fry them.  

Once done, they can be eaten as is or with a condiment of your choice like ranch dressing, chipolte dressing, or ketchup.   Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Cleaning Out the Fridge

Yesterday I was going through the fridge trying to decide what to cook for dinner.  I had already taken out some pork chops to grill, but didn't have anything to complement them.  I had a variety of veggies on hand but there was just a little bit of this and that (5 stems of asparagus, one onion, a handful of mushrooms, a quarter head of lettuce, a couple stalks of green onions, half bunch of cilantro, two jalapeno peppers, two cups of blueberries, and leftover blueberry puree).  I needed to go grocery shopping so badly, but didn't have the time, and my hubby was STARVING.  He then said he was craving noodles, so grilled pork chops (I was thinking of making an onion, garlic, mushroom sauce) were out of the question.  

Lucky for me I found two tiny packets of pickled vegetables at the very back of the fridge (something I don't even remember buying that's how far back it was).  I decided to make pickled vegetable with pork noodle soup.  The pickled veggies are not what they sound like.  They are not sour like a cucumber pickle, they are more like cured veggies (I think it's cabbage) since they are salty and a little spicy.  It's called ja choi in Chinese which directly translates to fried vegetable.  I really don't know if they are fried in the preparation though.

I started a pot of water for the Chinese noodles (which I had three opened boxes... I'm starting to realize where my storage shortage is coming from), and another pot heating up chicken stock with a handful of cilantro.  I cubed up the pork chops, marinated it with a little bit of soy sauce, and browned them in a wok and set them aside.  Then I chopped up all the veggies I had in the fridge added a few garlic cloves and stir fried like a crazy woman.  First I put the onions into the wok to caramelize a little, then added the garlic, jalapeno, and mushrooms for a few minutes before stirring in the pork and pickled veggie and finally the asparagus and green onions.  The ingredients are full of flavor so the only seasoning I needed to add was a dash of black pepper.

Now I needed to assemble the dish.  I put a handful of noodles in the bowl, a few pieces of lettuce, some of the stir fry, and topped it off with the soup.  It sounds like a lot of work, but it took me less than 30 minutes, including cleaning the pots, to get it all done.  This dish is also great with rice, or prepared with chicken, beef, or tofu.  It's traditionally only uses onions and the pickled veggies, but it's also tasty with celery and other sturdy vegetables.  It was perfect for cleaning out our fridge.

Now I had to figure out what to do with the left over blueberries that I had gotten for the Father's Day cake.

D doesn't eat blueberries (he'll pick out the blueberries in a blueberry muffin), so I was left to either eat 2 cups all by myself with a side of puree, or find a recipe to incorporate them with what I have at home.  

I found a recipe for blueberry crumb cake in the 2002 Martha Stewart Holiday Baking magazine.  I didn't have enough blueberries, sour cream, or butter, but I substituted the puree for the 1/4 cup shortage of sour cream and half the blueberries in the batter (I saved the rest for the crumb topping).  I used what was left of the butter for the crumb topping which was only about 1 1/3 stick).  I had to bake it for an extra 15 minutes than what was suggested (equaling to 55 minutes).  I couldn't find the exact recipe on Martha's website, but this is a pretty close one Classic Blueberry Crumb Cake.

I know in baking you should never stray from the recipe, which I've learned the hard way more than once.  But as you can see from this and past posts I am sometimes fairly relaxed.  This time around I was lucky.  The cake came out very yummy and not too sweet.  Now I just have to convince D to give it a try and get in some much needed grocery time.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Simple Chinese Breakfast

Last night D and I found out we need to go on a business trip to Seattle again.  Last week while  sleepless in Seattle (lol), I had started this blog.  So this morning I made D's favorite, a simple and quick breakfast of congee, eggs with basil, and spinach with garlic.

Congee is basically rice porridge which is cooked with a little bit of rice and a lot of water.  You can have it plain with side dishes or add flavorings and ingredients like fish, chicken, vegetables, use stock instead of water, use beans instead of rice... You can be as creative as you like as long as your taste buds can handle it.  Today I cheated and used leftover rice and cooked it with water, so it became pow fan which is more like rice soup.  

I stir fried baby leaf spinach with half a bulb of garlic.  Yes, that's a lot of garlic, but we love garlic.  We are foodaholics as well as garlic-holics.  I feel garlic loses a lot of the harsh smell and taste and becomes really nutty and yummy once cooked through.  Or maybe that's just me and I've been walking around stinking like garlic all this time (lol).  The garlic is a little smashed and practically left in whole cloves since I'm very lazy with mincing garlic (takes too long and makes my hands smell).

I also made D's all time favorite of basil and eggs.  It's a Taiwanese dish that D has grown up with, and he requests on a regular basis.  When we've had it elsewhere, it's always been in an omelet form where as I've never mastered the art of omelets so I've always made it as scrambled eggs.

My baby up close

I've never eaten fresh basil before meeting D, but it's an important ingredient in Taiwanese cooking.  So he introduced me to basil when we first met, and I'm obsessed with it now.  I've even grown my own pot of basil, because it's expensive the way I use it, which is a lot, (now that I think about it, just like garlic).  

I've tried growing them in a garden from seedlings, and I ended up nurturing weeds that looked like basil for about a month before my mom told me that I wasn't growing basil.  I was so disappointed.  Then my father-in-law bought a entire tray of basil to be planted, but they only died within a week.  Again disappointed.  Finally, my sister from San Fran told me that it wasn't possible to grow basil in our weather.  She's been trying herself and hadn't succeed because we don't get enough sunlight or heat throughout the year.  I was so sad thinking I would have to control my basil usage.

