I don’t usually like to complain about cooking mishaps, since I already whine a lot about my personal life on this blog (hey, its cheaper than therapy). Some fiascos, however, just beg to be immortalized in a post and filed under categories with names that explicitly describe things I should never be allowed near again. And what have we decided I should not allowed near today? Alcohol.
So my mom sends me her famous Christmas fruitcake recipe and tells me to soak the dried fruit in brandy for ‘a little bit’. Easy, except that ‘a little bit’ could mean anything. For example, while it may mean half and hour to her, it could also mean a day or so to me. Can you see where this is going?
If you can’t, I’ll spell it out for you: my raisins hit the sauce big time.
Even worse, they are now refusing to give up the brandy they so readily soaked up, putting the bar tally at about a litre of booze short and my cake batter in serious jeopardy. This is clearly going to go either of two ways: One, the liquored-up batter will ignite in the oven and burn down my apartment. Two, I might end up with the best cakes ever and even be able to sell them on the street as the Christmas equivalent of special brownies.
I’ll update with the results when I’m done baking, though I hope the sound of fire trucks in the middle of the night won’t give anything away.
Friday, December 16, 2005
I don’t usually like to complain about cooking mishaps, since I already whine a lot about my personal life on this blog (hey, its cheaper than therapy). Some fiascos, however, just beg to be immortalized in a post and filed under categories with names that explicitly describe things I should never be allowed near again. And what have we decided I should not allowed near today? Alcohol.
Monday, November 28, 2005
Normalcy and what constitutes it may be extremely subjective, but when I was little, I was a self-proclaimed expert on Normal. Normal, I believed, was simply everything I wasn’t. I don’t mean that in a smug way – not meeting my standards of Normal wasn’t exactly an instant boost of self-esteem. To make matters worse, all my friends were blissfully Normal. They looked Normal (Chinese), had Normal family units (both parents and even a sibling or two), and were Normal in school (straight A’s). Being Normal may not have been something they prided themselves on, but I was too busy being envious to notice.
I did everything I could think of to fit in with the rest of the island: I picked up the local patois and spoke it with gusto, straightened my curly hair by means of caustic chemical treatments, and failed to mention that I only saw my dad on weekends. These and other measures I took to achieve normalcy were not only pathetic, they plain didn’t work: I wasn’t fooling anyone.
Though I certainly didn’t see any silver linings back then, some good did come out this uncomfortable phase of my life: it was during this period that I discovered baking.
While it may be news to some that I wasn’t actually born with a spatula in hand, readers from Singapore can probably sympathize. Given the sweltering tropical climate of the island and the fact that most kitchens (mine included) are of the open air variety, it’s understandable that baking isn’t as common of a practice in Singapore as it is in North America. Add to that equation a mother who was, more often than not, away from home on business trips and it becomes perfectly clear why I was such a late bloomer in the baking department: the opportunity just never presented itself.
When it finally did, however, I was ready for it. I watched my mother like a hawk as she made the cookie dough, hovering around her elbows like some short, nosy apparition. Though the whole process was very exciting, time slowed to a crawl when my mother leaned over to show me how to shape the dough. I remember everything about that moment in great detail – the heat of the kitchen, the squish of the cookie dough between my fingers, and how lucky and loved I felt at that moment to have my mother make time to bake with me. That instant, frozen forever in my memory looks to me like a scene right out of a Norman Rockwell drawing. How ironic that such an atypical activity for my mother and I was what made me feel, for the first time in some way, Normal.
The ending to this story is, as all good endings are, a happy one. While I still don’t meet my old standards of Normal, my standards have since changed. I’ve learnt to celebrate rather than hide my unique features, have realized that my loving two-person family unit makes much more sense than a dysfunctional three-person one, and have enrolled in design school where – guess what? – I’m finally racking up some A’s. As for the baking, it goes without saying that it’s a regular activity now, though I’ll never take its humble, Normal beginning for granted.
These Skor cookies are a spin on a chocolate-chip cookie recipe. They may look Normal, but don’t be deceived – their crisp sugar cookie looks hide huge chunks of chocolate and toffee that give the cookies a nice chewy texture in some spots. Part childhood nostalgia, part grown-up indulgence (because only adults should be allowed near this much sugar), these cookies are a nice blend of Normal and Different – something I think everyone can definitely appreciate.
Normal Different Skor Sugar Cookies
1 cup sugar
¾ cup butter
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups flour
1 ½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
pinch of salt
8 Skor candy bars, crushed up (don’t substitute with Skor bites – they don’t have as good of a chocolate-to-toffee ratio!)
1. Cream the butter and sugar in a bowl.
2. Add your egg and vanilla and mix till smooth.
3. Sift in flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt, and mix on low till blended completely.
4. Toss in your Skor chunks and mix them in by hand.
5. Drop dough by the tablespoon onto a greased cookie sheet (Silpats are preferable because baked-on toffee can be a pain to remove) and bake in a 350 degree oven for 15 minutes.
6. Cool for a couple of minutes before eating – molten toffee is not your friend, no matter what you’d like to believe. Enjoy.
Monday, November 07, 2005
Though generally considered a rather humdrum event, moving is (so I’ve been told) the third most stressful experience that one can go through. I only mention this conversationally, but first and second are death and divorce. In my case, this stress was multiplied by two: in the past two weeks, I’ve had to not only pack and move my apartment but my brother’s as well.
Death and divorce? Take your best shot.
Maybe I shouldn’t complain – after all, I’ve had my share of silver linings through the setbacks. I managed to snag the last-four-in-the-country dining chairs I wanted, finally have the chocolate brown bedroom I’ve always dreamed of, and had the Arco lamp I ordered come in three weeks before schedule. Finally, more motivation to put some effort into getting all our things unpacked!
That reminds me – the second my kitchen is set up, I’ll finally be able to participate in the kitchen meme I’ve been tagged for…provided my internet guy comes soon and reestablishes my access to the real world, that is. Till that happens, don’t give up on me just yet – I’ll be back in the kitchen in no time at all.
Friday, October 21, 2005
For me, chocolate is an obsession, an addiction, a passion. Besides being a significant part of me physically (hips – need I say more?), chocolate as an element has, over the years, become interwoven with so many memories that I now find it quite hard to separate myself from it emotionally.
Chocolate was there the night my god brother and I stayed up well past our bedtimes, cloistered in the kitchen making milkshakes out of anything sweet we could find. It was all over us when our mothers finally discovered what we were up to, and was smudged across our very faces that contorted horribly as we tried to feign innocence while holding back laughter at the same time.
When problems in our lives weighed too heavily on our shoulders, chocolate was always present – in the form of Irish Cream brownies – during the long sessions of mutual commiseration M and I shared. Crumbs of it were in the water of her pool the night M and I swore to never let physical distance change our friendship. It was smeared into our clothing as we hugged each other goodbye. It was promised a place of honour in our next meeting, whenever that happened to be.
In my fondest memory of it to date, chocolate in a luxurious molten state oozed out of the warm cakes N, G and I would share as we swilled champagne cocktails and allowed our giggles to drift through night air tinted blue with cigarette smoke. It was there- in that cake, served with 3 forks – each time I would return home to see them. It was there to mark summers of adrenaline-fuelled euphoria, to kick off nights of parties that always ended too soon. It was on our table the night we toasted to a lifetime of summers just like that one.
Chocolate was there tonight as part of a comfort food lineup D and I shared as we bemoaned family, school, boys and life in general. It was eaten in the kind of silence only good friends would find comfortable – the kind that is inevitably followed by hours and hours of talking about somethings and nothings and everything in between. It was a non-verbal way to tell D to cheer up: that no matter how unbearable life seemed at times, she’d always have friends like me and chocolate.
