Break until summer..

Hi all!

As you may have noticed, I have not blogged in a very long time. Between life and planning my wedding in June (argh!!), I just have not had time to blog. I have still be cooking, of course, so here are a few photos to tide you over until I catch up on blogging. Talk to you in July!

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Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Granola Bars

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Merry Christmas everyone!!!

I was first introduced to old fashioned rolled oats when I wanted to make oatmeal raisin cookies. I bought a big batch, and of course I wanted to use it all up. After browsing the web for recipes, I came across this one, which uses rolls oats to make granola bars.

They were not bad, but definitely not my favorite. This may be, however, due to the fact that I don’t eat granola bars much. Too often, they contain nuts (to which I am allergic), so I simply stopped trying to find nut-free granola bars. My roommate liked these, though, and ate them all. So, I will leave it up to you to decide if you want to make these. They are easy to make, with easily accessible ingredients.

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See recipe here, from Two Peas & Their Pod.

Japanese Souffle Cheesecake

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Japanese desserts have always topped my favorite food list. They’re not too sweet, light, and delicate. This Japanese souffle cheesecake tops the list. I love cheesecake. Alex does too, which means I make it often. However, the classic New York style cheesecake is simply too decadent. I mean, all that cream cheese! I’ve made some others across the years that were light enough that I can handle it, but nothing compares to the lightness of this Japanese cheesecake.

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Japanese Souffle Cheesecake
Recipe from here.

Ingredients:
400 g cream cheese, room temperature
60 g sugar
60 g butter, room temperature
6 large egg yolks, beaten, room temperature
200 mL heavy whipping cream, room temperature
1/2 lemon, juiced
80 g all-purpose flour

Meringue:
6 egg whites, cold
100 g sugar

Directions:
Preparation: Make sure the butter, cream cheese, heavy cream, and egg yolks are at room temperature. Make sure the egg whites are refrigerated.
Grease a 9″ springform pan, bottom and sides. Line the bottom with parchment paper. Wrap the base with heavy duty aluminum foil to prevent water bath from seeping in. Place springform pan in a roasting pan.
Preheat oven to 320 F.
Beat cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Add butter and mix until smooth. Add egg yolks and heavy cream and mix well. Add lemon juice, and let the mixer run until batter is very smooth. As mixer is running, sift the flour. Add flour in, and mix until just incorporated.
Because we need to mix the meringue with the electric mixture as well, transfer batter into a new bowl, and completely clean and dry mixing bowl.
Start boiling water (for water bath).
Place egg whites in bowl, and whisk meringue using the electric mixture until it foams. Then, add sugar in 3 installments. Once all sugar has been added, turn the speed to high (8-10), and mix until it turns white and glossy. Once it turns glossy, keep an eye out for stiffness. Stop when removing the beaters creates stiff peaks. This is an excellent way to test the done-ness of meringue. If the white sinks after the beater is removed, it needs more mixing. At this point, mix 30 second at a time, and test. Once the beater is removed and the meringue stays in a peak, the meringue will be done.
Add 1/3 of meringue to flour mixture and mix. Then, add the rest and fold until just incorporated. Pour into prepared springform pan. Drop pan 2-3 inches from counter to remove air bubbles. Place in roasting pan, and fill roasting pan with boiling water.
Place in oven and bake for 60 minutes. Then, reduce to 300 F and bake for another 30 minutes. Cheesecake is done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out without wet batter. Turn off oven and leave the oven door open a bit. This is to let the cheesecake cool gradually, which will maintain its shape.
After 15-20 minutes, remove spingform pan from oven and let it sit on a wire rack. Let it cool completely at room temperature.
Once it is completely cool, remove the sides of springform pan and refrigerate for at least a couple of hours.

No Mi Fan – Chinese Sticky Rice

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This is a traditional dish I learned from my mother and my friend’s mother. For Thanksgiving this year, Alex and I hosted our first Thanksgiving as an engaged couple. It was a hodge-podge of college friends across different disciplines! Ok, that sounds a little more fancy that it actually is. Basically, some of my architecture friends and our college friends happened to congregate in Boston this year for Thanksgiving, and, culinary fiend that I am, I had to invite everyone over for a full Thanksgiving meal.

But this isn’t about traditional Thanksgiving food. This is about the amazing sticky rice Megan’s mom, Judy, brought over. It was soft and deliciously flavored – everything you want in sticky rice. I begged her to tell me her way – and it’s simple! Soak it overnight for 8 or more hours.

Preparation: Soak three cups of sticky rice in cold water (cover with 1 inch water above rice), overnight. 1 hour before making dish, soak shiitake mushrooms in warm water.

Step 1: As mushrooms are soaking, compile everything together. You’ll need 5 Chinese pork sausages, a couple stalks of green onion, 4-5 cloves of garlic (more if you like garlic, less if you don’t), soy sauce, oyster sauce, Chinese Shaoxing rice wine, salt, white pepper, sesame oil, and chicken broth.

