Monthly Archives: March 2012

Baking Favorites Food

Epic Baking Day

Cake pop, bitten

Eeeeeeeeek! It happened. No, not that Nobel Prize thing. The Epic Baking Day that I’ve been eagerly anticipating ever since Bakerella got me popstruck and changed my life forever.

For months, friends have been asking me when I would make cake pops. Soon, I’d say slyly, soon. It was like that time in third grade when I told everyone that I was going to jump off the high dive at the pool and then when I got up there I looked down and thought, Hm, maybe I shouldn’t have told quite so many people that I’d jump off quite so high a diving board, because I’m probably allergic to this kind of thing and I might have a heart attack.

I was nervous about the cake pops, but luckily my friend Danielle from Cozycakes Cottage agreed to help me out (and by help me out, I mean buy everything, bring the book, and make me drinks while telling me what to do). This was a happy day because though Danielle and I have been friends for years, I hadn’t really seen her in a long time. Danielle is double-jointed just like me, so you should really check out her blog. Though I am trying to convince her to merge our blogs into All the Cozy Cottages are Taken.

Danielle unpacked this first so it must have been obvious that I needed it:

Sustenance

And then we thought we should take a picture of us, to document the momentous day (even if the momentous part hadn’t happened yet):

Me and Danielle

If we look a little strained in that picture it’s because we’re squatting. There was no one around to take the picture so we had to use my cheap, short tripod. That’s why I look like I’m in a huddle about to say “hut”.

Danielle also bought a bunch of other stuff, since we had big plans to make tartes and popovers. We never got to those.

Before we knew it we only had a couple of hours left, so we got down to business.  The objective: make baby chicks.

The night before, I made the cake balls. Following Bakerella’s advice, I used Duncan Hines red velvet cake mix and canned cream cheese frosting (about 3/4 of a container). They looked like meat balls. They chilled in the fridge overnight.

Cake balls

We started by punching out little stars and shaping beaks out of fondant, which as far as I can tell lasts forever, since I haven’t made it since this post. I used a handy punching tool that my friend Sandra sent me from Japan.

Punching tool

Then Danielle put the candy coating in a bowl and heated it up:

Candy melts in bowl

Doesn’t she have nice hair? I got that apron for Christmas from my husband.

Aren’t these sticks pretty too?

Sticks

Our first dip:

Dipped cake ball

…and our first baby chick!

Baby chick

Typical firstborn — we took tons of pictures of him. Yes, that’s dish washing liquid in the background.

Baby chick

Awwww, love you baby chick! We had to eat some of the really deformed ones in the back to put them out of their misery.

Here he is with some friends:

Baby chick with friends

…and at his school play:

School play

Maybe not such a flattering angle of him, that one.

Then I cried because Danielle had to go. The chicks were separated, and we hadn’t made that many. Danielle left us lots of candy coating and other supplies.

My kids decided to get in on the action:

Pidge

https://lh6.googleusercontent.com/-WxlSGdAZG4w/T2o6OoPBYVI/AAAAAAAAG6w/4EuYJ0szVEM/s640/DSC_0014-1.JPG

They made Rocker Chick:

Rocker Chick

…and her band:

The band

Then, abruptly, we had to stop! We had friends coming over. We cleaned up. So we didn’t get to the eating part yet…and actually we still have many more pops to make, so…more to come.

But for now, thank you Bakerella for making cake pops such an important part of my life. Instructions here for how to make the cake balls, and of course her site is full of amazing ideas for pops. Thank you Danielle for hand-holding me through it. And thank you friends for pushing me so far beyond my inability to make frosting.

What should we make next?

Cooking Food

Red Pepper Soup

I am extra-specially-excited to share this recipe with you today because I have just made this spectacular red pepper soup in anticipation of having my friends Christine and Dirk, who care deeply about food, over for dinner. It’s so lovely and silky and has the perfect combination of sweet and slightly tangy and it makes you feel like you’re doing pliés with a very long flowing ribbon against a perfectly impressionist out-of-focus background.