For R, my god brother who I think of every time I have a tooth-achingly sweet milkshake, for M who brownies just don’t taste the same without, for N and G who at the same time live far away in person and close to me in my heart, and finally for D whose happiness I am wishing for: should any of you ever decide to make this dessert, may the memories associated with its chocolate content be as rich and sweet as the confection itself.
Molten Chocolate Memory Cake
For the cake:
1 egg white
1 pinch cream of tartar
4 tbs sugar
½ cup chopped dark chocolate
4 tbs cocoa powder
4 tbs butter
1 pinch grey sea salt
For the cream:
1/3 cup heavy cream
2 tbs icing sugar
2 tsp orange liqueur
1. Microwave chocolate, cocoa powder, salt and butter together till melted, stopping and stirring every 30 seconds to prevent burning.
2. Meanwhile, whisk egg white with cream of tartar still frothy, then add sugar and beat till stiff peaks form.
3. When chocolate mixture is melted and smooth, add into the egg whites and whisk gently till just combined.
4. Grease 4 small ramekins (about 2 inches diameter) and coat with granulated sugar.
5. Ladle batter in till ¾ way full, and bake for in a 400 degree oven for 7 minutes (or till tops are set, but insides are still wet).
6. While the cakes are baking, add icing sugar and liqueur to cream and beat till stiff.
7. When the cakes are done, invert carefully onto plates and serve immediately, topped with whipped cream and chocolate shavings.
Wednesday, October 19, 2005
Cheerfully hued and joyfully rotund, pumpkins are hard to hate. It may be the fact that they are so often endowed with faces that I attribute certain human characteristics to them, but the sight of them lined up in store windows always makes me think of them as caricatured individuals in a rather comical family. There’s the mother – round and upturned with humour, the father – dapperly wearing his stem like a shrunken top hat, the baby – squat and lumpy, the daughter – looking as though she’s sucking in her tummy…Well, you get the picture.
After that analogy, it seems like such a shame to admit the use of canned pumpkins in my baking, but short on time and long on impatience, it’s usually my only feasible option. Forced to use the first half of the can for a good-but-predictable pumpkin pie, I was determined to redeem myself with the second half and put it to good (slightly-more-creative) use: Pumpkin Spice Cookies! My obsession with these cookies is hard to explain. They’re soft, and I hate soft cookies. They’re iced, I think iced cookies are too sweet. They’re rustic (read: ugly) looking, and I’m really anal about presentation. So firmly do they go against my ideals of what a good cookie should be that it usually takes a lot of coaxing on A.’s part to get me to even consider making them – even though it’s no secret that when they’re done, I can mow through a plate of them without help.
With the help of my trusty KitchenAid mixer and my good friend D., the cookies were made so efficiently that only the rate at which the first batch disappeared could possibly have been faster. Squishy and heaped with haphazard dollops of saccharine icing, I still have no idea why I love these cookies – I just do. Sort of sounds like my attitude towards my roadkill fur coat from Kensington, actually…but I think I’ll save that story. A girl’s got to have some secrets!
Love-Hate Pumpkin Spice Cookies
2 3/4 cups flower
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 1/4 tsp ginger
3/4 tsp nutmeg
1 ½ sticks butter softened
2 1/4 cups packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups pumpkin mush
3/4 cup evaporated milk
1 Tsp. pure vanilla extract
1. Cream butter and brown sugar
2. Mix in all wet ingredients, blend till smooth (don’t worry if it looks like it’s separating).
3. Mix in all dry ingredients, blend till smooth.
4. Cram batter into a piping bag and pipe 1 ½ inch cookies about an inch apart on a lined baking sheet.
5. Bake in a 375 degree oven for 12 minutes. When done, cookies should feel springy when pressed.
4 Cups Confectioners Sugar
10 Tbs butter
5 Tbs Evaporated Milk
2 Tsp Vanilla
1. Stick butter into a saucepan and cook till brown.
2. In the bowl of a mixer, pour melted butter over icing sugar. Scrape burnt bits into the bowl.
3. Add milk and vanilla and blend till smooth
4. Slap on top of cooled cookies.
Thursday, October 13, 2005
I couldn’t understand why people kept saying “good luck with the roundup” till I started – it’s hard work! Thanks for your patience while I took my dear old time muddling through it, and to A. who is the most tolerant tech-support guy I know. Special thanks really has to go out to Jennifer, our Domestic Goddess, who gave me the advice I needed to grow In The Pink from an Idea into an Event, Ronald who graciously gave this event real estate on the Is My Blog Burning? website, and to Sam of Becks and Posh fame who hawked the virtues of this event not only on her blog, but on also Food Blog S’cool (no doubt breaking some school rules).
There was a point where I was convinced this event wouldn’t happen, and it probably wouldn’t have, if it wasn’t for all of you and your words of encouragement, support and wisdom. So thank you, participants, just for participating! And for not only sharing your pictures and recipes, but also for opening your hearts to us and sharing your stories as well.
Sue from Snackish whipped up an extremely unusual drink called Agua de Tuna (translation: tuna water) – but before you judge it by it’s name, head over there and check it out!
We won’t know how Michelle’s Rhubarb Schnapps will turn out till about 6 weeks from now, but be sure to check back with her at The Accidental Scientist to find out. All we know for sure right now is that it’s so pink, it’s glowing like a lava lamp – gorgeous!
The earliest entry (a whole 10 days, how’s that for organized?) came from Keiko, who made a Raspberry Mousse with Almond Sponge. And just like all her other creations on Nordljus, this one is gorgeous.
A deliciously creamy looking Shrikhand arrived from Smorgasbord’s Bilbo, who says this is the first foodie event s he’s participated in. Hope we’ll see you in more roundups!
Johanna, The Passionate Cook, contributed homemade(!!) Strawberry Marshmallows– sure to make everyone feel guilty for using the store-bought variety…she makes it sound so easy!
All the way from New Zealand, Barbara from Winos and Foodies mixed good cooking with good advice and not only posted a picture of her Pink Cupcakes, but also posted a couple of breast cancer information links.
From Switzerland, Dilek contributed not one, but two desserts, both of which look delicious: a Pomegranate-Rose Panna Cotta, and a Hazelnut Tart with Figs (and was even thoughtful enough to include some interesting information on pomegranate juice)!
Not to be set back by an empty fridge, a determined Zorra from Aubergine made Pink Raspberries Mascarpone Dream. I only wish I could be as creative when faced with only 4 ingredients and a deadline!
Fellow Singaporean (yay!) Mia, a.k.a. the Skinny Epicurean, tried her hand at making individual Azuki Mousse Cakes. Though she claims they didn’t turn as planned, they look adorable and are certainly an admirable first attempt at single-serving desserts!
Stella, from Baby Rambutanmade and dedicated a really yummy-looking White Chocolate Pound Cake with Dark and White Chocolate and Pink Frosting (phew!) to the memories of her grandmother and aunt. Did anyone else know that one of her sons is a food-psychic?
Though Cathy (of A Blithe Palate) originally intended to make some elaborate creation, she eventually settled on making a heart-shaped (and prettily pink!) Coeur a la Crème– a beautiful dessert with a touching dedication.
Jennifer from Taste Everything Once got really creative with pink peppercorns and made a tart, sweet and Peppered Raspberry Sauce to go with vanilla ice cream – how inspired! Next thing you know, they’ll be selling the stuff at Williams-Sonoma…
Niki from Esureintes has put a pseudo X-rated spin on her post by featuring some very promiscuous fruit. Though she says her Slut Red Raspberries in Chardonnay Jelly have been getting some (unwanted) attention from all sorts of perverts, it’s really just a lot of good, clean, foodie fun!