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Step 2: Mix together sauce. 1/3 cup rice wine, 4 tablespoons soy sauce, 1 tablespoon oyster sauce, 2 teaspoons sesame oil, some shakes of white pepper, 1 teaspoon salt. Again, this is a traditional Chinese recipe, and you know how Chinese recipes go – it’s super flexible! I usually don’t even use a recipe. I just toss things in. These are the approximate measurements.

Step 3: Chop chop chop! Cut the white/pale part of scallions into thin slices. Reserve the deep green part for the end – cut these diagonally. Cut up the sausage.

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Step 4: Mince the garlic. This is a little tricky for beginners. How do we get the garlic cloves out of the peel? It’s really simple! Lay your knife over it, and tap with your palm. The garlic will be crushed and slip right out of the peel. Then, you can mince it.

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Step 5: The mushrooms should be done soaking by now. Pour mushrooms through a sieve and squeeze out the liquid. KEEP THE LIQUID. This is going to go with the chicken broth when cooking rice and will provide that yummy aromatic flavor. Now chop it all up.

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Step 6: It’s time to cook! Oh wait, first drain your rice. Nothing fancy or tricky – just drain it through a sieve. Now, heat your wok until it smokes. Yup, you read that right. The wok will smoke. Add two teaspoons of sesame oil and heat that up. Make sure your wok is dry. Otherwise the oil will pop and become kind of scary. Trust me, that’s happened to me, too. Add the white part of scallion and garlic.

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Step 7: Add the sausage and stir fry for another minute. Do you smell that? Yum!

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Step 8: Add mushrooms and cook for another 1-2 minutes.

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Step 9: Add sauce and mix. Quickly remove from heat.

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Step 10: You have this lovely hodge-podge of sausage, shitake, and onions. It’s time to add the sticky rice. Just pour the drained rice right into the wok, still off heat.

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Mix!!

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Step 11: Transfer this mixture into a flat bottomed, heavy duty pan. I used a Dutch oven. You can use a steamer or a stock pot. Any would work. Add 1 cup mushroom liquid, and 1 cup chicken broth. The mixture will barely cover the rice mixture.

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Step 12: Bring to a boil, then reduce to low. Simmer, covered, for 25 minutes.

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It’s almost done!! Take it off the stove, and let it sit, covered, for another 10-15 minutes.

Step 13: Lets add those diagonally cut scallions.

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And ta-da!!!! Sticky rice, accomplished and devoured.

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Now, was that so bad? I’m going to pretend you all said no. ;)

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Recipe

Ingredients
3 cups sticky rice (also called mochi rice, or “No Mi Fan”), soaked overnight
5 Chinese pork sausages, cut into 1/4″ diagonal slices
sesame oil
2-4 stalks green onion, white parts cut thinly, green parts cut diagonally and reserved for garnish
1 cup shiitake mushroom, sliced
1 cup reserved mushroom water
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup chicken broth

For sauce:
1/3 cup Shaoxin wine (Chinese rice wine)
4 tablespoons dark soy sauce
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
2 teaspoons sesame oil
2 dashes white pepper
1 teaspoon salt

Directions
Prepare beforehand: soak rice in cold water (1″ above rice) overnight. Soak shiitake mushrooms in warm water for an hour. Drain mushrooms and squeeze out excess liquid. Reserve 1 cup mushroom water for later.

Toss all ingredients for the sauce in one bowl and mix.

Heat up sesame oil in wok. Cook garlic and white parts of scallion. Add sausage and cook for 1-2 minutes. Add mushrooms and cook for another 1-2 minutes. Add the sauce, mix, and remove from heat. Pour drained rice into wok and mix. Transfer mixture to a heavy-bottomed pot. I used a Dutch oven. A steamer or a stockpot would work as well. Add chicken broth and mushroom water.

Bring to a boil, reduce, and simmer, covered, for 25 minutes. After 25 minutes, check, mix, and if there are still uncooked rice, cook a little more. Taste it, and add more salt or soy sauce to adjust. Once rice seems cooked through, remove from heat and let sit, covered, for another 10-15 minutes.

To finish, add green parts of scallions and mix.

**To reheat: The best way is to steam it instead of microwaving, as microwaving it may cause the sticky rice to dry a little.

Beignets – soft and pillow-y

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I tried two recipes for beignets, and first batch was a disaster. I admit it – I’m no expert at working with yeast or at deep frying. In fact, I was scared witless and dragged Alex to help me with deep frying. After two batches, many dirty bowls, and 3 inches of hot oil, I finally made beignets!

Beignets are famously known from New Orleans’ Cafe Du Monde, a wonderful cafe that serves coffee and beignets, covered with powdered sugar. At the end of my last year in college, a couple of friends and I drove down to New Orleans and had a chance to sample these fluffy, pillow-y beignets. They were so delicious – warm, soft, airy, and sweet.