I first had this soup at a baby shower for my friend Heidi. It was a lovely shower, where instead of gifts she requested blessings written on pretty cards for the baby. Now, having gone to many showers, I am actually quite skilled at baby shower games — including the ones, strangely, that you win by chance — and probably should have reported all those winnings as taxable income. But now that my friends aren’t having so many babies anymore, I’m a little more out of practice, so I was happy to try out this new format. With the close-knit and cozy nature of the shower, and the very personal and heartfelt nature of the blessings, there wasn’t a dry eye in the room. For me, especially, since I was probably over-hydrated after having at least four helpings of this soup. See if you can get away with less than four.

Sadly, I don’t know to whom to attribute this recipe. It was passed along by the woman who prepared it, Shannon, who got it from a cooking course she took.

Here’s a quick snapshot of what you’ll need:

Red Pepper Soup Ingredients

Ok, you’ll need a few other things that aren’t pictured, but I forgot to put them in the family picture. Sorry.

Start by slicing up all the veggies and fruit.

Sliced Peppers

Sliced pears

Heat up butter and olive oil in a pot, and throw in all the veggies and fruit. Don’t be alarmed if the pot looks very full, as the they’ll wilt down a bit. Add in 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper. Start the mood music.

Veggies in pot

You’ll want to cook until the veggies are soft, about 10-15 minutes. Add in 4 cups chicken stock and 1 tsp honey, and cook for another 30 minutes. Add in the salt and pepper and adjust to taste.

Blend it in batches til it’s all silky smooth. Garnish with a dollop of sour cream, or greens.

Blender

Yeah, I know, this is just a picture of my blender. I took it, so I'm putting it in.

This really is one of my all-time favorite soups. What are yours?

Red Pepper Soup

RED PEPPER SOUP

Ingredients

  • 8 red peppers
  • 3 carrots, peeled
  • 3 shallots, peeled
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled
  • 4 pears, peeled and quartered
  • 1 TBSP olive oil
  • 4 TBSP (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 1/2 tsp crushed dried red pepper
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 2 tsp salt / ground pepper to taste
  • Optional: sour cream, herbs to garnish

Preparation

Slice the peppers, carrots, shallots, and garlic. Heat olive oil and butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add in vegetables, garlic, dried red pepper  and pears (at first I typed “bears”. You definitely want “pears” for this one.). Cook until softened, about 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add in the chicken stock and honey, and cook for another 30 minutes.

Puree the soup in a blender and pour back into the pot. Reheat over low heat, garnish with a dollop of sour cream or herbs, and serve.

Serves 4-6.

 

Beauty Money-Saving Tips Shopping

Cleansing Oil

I’m currently on track to be the first octagenarian to still have breakouts. When I was younger, my skin was so oily that my brother suggested I offer myself to the U.S. government as an energy resource. I was experienced in all types of powders, blotting tissues and oil-decimating cleansers. I cried while watching the ProActiv infomercial. I was a blinding image in flash photos.

One of the benefits of getting older, for me at least, is that my oil production has slowed down. But what I should have done is applied some of what I learned in all those years of college chemistry courses and realized simply that using oils can be an effective way of loosening oils that are clogging pores — without stripping the skin. You see, I believed the media hype that feeling “clean” meant that your skin was as tight as a SoCal facelift.

Enter Nude Skincare Cleansing Facial Oil. I’ve waited 3 months to post about this  because I wanted to be sure. Yes, it’s great for dry and normal skin — but it also works miracles on oilier skins. My skin, while still prone to the occasional hormonal breakout, has never been clearer. And the cleanser has a nice, light jasmine scent too so you think less “french fries” and more “exotic essential oil”.

But then I thought, “If it’s just oil, can’t I make this myself?” The answer is yes. When I ran out of the Nude cleansing oil, I read this article and made my own. I actually put it right back into the Nude bottle that I got, so it retained a mild jasmine scent (I’m sure you could infuse your own oils with essential oils, but definitely test for allergies before you do that). So for a couple of bucks, I’ve got a great cleansing oil. I’ve tried both olive and safflower oil as bases and prefer safflower, and I go with 30% castor oil since I’m on the oilier side.

Happy cleansing!