Though she claims she used to hate the colour pink, Jennifer not only incorporated three shades of pink into her Pink Ribbon Shortbread, but accessorized them with a pink bow and a beautiful pink tea set. They clearly don’t call her the Domestic Goddess for nothing!
When reading Vicki’s pink post (scroll down her main page to find it) take her advice: be patient and go through the steps instead of cheating and scrolling down all the way. The mouthwatering Pink Surprises (did you really think I would tell?) are worth the wait!
From Germany, we have Küchenlatein’s Ulrike who shares with us a recipe for a delightful Pink Grapefruit Ambrosia. Its very thoughtfully been posted in English for our benefit, and is accompanied by a simple yet extremely effective picture of the final product.
Meet Zsofi, who blogs in Hungarian from Brussels on Chili & Vanilia. If you think that sounds exotic, wait till you hear what she whipped up: a batch of pleasingly pink Pomegranate Mascarpone Ice Cream!
Gulsen’s artsy picture of some beautiful Pink Pralines with Almond Paste and Whole Almonds makes them look like they came from a professional confectionary – I wish my efforts with melted chocolate looked as proficient!
Though Stephanie, The Happy Sorceress, claims this was a last-minute effort, her Pink Chocolate-Covered Caramels look beautifully ethereal. Maybe it’s the effect of the crystal they’re displayed on, or maybe its magic – have a look and decide!
Anne of Anne’s Food tried to make two pink dishes, but decided that the Strawberry Ice Cream with White Chocolate Ripple was the only one worth posting about (it does look yummy). It seems you really can never go wrong with desserts!
I’ve always been a fan of molten chocolate cakes, so when Emily of Baking Beast turned up with a lovely Soufflé Cake, I was drooling! Though she says she cheated on making the sauce, it’s so pretty that I’m inclined to forgive her – what do you guys think?
Sam of Becks and Posh has really outdone herself with these alluring Rose Pink Marbled Meringues. I’ve always likened meringues to edible clouds, and these, captured in two lovely pictures, are no different – don’t they look like pink-tinged clouds at sunset?
From Food Chronicles, Robyn made what looks like a positively sinful Red Velvet Cake with Pink Buttercream Frosting. Though she’s quick to dismiss it as a last-minute attempt, it’s still very impressive! The site she linked to her entry was incredibly moving, and she’s right: we need to find a way to make these stories stop.
Adam of Big City Barbeques may not be a regular food blogger, but very nicely made some sort-of Lingonberry Panna Cotta – the result of a failed attempt at a lingonberry mousse – to show his support. His antics resulted in a few dings in my Kitchenaid mixer bowl, but looks like I’ll have to forgive him since it was all for a good cause!
Embarrassingly, the last entry received was my own – a Raspberry Ruby Cheesecake, dedicated to my mom who is a breast cancer survivor. Before you protest the title of my dessert, let me defend myself: you may think of rubies as red, but most of them are actually pink!
From Weekly Dish, Jennifer (a.k.a the culinary bookworm) doled out a fantastic mixture of sweet memories and sassy Pink Amaretto Sorbet. The recipe for her beautiful pink dessert is preceded by a very touching dedication to both her grandmothers, which clearly came straight from her heart. The lovely photo of the dessert ties everything in by showing her sorbet served in her grandmother’s crystal glasses.
If anything remotely medical (breast self-examinations included) makes you feel squeamish, then Raquel from Raquel’s Box of Chocolates has a solution: handing out Cupcakes as reminder to women to self-examine. Picture these as the adult version of the lollies we used to get as kids at the doctor’s office - can't wait for your next appointment, can you?
Fallen Souffle’s Jennifer originally wanted to make something sweet, but instead decided to go the savory route and made her yummy looking Rigatone with Pink Sauce even more special by dedicating it to her mother in law, Laura.
A savory use for strawberries? I didn’t think the existed until I read about Nic’s inspiring and unusual Roasted Strawberry and Tomato Salsa. Nic also has linked a very interesting and exciting news article about a cancer vaccine. It just goes to show you: there IS a cure for breast cancer…we simply have to find it.
Though we’ve all had kitchen setbacks, it takes lots of creativity and determination to turn a fiasco into a feast. Lucky for us, A Veggie Venture’s Alanna has these qualities in spades – as evidenced by her Survivor Soup. Who would’ve guessed it used to be a casserole?
Even if Becky from Two Foot Kitchen hadn’t admitted that pink was her favourite colour, I think we’d all be able to guess: for her entry, she managed to incorporate three different pink foods into one dish (and they all look delicious)!
Don’t let its whimsical colour fool you – this dish is seriously good for you! From One Hot Stove, Nupur contributed a Beet Raita that cleverly features two ingredients with anti-cancer properties: cumin and vegetables.
Kudos to Sarah from One Whole Clove, who didn’t let low temperatures stop her grilling! She made Shrimp with Raspberry Dressing– a pink-on-pink colour combination that’s so cheerful I’m sure it would combat any bad-weather blues!
Mel of Mel’s Kitchen made some Salmon Cakes for the event – despite the fact that her husband doesn’t eat fish! (Don’t feel too bad for him – she made him some chicken breast!)
From Notes from the Cape, Craig submitted some very imposingly titled fish, or rather: Pink Norwegian Salmon with Chili Jam. He’s even included a picture of the fish before it was grilled for those who might doubt the final dish’s pink quotient!
A lovely Orange, Beet and Fennel Salad arrived from Kelli over in Quebec. Though she says some recipe modifications were needed to appease some picky eaters, it seems the salad was well received (and I can understand why - the combination of beets and oranges sound really yummy)!
Sweet and Savory:
This event certainly has a few overachievers! Ruth from Once Upon a Feast came up with an entire pink meal! If you’ve never seen pink mashed potatoes before, here’s your chance to be amazed.
Alice from My Adventures in the Breadbox made good use of her piping bag for her first entry, a batch of Filled Cupcakes. Unsatisfied with only one entry, Alice also turned in a moulded Salmon Mousse on Dill Pizelles that she made from scratch. (See what I mean about overachievers?)
Brett, from In Praise of Sardines, also planned an Entire Meal around pink ingredients, which was served up with not only a touching story, but also a call to action…which sparked some fierce debate in the comments section!
That’s it for now, but I’ve heard people remarking that they are sorry they missed the deadline, so if anyone reading this (or someone you know) would still like to participate, I’d be happy to extend the deadline for a week or so and add your entries to this roundup as I receive them. Also, if any corrections need to be made, let me know!
Wednesday, October 12, 2005
As a campaign, breast cancer awareness struck a chord within me at a very young age. I was only twelve when my mother was diagnosed with the debilitating disease - young enough to be thoroughly bewildered and confused by what was happening, old enough to know that what I was being told by doctors and relatives were diluted truths at best.
Though nothing I had gone through could have ever compared to the strain – both physical and psychological – that my mother faced during that period in her life, it was a very bleak time for me. As the only child of a single mother, I didn’t see a sick parent lying in a hospital bed; I saw my entire world crumbling around me. Each day that I left home to visit my mother in hospital, I would take mental pictures of every room in a desperate act to preserve my home in memory in case her conditioned worsened and I was sent to live with relatives.
Not only was I scared for my future; I was also convinced that I was to blame for her cancer. I had one day made the mistake of asking my aunt for real facts about my mother’s illness – only to be told that it was the stress I caused my mother that had led to her development of breast cancer. At night, I would cry silently into the hospital-issued pillows on the couch I slept on while praying that my mother, whom I did not wish to worry further, would not hear me.
My mother went on to completing a course of radiotherapy after her lumpectomy, and slowly but surely made a full recovery. Though life quickly returned to normal after that, I never let myself forget how close I had come to losing my mother – and how fortunate we both were that she pulled through.