This recipe for beignets doesn’t quite yield that airiness characteristics of Cafe Du Monde’s, but they are soft enough for me! They are great as an appetizer for a dinner party! Trust me, your guests will ooh and ahh over this unique starter. No more dinner rolls or salads – just serve these beignets!

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Beignets
Adapted from Yum Sugar.

Ingredients:
1 envelope active dry yeast
3/4 cup warm water (not too hot)
1/4 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 large egg
1/2 cup whole milk
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
Confectioners’ sugar for garnish

Directions (I bolded the amounts of flour, as this can get confusing)
Mix together yeast, sugar, and water in the bowl of a stand mixer, with dough hooks attached. Let bloom for 5-10 minutes (it will become foamy). Add the salt, lemon zest, cinnamon, egg, milk, and 1 1/2 cups flour; mix on medium speed until combined. Add in 1 and 3/4 cups flour, and continue mixing until the dough just comes together.

Knead on a floured surface. Add in 1/4 cup flour while kneading, until dough is smooth (5 minutes). Place dough in a greased bowl, and cover with a lint free linen. Let stand in a warm spot for an hour, until dough has almost doubled in size. Punch down (always fun!).

Roll dough to 1/2 inch thickness. Using a cookie cutter, cut out circles. Place on a baking sheet, and let rise again for 30 minutes.

Deep frying part: don’t be scared, it’s really not that bad. I used a Dutch oven, but I have heard of people using woks as well. Heat 3 inches of oil. Using small pieces of dough, test the temperature of the oil. If the dough “bubbles” and rises within 8 seconds, it is ready. Or, if you have a deep-fry thermometer, when it registers 350ºF, it is ready.

Fry beignets in batches of four. Continue to roll them around / flip them around oil gently to ensure even frying. When they are golden brown, transfer beignets with a slotted spoon to a plate lined with paper towels. Dust with powdered sugar! Serve warm with coffee or tea!

Gooey Apple Pie with Crunch Top

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I had to insert the word “gooey”, because this apple pie is gooey-er than most. I love that!! This extra gooey-ness is from the addition of applesauce. Unlike a lot of apple pies, there’s no stovetop filling cooking. The filling is apples, applesauce, and spices. Pure, simple, gooey apple pie. I’ve made this about five times already. My fiancé loves this pie. Given a choice between apple pie and classic cheesecake, I think he’d choose pie. That’s big. Of course, he demands it warm from the oven topped with ice cream. For once, I’m happy to serve it, because I love that combination as well.

This is a dish I have to make for Thanksgiving. It’s just wrong not to have apple pie in a feast that I’m hosting. Yup, it’s that much of a staple for us!

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I follow this recipe from Paula Deen. However, I decrease the amount of applesauce, add nutmeg and lemon zest. I also apply a quick egg wash on the pie crust and sprinkle on some sugar. I use 5 apples – 2 Granny Smith, 3 Pink Lady (or Fuji), and I’ve found that this combination gives the perfect amount of tartness and sweetness.

Make Ahead Buttermilk Biscuits

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Are we still talking about Thanksgiving sides? Well, here’s one that is really  no fuss on the day of. Simply make the dough, form biscuits, and pop them in the freezer until 20 minutes before dinner. By this time, the turkey should be out and resting. With the oven free, just bake the biscuits for 15 minutes (until golden). I’ll be making these on Wednesday. For a total of 10 people, I will probably be making two batches for a total of 16 biscuits.

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biscuits-2Buttermilk Biscuits, recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen.
Note: The key to making biscuits is handling the dough. Once the dough is formed, do not  keep on kneading. Just knead maybe once or twice, then gently pat the dough into a 1/2″ layer. Cut the biscuits and place gently on parchment paper. I would also recommend weighing out your flour.

Ingredients:
280 g all purpose flour (2 1/4cups)
1.5 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking power
3/4 tablespoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
9 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced into 1/2″ cubes. **Cut these beforehand and chill in freezer before adding it! I swear, it makes a big difference
3/4 cup buttermilk

Directions:
Preheat oven to 400F. Mix dry ingredients. Using your fingers, a fork, or a pastry cutter, blend in chilled butter until the mixture is crumbly and may have pea-sized chunks. Add buttermilk. Using a spatula, stir until the mixture just comes together. Using your hands, knead very gently (once or twice), until the mixture forms a dough.

Transfer the dough to a floured surface, and pat gently until the dough is 1/2″ thick. Cut with a biscuit cutter (or, if you’re ghetto like me, use a cookie cutter), and place rounds onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. I placed mine 1″ apart. They didn’t quite touch each other and formed nice round biscuits. If you want the classic, tall biscuits, place them right next to each other, and that will force the biscuits to rise taller.

Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until the top is golden brown. Enjoy that unique smell of biscuits baking in the oven.

To freeze: make dough and form biscuits onto baking sheet. Place that into the freezer. On the day you want to bake these, just plop them directly into the oven. You may need to bake them for a couple of minutes longer. Keep an eye on them!