My basil before a "hair" cut 

But a few months ago while at the local market buying basil, I came across small pots of basil that cost less than the tiny bag of basil I usually buy.  Of course I usually eat Thai basil, and I think this was sweet basil, but it was still basil, right?  So I picked the fullest out of all the 3" pots and went home so proud of myself.  D immediately was like "oh no, she's going to kill again".  

My basil afterwards and D oh so happy

Well, I did research on growing basil and got lots of tips online.  My basil travels from windowsill to windowsill following the sunlight around our apartment.  I give it bi-weekly plant food feedings, and when we are out of town for more than a couple of days, I find it a sitter.  It's even survived a case of fungus flies.  I was so scared it's little roots wouldn't make it.  D says I treat it like it's a baby.  And my baby has grown into an 8" pot!  I'm so proud.  Well, my next venture is to try to grow my baby a sibling of Thai descent.  Wish me luck!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Father's Day

Here's the cake I made for my dad for Father's Day.  I got the idea from one of the Wilton's Yearbooks.  I used to make tons of character cakes for my nieces' and nephew's birthdays before their move back to Thailand, but I haven't made one in almost two years.  I was a bit rusty in the piping, I had forgotten many of the techniques, but eventually they started to come back.  In the past I could decorate one of these cakes in about an hour, but this one took me practically an entire day.  In the end, it wasn't perfect, but it is still a cute cake.  

I tried a new recipe for the cake that used fresh blueberry puree made with over a pound of blueberries in the batter.  The cake came out grayish/ purple (not a very appetizing color, but so full of antioxidants), and the middle had a layer of fresh mixed berry mousse.  Yummy!

I brought the cake to dinner with my family.  We went out to a Chinese restaurant downtown.  The food was alright, but the company was good.  Not everyone was there, but we had four generations present, all the way from my 94 year old grandmother to newborn nephew Justin (a future cake recipient).  We all caught up in our activities, including grandma's recent trips to the casino,my dad's plans to go fishing, my uncle's input on this fishing trip, my aunt's update on her trip back from China, and Jayden's and Justin's brotherly bonding experiences.  My sister said Jayden's been a very loving older brother sharing many slobbery kisses and hugs but will occasionally throw away Justin's bottles when he wants some mommy attention (lol).  

Jayden being spoiled, I mean fed, by grandma.

Justin after his dinner waiting for that big burp.

In the end it was a long dinner, and we never did get around to eating the cake.  My parents took it home, and I'm sure my sisters will be enjoying it especially my baby sister who seemed very protective of the cake and the cookies I made yesterday.  She's starting her finals tomorrow, maybe she needs all that sugar for some energy boost.  

Either way, Happy Father's Day, Daddy, I love you, and good luck on your finals, Jess!!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Beautiful Cookies

I baked these the same night I made the chocolate chip cookies.  I am making my dad a fish theme Father's Day cake, and I needed a fish cookie.  I found the smallest batch of sugar cookie recipe I could find, and wa-la in my trusty The Martha Stewart Cookbook is a half batch of sugar cookie recipe.

I started decorating them last night after my husband D called to say he was going out with the boys.  But he came home early since he wanted to go see You Don't Mess With The Zohan rather than play poker.  I had an hour to put things away and get something to eat fast, so I suggested we go to the sushi place across the street from our apartment.  I'd been there once and loved it and couldn't convince D to go before hand.  Once there though he was impressed.  I was so sad I didn't bring my camera, but D said we could come back soon to take pics!  So look for it in a future post.

Anyway... this is a picture of the fish I decorated.

But the real reason I wanted to make the cookies was to make these...

I had seen these cookies in Peggy Porschen's Romantic Cakes and have been searching for fancy butterfly cookie cutters.  

Well, I finally found a set at Sur La Table and here's the result.  I haven't tried the other styles, but I'll save those for next time.  

Until then, cheers!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Crispy Chocolate Chip Cookies

Last night I made chocolate chip cookies for my husband to take to work.  I usually make little treats for his clients and colleagues for the weekend.  In the past I've made mini cupcakes, lemon cookies, and decorated sugar cookies.  But everyone's all time favorite are these crispy chocolate chip cookies.  One of the clients ate an entire plate of them while chatting with my husband.  They are that yummy!

It's a recipe I found in The Martha Stewart Cookbook, but it is also available online.  Apparently these cookies are also Alexis' favorite.  They are so simple and quick to do.  I make them mini size at half the batch with the original amount of chocolate chips.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

The cookies are thin and crispy and perfect with a cold glass of milk, a cup of coffee or tea, a BIG scoop of ice cream, or just as is.


Tuesday, June 10, 2008

To New Beginnings

Hello Everyone,

This is my first blog ever and what better subject to start with other than my favorite ... FOOD!  It is my husband's idea since he thought it would be nice to share our experiences with food (including the good and the bad).  

My entire family is full of foodaholics.  My parents opened restaurants just to ensure that we can eat whatever and whenever we wanted.  My parents and in-laws are all excellent cooks.  I strive to be able to cook like anyone of them someday.  It's so hard to learn their techniques since none of them understand the concept of measurements.  It's always just a little bit of this and a little bit of that... Well, I try and my husband is my guinea pig.  :-P

I love all kinds of food and will try anything at least once.  Some of the strangest things I've tried include snake while in China for business and on my honeymoon in Taiwan, lobster pee (at least that's what they told me it was) mixed with a very strong local spirit.  It wasn't very tasty, but I felt pretty good afterwards.  

I also love to experiment with new recipes.  Some of my family's favorites include my clam chowder, steamed fish, roast turkey, and key lime pie.  All so simple to make... I promise to share photos and recipes the next time I make any of these.      

So until next time... Cheers, everyone!

P.S. I want to send my love to the newest foodaholic my baby nephew, Justin, who was born yesterday.  Welcome to the family, and I can't wait to share a meal with you.