What really spurred me to the advocacy of breast cancer awareness was the overwhelming feeling of hopelessness and guilt that I had felt then, and the wish that nobody else would have to suffer similar consequences for being ignorant about the disease. Breast cancer awareness may not be a cure, but it can be a starting point to healing.
This post and following dessert is dedicated to my mother, whose life I am thankful for every day.
Raspberry Ruby Cheesecake (recipe makes 1)
For the crust:
3 digestive cookies, crushed
2 tsp butter, melted
1 tsp brown sugar
For the raspberry cheese:
1/3 of a 250g tub of cream cheese
6 raspberries, mashed
1 tbs sugar
1 tsp flour
2 tsp egg white
For the topping:
¼ cup lychee juice
¼ cup pomegranate juice
½ cup water
2 tbs sugar
½ packet gelatin powder
1. Mix the melted butter and sugar into the cookie crumbs, and push firmly into bottom of a small cake ring (I used a square cookie cutter). Bake for 10 minutes at 350 degrees.
2. When cool, slide crust out of mould and set aside.
3. Beat all ingredients for the cheese till combined, and pour into greased mould. Bake for 30 minutes in a 350-degree oven.
4. Meanwhile, combine topping ingredients in a small pan and heat on high, stirring, till gelatin and sugar have dissolved. Pour into a bowl and leave it to set in the fridge.
5. When the jelly has set, mix it up with a fork into rough chunks.
6. When the cheese has baked, allow it to cool and deflate before attempting to remove it from the mould.
7. To assemble, set cheese on crust and top with jelly chunks. Garnish with white chocolate curls if desired, or serve with a chocolate sauce if you like your desserts really sweet.
*I must apologize for the tardiness of this entry. As the hostess of this event, it's extremely embarassing to be this late in posting both my own entry and the roundup. Their delays are both due to an unexpected and unavoidable trip I had to make back home. I truly am very sorry this took so long.
Friday, September 30, 2005
Q: Is In The Pink open to the public?
A: Definitely. Everyone’s invited – and if you know people who aren’t in the know, go ahead and spread the word!
Q: What if I don’t have a blog?
A: I’m really bad with technology, so I’m not sure what to do about blog-less entries. You could try taking Eva up on her very generous offer, but be sure to ask real nice first!
Q: Is it mandatory to post pictures of myself?
A: Nope. If you’re camera shy, just take some nice pictures of your creation(s). Same goes for personal information – don’t feel like you’re being forced to share if you don’t want to. Some of the best food bloggers out there keep their post topics strictly culinary-oriented and are still extremely captivating. Write within your comfort zone.
Q: When is the closing date?
A: It was originally a one-day thing, but was extended to cover an entire weekend (7th to the 9th of Oct.) The official closing date is the 9th, but I will try to accept late entries till the roundup is posted.
Q: When is the roundup going to be done?
A: I’m hoping to have it done by the 11th or sooner, but my poor grasp of technology might cause some delays.
Q: What is the purpose of this event, and are there donations involved?
A: The main goal for this event is to raise breast cancer awareness. I’m not representing any charities, and am not going to be collecting donations. To make a donation, please contact your country’s breast cancer organization.
Special thanks to A., who made that pink ribbon you see in the top right corner of my blog. If you want one too, let me know and I'll post the script for it....the second I figure out how (or rather, the second A. gets around to figuring out how).
Thursday, September 29, 2005
Wednesday, September 28, 2005
I wish I knew what these things were called. (Maybe someone will be kind enough to write in and tell me.) They certainly are good though – possibly made better by the fact that they are the first things to come out of my kitchen in a long while. I blame it all on the upcoming move: my lovely baking pans have had to be packed away, leaving me with only my baking sheet to rely on. Don’t get me wrong – I almost never use my bundt pan…but since it’s been packed, I’ve thought up about 30 different, ornate, gourmet creations that hinge on that very pan. Of course, when I unpack it, all those ideas will be long gone, and my bundt pan (among others) will languish in the back of my cupboard for months on end. As usual.
I wish I had more to say about this recipe, but its isn’t even my own! I got it from A.’s mom while she was staying with us – she was even gracious enough to de-egg the formula so I could eat some. I remember loving it the second I took a bite – gooey and oozing and still warm from the oven, I suddenly understood why A. reminisced so fondly of this dish.
So today, when I saw a package of frozen spinach and a roll of filo sitting in my freezer, I knew just how to get rid of them. Not only are they going to be a warm, comforting treat for us after being out and about in rapidly-chilling Toronto, they’re also meat-free which makes them a perfect gift for our vegetarian friend M. However, whether or not they actually make it over to her depends on A. and his stomach.
I hope she won’t be too disappointed.
Spinach and Cheese Whatchamacallits
1 package frozen, chopped spinach (thawed)
1 cup feta cheese
1 cup cottage cheese
1 brick cream cheese
1 package filo pastry, thawed and cut lengthwise into quarters
¼ cup melted butter
1. Mix spinach, feta cheese, cottage cheese and cream cheese in a bowl and beat till mixed.
2. Drop one tablespoon of the mixture onto the end of a filo strip, and fold filo strip over the filling into a triangle.
3. Place triangle, seam side up, on a lined baking sheet and brush with melted butter.
4. Repeat till all filling and filo is used.
5. Bake triangles in oven at 350 degrees for 20 minutes, or until tops are browned.
Wednesday, September 21, 2005
I can hear the groans – not another food event to keep track of! – but bear with me. This one really is different: it’s for a good cause!
I’m so proud to announce the birth of In The Pink, an online food blogging event that I’m hoping will raise breast cancer awareness. The premise is simple: make anything you would like (as long as it’s pink, of course!) and blog about it. It’s not mandatory, but you are all definitely encouraged to post a picture of yourself showing your support in something pink, and to dedicate your pretty pink creation to someone if you wish. The most important thing is to have fun though, and to know you’re doing something worthwhile at the same time!
Send me links to your post anywhere between the 7th and the 9th of October via email at firstname.lastname@example.org (be sure to reference In The Pink in the title of your email). If you have questions, feel free to email me or leave a comment at the end of this post.
Good luck with your cooking - I can’t wait to see the beautiful delicacies you guys will pink up!
Update: There is now an In The Pink FAQ post for those of you wanting more specific information.
Tuesday, September 20, 2005
Everyone’s life is full of ups and downs. It’s not something we really think to complain about for the most part; we consider it a fact of life and accept the downs that come with the ups and relish the time we spend lingering in that happy medium, normality. For some of us however (well, me, in this case), normality fails to shows up to mediate and offer respite between the constant seesawing of life for stretches at a time.
I’m not trying to play the pity card here, I promise: while the downs (one in particular) have been horrible, the ups have been terrific and have kept me going when all I wanted to do was collapse.
Yes, collapse. Collapse and cry and beat my fists against walls.
You see, I found out this summer that my nanny, the woman who raised me from birth, has been diagnosed with a terminal case of cancer. Her husband who also used to take care of me had passed away the year before. I hadn’t known because my mother and I had fallen out of communication when I had moved here to Canada and she had moved to Hong Kong. We only found all this out when my mother called her on my behalf after a dream I had had about her.
As you can probably guess, there is a lot of guilt I’m dealing with right now for not staying in touch, for not being there to say goodbye to someone I loved so much, for not even being able to be in Singapore to spend what little time is left with someone I’m about to lose. Though the depression I feel doesn’t look like it will dissipate any time soon, I’m making progress just by being able to type out these words – a month ago, A. was worried he’d have to lean how to decipher sobs.
A.’s been a huge, huge Up. He’s not only been a shoulder to cry on, but also has been inhumanly patient with me, accepting that when-I-want-to-talk-about-it-I-will and never pushing me to get-on-with-the-healing-process-already. I don’t know how he does maintains his ever-cheeriness about everything despite living with a person who may as well have a storm cloud over her head, but he does.