Lifestyle

Kreativ Blogger Award

Kreativ Blogger Award

So I’m still waiting for that Nobel Prize to come to my door but I just found out that I might have to actually discover something to get it. No matter, the lovely and charming Danielle at Cozycakes Cottage just nominated me for a Kreativ Blogger Award! Thanks Danielle! So sweet of you. It’s almost exactly like the  Nobel Prize except that you have to do a few specific things:

  • Thank the blogger who gave me the award and provide a link. (check!)
  • List 7 interesting things about myself that my readers might find interesting.
  • Nominate 7 other bloggers, provide links, and let them know.

7 Things About Me

1. I’m double-jointed. It’s not as useful as you think.

2. I’m afraid of butterflies. Did you know they have 12,000 eyes?!?

3. One of my lifelong quests is for volume in my hair. Contact me if you can help.

4. If you show me a playback reel of a sporting event in slow-mo set to music, it will make me cry. If you show me the actual sporting event in real time, I will fall asleep.

5. I am working on separating my sense of self-worth from my profession. I don’t talk about my professional life much here for that very reason. Plus, I’d probably get fired.

6. I’m Chinese-American with parents from Taiwan, but lately I’ve taken to labeling myself more as Taiwanese-American to capitalize on the recent popularity of Jeremy Lin.

7. I find bathroom humor really hilarious. I just do.

Blogs I Hereby Nominate

Dr. Jen Gunter  is an OB/GYN who, unlike me,  does write about her profession, and it’s fascinating.

Dulce Dough shares recipes with the loveliest pictures.

Inspired by Charm is a window into the charming life of an incredibly creative innkeeper.

The Sweet Adventures of Sugarbelle is an amazing cookie decorating reference. I think she’s already famous.

Beautifully Pure — Katie is an 18-year-old blogger with a cute vintage-y sense of style.

Scribomania is written by a writer, who’s writing. Can you believe English isn’t her first (or second) language?

KidsBookyBubbles, full disclosure, was started by my kids and the site content is created by kids — just proof that kids do like to write (and a fascinating look into their little heads!).

Some of these blogs may opt out of participating in Kreativ, but whether they do or not, they’re all worth a visit. Enjoy!

Cooking Food

Herbed Quinoa with Beets

I’m a pretty dedicated carnivore, but every once in a while I read an article like this one about death by bacon and I think, “Well, maybe it wouldn’t hurt for me to try to live 13% longer, just for today.” Even if the only result of all my recent working out is not awesome abs or toned arms, but bigger calves, and get this — a bigger butt. This was not what I was hoping to achieve. I may actually need to invest in a new pair of big butt jeans to accommodate. Yesterday I wore my jeans with a rubber band around the button, maternity-style. Sigh.

It was just me and the girls tonight, but I compensated for the meatlessness by clipping a few sprigs of jasmine from the garden and sticking them in a glass. So simple, but it smelled so fancy.

Jasmine

Anyway, back to dinner. I wanted to make something flavorful and filling, so I did a fridge raid and here’s what I found:

quinoa and beets

Quinoa and red beets

I heated up the oven to 400 and popped the beets in for an hour. I like to cook them in a covered ceramic container lined with parchment paper (for easy cleanup), but you can also just wrap them with aluminum foil. I’ve avoided cooking with aluminum foil ever since I read that it increases your chances of getting Alzheimer’s. I don’t need any extra help getting there.

I had cooked the quinoa the night before, but my favorite way to cook quinoa is in a rice cooker, so that it comes out perfect every time, but you can also follow the instructions on the package.

While the beets were roasting I grabbed some parsley, dill and scallions. Chopped them. Grabbed a handful of grape tomatoes and halved them with a serrated knife.

herbs

I made a quick little vinaigrette with 1/4 cup oil, 1/4 cup vinegar, 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and 1 teaspoon of salt and freshly ground better. Mixed it all up in a measuring cup.

Once the beets were roasted and slightly cooled, I peeled them (they slide right off if you apply pressure and push to the right) and diced them. I combined all the other ingredients, poured the vinaigrette over it, and tossed.

You know what? The kids actually liked it, and it was filling. Go keeeeeeeeen-waaaaaaaahhh!