Another Up in my life was my mother’s visit about a month ago. I’m going to eventually get around to posting pictures of the culinary excursions we made while she was here, so won’t ruin it today for anyone. My mother, who is just as emotional as I am about my nanny, has been super-practical as always about it all, reminding me daily that there are things that are out of my control – something she says everyone has problems dealing with when tragedy strikes (I told you she was practical).
The other Ups that have kept me hanging on may not seem to be monumental, but as we all know: it’s the little things that count. My friends D and M have provided me with a constant supply of girlie humor, fun and activities that have served as much-welcomed distractions from my wallowing. They’re the reasons I’m forced to get out of bed and go to the gym, or to the dog park, or mall or lunch instead of lying in bed all day (which I’d probably do if I could – at no benefit to myself).
After reading through all this personal information that definitely does not belong on a food blog, you’d be happy to know the last Up I’m going to mention here (there are more, lucky me) is a food-oriented one: I’ve finally begun to sell my baking. Before you crack open the champagne, you should know that this isn’t a huge deal for anyone but me (and of course my parents who are deliriously happy that I’m making steps – however small – towards finally supporting myself). I haven’t started a company, opened a store or signed a contract with Starbucks. I’m just casually selling baked goods at a tiny store manned by a guy who is probably allowing me to do this so he gets tax breaks. The $12 I’ve made so far (hey, I only started yesterday!) is definitely nothing to whoop about, but I can’t shake the feeling that I’ve accomplished something really special.
So there you go: those are some of the main reasons I haven’t been around for a while. I hope you’ll find it in your hearts to forgive me for being so tardy about writing. I can’t promise I’m going to put blogging at the top of my to-do list from now on, but seeing as how good I feel to finally get all of the above off my chest, I’m going to make a point to do it more often.
I hope to see more of you, too.
Saturday, August 13, 2005
When I first learnt to appreciate coffee’s potent ability to prolong my waking state, I was extremely abusive of it: chasing three espresso shots with three tequila shots was my way of kicking off a night of clubbing. I can’t imagine where the inspiration for that combination came from, or how I could ever think that was a smart thing to do, but I was thankfully young enough then for me to now write it off as one of youth’s many follies.
The next stage in the relationship was less abusive. As my passion for clubbing mellowed out, so did my lifestyle and my drink of choice. Since espresso was all of a sudden too overwhelming for me, it was no wonder that when I discovered ice-blended maraschino-cherry-infused mochas it was love at first sip –they were the perfect drink to nurse while one was deep in conversation about boys. Though the buzz that the hint of coffee generated was nothing compared to the fluttering of teenage hearts, everything about the drink (from its pinkish hue to its innocent sweetness) made it the closest consumable thing to love for me. Even now, I can’t think of a more perfect beverage to be in love over.
Today, for coffee and I, our relationship is all about acceptance. I haven’t progressed past the puppy love stage of my coffee drinking, but my stunted growth in the relationship department doesn’t bother me: I’ll proudly admit to not wanting coffee without chocolate, sugar and cream. Life is just too short to not give yourself what you want.
A Note: Before I forget, thanks so much to this month's host, Ronald, for being so gracious about accepting my tardy entry.
Black Forest Éclairs
(but only because the recipe for Black Forest Ice Blended Mochas is copyrighted.)
1 cup all-purpose flour
3 tbs unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tbs sugar
1 cup water
1/2 cup butter
1/4 tsp salt
2 cups whipping cream
¼ cup maraschino cherry syrup
1 tbs instant coffee powder
½ cup icing sugar
1. In a saucepan, bring water and butter to a boil on medium heat. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Toss in the flour, cocoa powder, salt and sugar, and mix vigorously with a wooden spoon till mixture leaves sides of pan. Remove from heat and cool till just warm to the touch, about 10 mins.
3. Mix in the eggs, one at a time, till mixture becomes a smooth but slightly sticky paste, then transfer to piping bag with a 1 inch nozzle.
4. Pipe éclairs about 4-6 inches long, about 3 inches apart, and bake for 35 minutes.
5. Remove from oven and cool on wire racks.
6. Slice off top of éclairs and hollow them out.
7. In a mixing bowl, dissolve the coffee crystals in the maraschino cherry syrup and then add the whipping cream.
8. Beat on high till mixture becomes whipped cream and then transfer to a piping bag with a star nozzle.
9. Pipe cream into the bottoms of the éclairs, and then cover with the tops.
10. Garnish with icing sugar or melted dark chocolate, if desired.
Thursday, August 11, 2005
Thus begins my short series called Catching Up 2005, an allocated cache of blogs that were meant to be up already. Some were half-written and never completed, some began with pictures but never progressed past that stage, some are still shimmering memories that have to be caught and tamed into text.
Hopefully, they'll soon materialize into the proper posts that they were always meant to be.
Wednesday, August 03, 2005
It wasn’t an easy task growing up as the kid who couldn’t eat eggs. For the most part, I was left unquestioned about my allergy and managed to live a very normal egg free life, but there was always that one day of the year where my hypersensitivity would antagonize me to no end – my birthday.
When I was little, kids at my school would always have their maids show up at recess time with a huge cake for the teachers and students in their class. These cakes were always boxed in huge, crisp bakery boxes which were tied with a multitude of colourful ribbons and would be proudly displayed on a table in the canteen while a chorus of hungry voices sang for their supper. I always foolishly went to these canteen celebrations, nursing some silly hope that the box would be opened and a birthday jello would be revealed. Or a birthday mound of candies. Or heck, a birthday pizza even – something, anything non eggy that I could eat. Needless to say I was always sorely disappointed.
The really stinger was that the same thing would happen on my birthday, because I would always stubbornly insist on having a cake despite my allergy. Not having a birthday cake at a birthday party? The idea was too ludicrous to entertain. Plus, what sort of horrible whispers would circulate on the morning of the next school day if there was no cake? Children are evil, evil people. There had to be cake.
Much to my mother’s credit, she never took an I-told-you-so attitude towards my initial instance on having (and later inability to eat) birthday cake. Each year, she’d spend the night before the party baking and icing some elaborate and theme-coordinated spectacle-on-a-plate. She’d even let me pick the flavour (always chocolate), fully knowing I would never be able to eat it, and would always make sure there was a birthday-something-else for me to eat while everyone was having cake.
Her tradition of birthday-something-elses continues to this day, long after my birthday parties stopped. I’ve had birthday fudge, birthday ice cream profiteroles (made with egg whites), birthday cheesecakes, birthday truffles…the list goes on. This year, I was pleasantly surprised with a birthday mango jelly that my mother made on the sneak (which is impressive, given that she, A. and I were at that point living in a one bedroom apartment together) just when I had thought she’d have forgotten. Silly me.
It’s taken me a long time to make peace with my egg allergy – like I said, it wasn’t easy being the kid who couldn’t eat cake – but having a mom who made an allergy sufferer feel special instead of excluded made all the difference. Lesson of the day: It doesn’t matter what your birthday cake really is, as long as it was made with love and has a mound of candles in it.
Happy Birthday to Me.
Saturday, July 23, 2005
I don’t have many food prejudices, but the one I do have seems to be unconquerable. I should probably clarify this: to me, a food prejudice is a strong dislike for a dish that tastes good, looks edible (at least) and is made of perfectly normal things that you would happily consume in any other recipe. I hate to think that I’m prejudiced against anything – let alone food, of all things! – but in light of my recent attempt to (and failure at) overcoming my bias, I’m giving up and admitting this to the world: I hate fried rice.
I’m not sure if the fact that I’m Asian makes my prejudice peculiar or acceptable: while fried rice is a very Chinese dish, it is synonymous with Americanized Asian cuisine and its accompanying Chinese stereotypes. I’ve always found my dislike for it strange and have tried mouthfuls of it on several occasions in attempts to understand the reason behind my aversion to it, to no avail.
Finally, A. suggested a make-or-break type of trial that would either lead to me loving fried rice (as he does) or writing it off forever, never to experimentally eat any again. We decided that I would make a plate of fried rice to my exact preferences, within certain ingredient guidelines. The challenge would be fair.
As I prepared my ingredients (extra char siew and spring onions, no eggs), I began to feel the stress of the challenge: should I dislike the fried rice, was giving up on eating it ever again a little drastic? I tried not to think about it as I swirled the rice around in my wok. When it was done, I mounded it onto a plate and handed it to A., the in-house fried rice connoisseur, for approval. It was deemed an authentic representation of fried rice, which was good enough for me. I took a tentative bite.
I could feel A. watching me with bated breath as I, ever the optimist, ate a couple more spoonfuls of it. I didn’t eat much more than that before I began to pick at it with my chopsticks and push it around my plate. I managed to catch my inner child from fully surfacing just before the whining and pouting started, but at that point I knew I had my answer.
So for all you foodies out there who are prejudiced against some dish or another, I have a challenge for you: try making it at home and see if you like your take on it better. If you do, great! If not, then go ahead and be prejudiced. I won’t tell if you don’t.
Friday, July 15, 2005
Honey is a beautiful thing. Thick, sweet and ranging in colours from gold to deep amber, honey is liquid sugar on fire. Its glows with both sweet innocence and blatant sensuality, stirring up memories both naughty and nice upon gliding over one’s taste buds. That’s the best thing about honey – its split personality. For every mother doling it out as a throat soothing remedy to her child, there is a hedonist licking it straight off her fingers; for every proper lady spooning it into her cup at high tea, there is a gamine dusting her body in edible honey powder. Few things are as charmingly contradictory.
Honey’s adaptability was, in this case, (and I hate to say it) a hindrance to me. Not being able to think of a single thing that wouldn’t benefit from its gold touch definitely stems from my personal bias: I could eat honey on anything. Therein lay yet another dilemma – as if trying to narrow my field down wasn’t hard enough, I was also obligated (out of my passion for honey) to make something truly worth bearing its regal colour. My indecisiveness tormented me for days.
Finally, inspiration materialized in the unlikely form of S., A.’s decidedly non-epicurean friend. After hearing me rant about the impossibility of being able to pin honey down to a single, fabulous dish, it was suggested by S. that I slice up an apple and dip it in honey. The irreverence! I almost collapsed in convulsions.
Before I could come up with a suitably scathing remark, however, I felt a faint memory of the offending suggestion niggle my brain. Apples and honey – I knew I’d never eaten them together like that before, yet the combination seemed familiar somehow. Then it dawned on me – Silk Apples! – and just like that, apples had won a leading role in the final dish.
It all fell into place from there. As though the stopper had been pulled from the Bottle of All Revelations, inspiration began coursing through my veins as I snatched bottles, tins and jars from cupboards. The kitchen stove glowed through the steam that whistled up from the myriad of pots on it, and I scurried about, mixing, stirring and whipping like a woman possessed. Till I burnt my thumb, that is, which started a terrible chain reaction ending in A. calling a ‘Kitchen Time-Out’ and gallantly proceeding to make the sesame snaps for me. I love this man.
To me, the final product was well worth the two-person effort, burnt thumb, and Time-Out – after all, this is honey we’re talking about! The dessert, affectionately christened ‘The Silk Road at Sunset’ by A. and I, is a geography lesson on a plate. Trying to incorporate as many flavours from regions along the silk road as possible was tricky, but ultimately very gratifying…in more ways than one. Not only did it turn out tasting melodiously complex, it also made a honey lover out of A.
Now if you’ll excuse us, we’ll be outside and under that beehive, worshipping at the alter of honey.
The Silk Road at Sunset
Honey Date Cake:
4 tbs honey
¼ cup butter
¾ cup flour
½ cup ground almonds
¾ cup chopped dates
¼ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp nutmeg
½ tsp baking soda
1. Preheat oven to 350°.
2. Cream the butter and the honey together, then add the egg and beat well.
3. Mix in all the other ingredients except the dates, and beat till mixed.
4. Mix in the dates with a wooden spoon or spatula.
5. Pat the batter (it should be fairly sticky) into a square cake tin, and bake for 20 minutes or until a pick inserted in the centre comes out clean.
6. When cooled, use a round cookie cutter to cut out circles of cake. Set aside.
Plum and Ginger Compote and Coulis:
8 black plums, peeled, pitted and chopped into cubes. Reserve skin.
3/4 cup honey
2 tbs ground ginger
1. Mix plum cubes, honey, and ginger in a saucepan and cook on med. heat till bubbling and and until you notice plums losing their colour.
2. Remove the compote and return liquid back to the pan.
3. Throw plum skins into the pan. Cook for 5 minutes, or until desired colour is reached.
4. Sieve honey and skin mixture into bowl, discard skins. Set coulis aside.
Honey Sesame Snaps (From www.marthastewart.com):
1 cup confectioners' sugar
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons orange juice
1/2cup white sesame seeds
1/4cup black sesame seeds
1cup all-purpose flour
Zest of 1/2 orange(about 1 tablespoon)
Pinch of salt
1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Line baking sheets with Silpats or parchment paper, and set aside.
2. In a small saucepan, combine confectioners' sugar, butter, honey, and orange juice. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Boil for 1 minute.
3. Remove pan from heat, and stir in remaining ingredients. Cool to room temperature.
4. Pipe lines of the batter with a small round nozzle (about ¼ inch) 4 inches apart from each other and bake for 10 minutes.
5. Remove from the oven. When cool enough to touch, but still pliable, wrap sesame sheets around cake rounds and set aside to harden.
2 apples, peeled, cored and sliced into wedges about ½ inch thick.
½ cup sugar
¼ cup honey
1/3 cup water
1 tbs peanut or vegetable oil.
1 large bowl of cold water and ice
1. Cook everything but apples in a small saucepan till mixture reaches hard crack stage (or turns amber in colour)
2. Toss the apples into the mixture and coat well
3. Drop coated apple slices into the bowl of ice and water.
4. Remove wedges and pat dry. Set aside.
1. Set cake rounds with their sesame collars on plates.
2. Brush cakes with some plum coulis.
3. Top cakes with plum compote.
4. Fan a few slices of the Silk Apples out next to the cake.
5. Drizzle or drip plate with plum coulis.
Thursday, July 14, 2005
Its been absolutely sweltering the past couple of days here in Toronto, and it doesn’t look like its going to be cooling down any time soon. A. and I have been living life as short-distance sprinters the past few days, zipping as quickly as possible from one air-conditioned locale to the next in attempts to limit our exposure to the humidity, heat and pollution – a traveling technique I’ve noticed most other Torontonians have recently adopted as well. It seems everyone has issues with the heat.
The worst thing about the heat for me is that it means my cooking has to be shelved for a while. Though the apartment is (thankfully) air-conditioned, it's so hot outside that when I do come home all I can think about is not subjecting myself to anything that could make me even slightly warm again. Chinatown has been our saving grace the past few days, rescuing us both from having to get too close to a stove or barbeque and possibly suffering a heat stroke while attempting to make dinner. Our fridge is crammed full of white styrofoam containers: rations for the days where walking the 3 blocks to Chinatown seems far too daunting for an ex-Singaporean and an ex-Floridian. Yes, it’s that hot here.
So hot, in fact, that A. was actually turned away last night from a Chinese restaurant while trying to order takeout, the only explanation given being: “Too hot to cook. Go away.”
But I digress.