HERBED QUINOA WITH BEETS

Ingredients

  • 3 cups cooked quinoa
  • 2 red beets
  • handful of parsley and dill, chopped
  • 4-5 scallions, sliced
  • 1 cup grape tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup oil
  • 1/4 cup white wine vinegar
  • 2 TBSP freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp freshly ground pepper

Preparation

Roast beets in a covered ceramic container lined with parchment or wrapped in aluminum foil at 400 degrees for 1 hour. Meanwhile, chop herbs, slice scallions and halve grape tomatoes.

In a cup or small bowl, combine 1/4 cup oil, 1/8 cup vinegar, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Mix until uniform.

Peel beets and dice. Add the herbs, scallions, grape tomatoes, beets and vinaigrette to the quinoa and toss. Add salt and pepper and additional lemon juice to taste.

P.S. I didn’t do this but I’m thinking that adding a handful of toasted pine nuts to this recipe would make it extra delicious!

Cooking Food

Spring Chicken Stew

This week, I have been eating so much chocolate that it might actually be illegal. I was shaking at a friend’s party last night, before which I had just made a big batch of chocolate desserts, and, not to be wasteful, licked the bowls and spatulas clean. Except I’ve been doing that every day this week, sometimes more than once a day, and I can’t talk about chocolate anymore right now.

But it’s almost spring! And that means cool enough for stews, but warm enough for us to want to lighten them up a bit. Chicken stew is one of my favorites.  I love one-pot meals, and love them even more if they’re flavorful, colorful and easy all at once.

Gather all the stew-y ingredients: chicken, potatoes, onions, garlic, carrots, bay leaves…and I belong to a CSA, so this is a perfect time to use those seasonal root vegetables, and I like to throw in greens like carrot tops and mizuna too.

Chicken stew ingredients

Get out your dutch oven (my favorite is the Lodge Logic cast iron 5 qt, which is a total steal at less than $35, and has the added bonus of adding iron into your diet as you cook with it) and set it to 300. Dry the chicken with a paper towel and season it with salt and pepper. Heat vegetable oil in a pan in the dutch oven, and brown the chicken til it’s a nice golden hue:

Brown chicken in dutch oven

Meanwhile, chop up the veggies. When the chicken’s browned, move it to a bowl.

One more dollop of oil, and saute the onions with salt til they soften. Add in garlic, and thyme, just til it’s fragrant, and then stir in 1/4 cup flour. Stir in 1/2 cup of dry white wine.

Saute onions

Can you tell it’s starting to get dark outside? We’re almost done with the prep.  Add in the broth slowly, then potatoes, carrots, bay leaves and chicken with juices. Get it to simmer, cover it, and cook it in the oven for about an hour.

When it’s done, stir in a cup of frozen peas and the chopped greens (in my case, mizuna and carrot tops). Cover for 5 minutes and eat!  Here’s the recipe:

SPRING CHICKEN STEW (adapted from America’s Test Kitchen’s Classic Chicken Stew)

Ingredients

  • 3 pounds chicken thighs — I like bone-in and skin-on for more flavor, but for a lower-fat version, skip the skin
  • salt and pepper
  • 3 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 4 medium garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp minced fresh thyme leaves or 1/4 tsp dried
  • 1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 3 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 1/2 pounds red potatoes (about 4-5 medium), cut into 3/4 inch chunks
  • 1 pound carrots (about 6 medium), sliced 1/2 inch thick
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh parsley leaves and/or any other seasonal greens

Preparation

Adjust oven rack to the middle position and heat to 300 degrees. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper.

Heat 1 tbsp of the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium high heat until just smoking. Brown the chicken lightly (about 6-8 minutes) and transfer to a bowl.

Add the remaining oil to the pot and heat until shimmering. Add the onions and 1/4 tsp salt and cook til softened, about 5 minues. Stir in the garlic and thyme and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the flour and cook for a minute, and then add in the wine, scraping up any browned bits.

Slowly whisk in the broth, smoothing out any lumps. Add in the potatoes, carrots, bay leave sand chicken with any accumulated juices and bring to a simmer. Cover, put in oven and cook for an hour.

Remove the pot from the oven and remove the bay leaves. Stir in the peas, cover and let stand for 5 minutes. Stir in parsley or other minced greens and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serves 6-8.