It might have been due to a bout of heat-induced psychosis, but all I could think about today was agar-agar. Chilled, pink, rose-flavoured agar-agar was one of my favourite ways to beat the heat back home in Singapore. I still remember crunching through mounds of the stuff with my mother on hot days, barely stopping to admire their intricately molded designs, our fingers and mouths stained pink from the dye. When A. called my attention to a packet of it at the store today, I needed no other incentive: we were having agar-agar for dessert tonight.
It took me a while to figure out the proper conversions from grams to tablespoons, but it was well worth the effort – the 6 cool, glistening agar-agar bunts sitting in the fridge tell me so. And that’s not the heatstroke talking.
1 1/2 cups water
4 tsp rose water
1 tbs agar powder
10 tbs sugar
red food colouring, if desired
1. Throw everything into a saucepan and heat till sugar and agar dissolve, stirring.
2. Take it off the heat and stir in as much food colouring as you'd like. (I used 3 drops)
3. Pour into agar mold (I used a baby bundt pan, but anything will do.)
4. Leave out on counter to set at room temperature
5. When set, refrigerate to chill.
Wednesday, July 06, 2005
This post was initially supposed to be a heartwarming, albeit slightly mushy, happy-birthday letter to Dolce, my dog and this blog’s namesake. It was going to be all about his adoption, or rather ‘How I Came to Have a Furry Four-Legged Child’, which was its working title. However, I realized that most of the people who read this blog already know ‘How I Came to Have a Furry Four-Legged Child’, so to spare them from having to hear it again I reworked this post to be a little less gag-worthy. Because we all hate those moms who won’t shut up about their stupid, noisy kids who are really only cute if you like looking at bawling red prunes.
Anyway, for all of you out there who haven’t had the pleasure of hearing ‘How I Came to Have a Furry Four-Legged Child’, here’s the breakdown: we got him from a breeder.
Today is Dolce’s 1st birthday, and neither A. nor I can believe it’s only been a year (minus 8 weeks) since we first adopted him. When he first came home with us, the bedroom and the inside of a few of my purses were his entire world; now all he wants to do is leave the house and explore the furthest reaches of the galaxy (or North America, for starters). When he was a puppy, even other puppies scared him; now he wants to take on German Shepherds (and cars, and horses, and vacuum cleaners…). When he was little, he stuck to us so closely that we used to joke he would crawl into our skin if he could; now he’s too cool to be seen with his parents when we’re out of the house (though he’s not above cuddling when we’re home).
He’s really grown so much in a year that it’s hard to compare it to anything except perhaps, my own growth. Within a year I have learnt responsibility – the kind of responsibility you develop when you realize you have another creature’s life to worry about besides your own. And worry I do, almost every day. Is he eating enough? Getting as much exercise as he needs? Is he happy? The list goes on and on and on. I’ve finally realized what it means to be devoted to the care of another life, and how your life will never be about just you anymore. I realize these aren’t huge revelations to anyone but me: growing up a privileged only child doesn’t exactly bestow upon you a sense of Mother Theresa-esque selflessness. Owning a dog hasn’t quite turned me into a saint either, but I’m a whole lot closer to being one than I was a year ago. So thank you Dolce, for teaching me so much and for asking so little in return.
“My goal is to one day be as good of a person as my dog already thinks I am” – Anonymous
3 ripe bananas, mashed
¾ cup unsweetened applesauce
1 ½ cup flour
¾ cup rolled oats
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla
1. Mix bananas and applesauce together, then beat in eggs.
2. Toss in all the dry ingredients, and beat well till mixed.
3. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes if in muffin pan, and for 30-40 mins if in bundt.
½ brick light cream cheese
¼ cup smooth unsweetened and unsalted peanut butter
2 bananas, riced
Small dog cookies/candies or slices of banana
1. Beat all the ingredients together till smooth.
2. Frost pupcakes/cake and decorate with dog treats or banana slices.
Saturday, July 02, 2005
Cinnamon can do no wrong by me – it is one of the few spices that makes me curl my toes in happiness when its scent wafts by. This is probably because I associate cinnamon with Christmas. Gingerbread cookies, mulled apple cider, eggnog…what Christmastime delicacy doesn’t contain cinnamon? Nothing worth remembering, surely. Everything served in our home at that time of the year smacked of the spice. I still remember the Christmas parties my mother used to throw where the kids would come over early and bake gingerbread men and apple tarts. While the goodies baked, us kids would (under the patient direction of my mother) rehearse poems or short Christmas-themed skits (nothing hokey like the Nativity) that would be performed later for the parents when they came over for dinner. For dessert were the treats their children had baked for them that morning.
Days after the party, I would still luxuriate in the smell of cinnamon that lingered on and punctuated the happy memories of the parties, friends and presents that had come, but too quickly gone. Cinnamon was my way of holding on to happiness.
Though I eventually (and regretfully) got too old for parties and became a fixture at the Big People dinners, I never gave up on cinnamon therapy. I would burn a mixture of crushed mulling spices and water at after-school tuition classes and each time boredom and restlessness set in, I would breathe in the scent so deeply my lungs would hurt. If that didn’t work, my typical last-resort-attempt-to-make-myself-feel-better would be to beg my mother to bake me her Caramel Cinnamon Buns. I figured that even if the cinnamon didn’t do it for me, the sugar-high-inducing caramel certainly would.
Those buns remain one of my favourite comfort foods to this day. Sure, they take a considerable amount of time to make, but they are the closest thing to a time machine to take me back to my cinnamon-infused childhood. Come to think about it though, there are definitely reasons not to pine for the past: the thought of sharing these buns with 10 other screaming kids is enough to make me thankful that my feet are firmly planted in the present.
(Happiness Is) Caramel Cinnamon Buns
3 1/3 cups all purpose flour
1 package (or 2 ½ tsp) active dry yeast
1 ¼ cups milk
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup butter
1 tsp salt
½ cup butter, melted
½ cup brown sugar
2 tbs cinnamon at least (I use more like 4 tbs and up)
1 cup brown sugar
½ cup butter
2 tbs corn syrup
1. Make the caramel by mixing all the ingredients together in a saucepan over medium heat. Heat till bubbling, then pour into a rectangular cake pan.
2. In a mixing bowl, mix 1 ½ cups of the flour and the yeast.
3. Heat the milk, sugar, butter and salt till just warm (not boiling) in a saucepan, stirring constantly till the butter melts.
4. Add the milk mixture to the flour mixture and then add the egg.
5. Beat on low till just mixed, then on high for 3 minutes.
6. Mix in the remaining flour by hand to form a soft dough, then shape into a ball.
7. Place dough in a lightly greased bowl to rise in a warm spot for 1 ½ to 2 hours, till doubled in size.
8. Punch down and the turn out onto a floured surface, and cover it and let it rest there for 10 minutes.
9. Mix melted butter, brown sugar and cinnamon together in a bowl to form a paste.
10. Roll dough into a 24x16 inch rectangle, and plaster it with an even later of the cinnamon-sugar paste.
11. Roll it like a jelly roll, starting with the long side.
12. Cut* into 2-inch slices, and place into the caramel coated baking pan. Make sure to leave some room between buns because they will puff up.
13. Let rise again in a warm place for 30-45 mins.
14. Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes, or until golden brown on top.
15. Remove the pan from the oven and let it sit for 5 minutes before inverting it onto a tray.
*Hint: Use dental floss (or thread, if you’re lacking in the oral hygiene department) to cut the rolls without smushing them. Slide the floss under the roll and hold the ends up so it forms a U shape. Cross the legs of the dental floss U and pull, and it should slice cleanly through the roll without flattening it.
Wednesday, June 22, 2005
There are few things as both simple and comforting as chocolate chip cookies – just the mention of them conjures memories of childhood days spent mucking around in the kitchen with my mom, who always made them oversized and with Smarties smiley faces. Sadly, because of her crazy work schedule, my mother’s batches of chocolate chip cookies were few and far between. It quickly became clear to me that I had to find another source of freshly baked cookies. I eventually did – ironically, on my way to a dentist appointment downtown.
My dentist’s office is (a little too conveniently) located smack above one of the most tempting cookie stores in the world. It’s not a very big store – really just a counter with a till fronting some large ovens – but it has the best advertising I’ve ever encountered. Their slogan, ‘Free Smells’, is not just a gimmicky catch phrase; it’s the real deal. The smell of baking chocolate chip cookies assaults you as you descend on the escalator to the basement level of the mall in question, and trails you, badgering you mercilessly should you attempt to ignore its beckoning. Resistance, in this case, is futile.
Advertising ploys aside, Famous Amos offers up the best commercially-made cookies I’ve ever had, hands-down. At this establishment, cookie dough has found its calling as a vehicle for chocolate chips, as opposed to mere filler material. Each tiny cookie is full of chocolate, not that I would complain if they weren’t – the dough that holds them together is nothing short of perfection on its own. Here, cookies are sold by weight and shoveled into little bags which are then taped shut, as if to discourage immediate gorging. Their sneaky tape trick, by the way, does not work on me.
Though you may be able to get them in boxes or bags at grocery stores around the world, Famos Amos cookies just don’t taste the same unless they’re eaten fresh, right out of the store’s oven, after you’ve been following your nose through the mall looking for the source of the smell for ages. The only way to enjoy a similar sensory experience, I find, is to bake them yourself. The list of ingredients may appear daunting to those who are used to making their cookies with the basic cookie recipe or (shudder) from Pillsbury sludge, but I assure you that your efforts will be well worth it. Over a hundred of these cookies disappeared from my cookie jar in a single day, and I doubt the results will differ much in your household.
Famous Amos No-Nut Chocolate Chip Cookies
1 cup butter
1 cup light brown sugar; packed
1 cup sugar
3 cup Bisquick
1 cup cornstarch
1/2 cup non-fat milk powder
2 tbs Sanka
1 tbs unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tbs vanilla essence
16 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips
1. Cream butter.
2. Beat in sugars, beat till the mixture is as creamy as possible.
3. Beat in eggs.
4. Beat in all other ingredients except chocolate chips, and mix till combined.
5. Toss in chocolate chips, and work them in with a spatula till distributed evenly.
6. Drop by half-teaspoonfuls onto an ungreased cookie sheet, one inch apart.
7. Bake at 350 degrees for 17 minutes or until golden brown.
This recipe makes 12 dozen teeny-tiny crunchy cookies. Halving the recipe is perfectly fine, but if you choose to go the whole hog, you can freeze the extra dough for up to 4 months.
Monday, June 20, 2005
Yesterday was A.’s mom’s birthday. I’ve always loved baking birthday cakes because birthdays are the perfect occasion to go all out in every way possible. It’s the one time you can really justify (not that any serious baker should ever need to) holing yourself up in the kitchen for a day or so and emerging with a tower of calorie-laden decadence. And in the age of diets-as-religions, it’s the one time your cake won’t be politely declined: nobody turns down birthday cake.
Though not as elaborate as some of the other birthday cakes I’ve made recently, Michelle’s cake was definitely one of the best tasting. It was an orange cake filled with whipped cream and berries, covered completely in dark chocolate, and was sincerely well received – most had second and third helpings after the first obligatory slice.
The party is long over, taking with it a particularly warbly rendition of “Happy Birthday to You” and an impromptu magic-and-comedy show, among other memories. The best part of the night, however, is tucked away in our fridge till tomorrow (at least) – a fragment of birthday magic captured in Tupperware.
Friday, June 17, 2005
I’m jinxed. I’m not sure how it happened, but somehow, I got jinxed. Maybe I unknowingly looked the wrong way at a gypsy woman, perhaps I ticked off a black cat somewhere along the way. The only thing I can be sure of is that it sure is a potent jinx: not one thing I’ve baked recently has come out well.
Alright, I’ll admit I have very high standards. But my losing streak in the baking department (oven 14: baker 0) has lowered my standards somewhat: I’m not even striving for Zagat perfection anymore. These days, edible-and-does-not-look-like-slop will do. And some days, even that’s asking a lot. I’ve only been scraping by (and barely so) by serving ice cream sandwiches as dessert. Praise be to my new holy trinity: Ben, Jerry and Mr. Christie.
Today of all days – the due date for my SHF entry – the jinx kicks into overdrive. All within the span of 2 hours, my pineapple tart pastry crumbles into superfine dust, my custard liquefies and leaks out of my tart shells, my banana-mango crumble turns into a very unattractive mulch in the oven, and my butter tart filling enthusiastically bubbles itself right out of the tart shells and all over the muffin tin.
My tart lineup may sound impressive: “four different tarts?” you may ask. In actuality, tarts number 2,3 and 4 were really just backup plans created when their predecessor failed. Failure usually has quite a sobering effect on people: they become self-reflective, evaluating themselves and their situation in an attempt to find out, logically, what went wrong. I, on the other hand, completely lost it. By failed tart #4, I was checking behind furniture for voodoo dolls of myself and contemplating hiring an exorcist.
A., ever cautious, watched from a safe distance, and called out, “Want some help?” extremely half-heartedly every now and then, more out of politeness than true desire to interfere with his now clearly-insane girlfriend.
He needn’t have worried: my temporary psychosis had created a rather zen state of mind for me. My mind switched off and my body took over, hands deftly slicing, stirring, kneading – all without any thought or measurement. It wasn’t until I had popped the tarts into the oven that I even felt myself draw a breath; I had been on baking autopilot. Anyone who gets stressed out doing something they love will understand this: sometimes you get so stressed out that you crack and become the other extreme – very laid back – and everything miraculously falls into place from that point on. Your instincts kick in and take over, and you stop doubting yourself and stop caring, and you are suddenly very sure that it will all be ok.
And it was all ok. My blueberry-peach tarts turned out beautifully, so much so that they almost made up for all the failed attempts that came before them.
Super Zen Blueberry-Peach Tarts
Note: I made this recipe with leftovers from various botched tarts, so I’m sorry if the measurements are not precise. Just relax and wing it like I did! I made my tarts in miniature tart pans, but this recipe should make a full-sized tart. (It’s good enough to want one that big, trust me.)
Crust: Pate Sable
2 sticks butter, softened
1 cup icing sugar
2 egg yolks
2 cups flour
Filling: Blueberry Jam and Slice Peaches
1 jar good quality blueberry jam (I recommend making your own)*
3-4 firm peaches, pitted and sliced thinly into half-moon looking slices
3 tbs sugar
1. Mix all the crust ingredients in a bowl till combined
2. Pat into a ball and chill for 30 minutes
3. Roll out pastry between two sheets of waxed paper
4. Line tart pan with pastry, cover with sheet of waxed paper, and bake (weighted) at 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes till crust is firm but not completely cooked/browned.
5. Remove from oven and fill with blueberry jam
6. Arrange peach slices on top of jam and sprinkle with sugar
7. Bake for another 30 minutes
8. Remove from oven, cool, and chill till jam is set again.
9. Serve with vanilla ice cream
4 1/2 cups crushed wild blueberries
2 tablespoons lemon juice
7 cups sugar
2 pouches liquid pectin
1. Remove leaves or stems from blueberries, and crush them.
2. Put blueberry mulch into a heavy pot and add sugar and lemon juice. Bring to a boil and stir for a minute.
3. Remove the pot from the heat and stir in pectin. Skim off the foamy layer.
4. Spoon into sterilized mason jars and seal them tightly.
5.Ta-daa! Blueberry jam!