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Archive for December, 2008|Monthly archive page

Holiday Bake-Stravaganza!!

In Home Cookin' on December 22, 2008 at 10:57 pm
Green Tea Leaves. This delicate buttery shortbread is delicious, especially if you love good green tea or green tea desserts. If you have good green tea powder (matcha) around, throw a couple of tablespoons in any simple shortbread recipe.

First out of the gate: Green Tea Leaves. This delicate buttery shortbread is delicious, especially if you love good green tea or green tea desserts. If you have good green tea powder (matcha) around, throw a couple of tablespoons in any simple shortbread recipe.

(Author’s Note: Normally, I am a firm believer in good, whole foods-based nutrition and healthy living. However, for the next week or so, I say give yourself an extra 20 minutes on the treadmill and pass the latkes and creme brulee my way.)
During most of the year, I’m a fairly haphazard cook, preferring to forage in my kitchen and pull things together as I go. For holiday baking season, I have what might be a pathological desire to channel Martha Stewart and have a bountiful, immaculate and precise homemade cookie operation. Since this is also my first Christmas with my new in-laws, I have a bit of extra zeal for an impressive cookie presentation. I’ve been reading cookie books for a couple of weeks and scouring local stores for meringue poweder and 66% cocoa chips. And today, the madness begins.
Here’s what’s on my cookie menu: Chocolate Mint Ganache Sandwiches (dipped in semi-sweet chocolate glaze), Gingerbread Bears, Sugar Cookies (let’s hope for a steady hand with the royal icing), Oatmeal Applesauce Cookies with Maple Glaze, Peppermint Meringues, Lemon-Raspberry Sandwiches, Green Tea Leaves (shortbread), Chocolate Shortbread Reindeer and Peppermint Meringues. Crazy? You betcha, it is.
I’m off to a good start, made the shortbreads this morning. I have 48 hours to make, bake and frost everything else. And finish sewing 23 personalized, handmade ornaments to use as gift tags, knit my third scarf in three weeks and get ready for a party we are having two days after Christmas. My secret weapon to get through it all? Butter. Lots and lots of Butter.

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Tastes: 4 Pound Takeout at Kuakeli

In Places to Go: SoCal on December 17, 2008 at 6:20 am
This is serious takeout, had to weigh at least four pounds (plus free green tea).

This is serious takeout, had to weigh at least four pounds (plus free green tea).

I have a new job that requires a 160 mile round-trip commute every day. Sounds pretty bad, right? Well, there are some factors that ease the pain: 1) I love what I do, 2) I get to listen to NPR for hours on end and 3) Sometimes the east bound traffic is so bad I have to pull over. That’s right, zero in on reason #3. My feeling is that if traffic is crawling, it’s much better for your sanity to exit, and try a new bakery, or try out that hole-in-the-wall’s cream buns. And since the 10 eastbound is backed up every day….basically, all of those little places within a 1-mile radius of the freeway in the San Gabriel Valley have become my playground. No reviews, no guidance from Jonathan Gold.

One of the shopping plazas on the 300 block of Valey Blvd. was my pit stop today. To be honest, I had a hankering for fried squid balls and knew that the boba shop teeming with teenagers would have a good selection of deep fried goodness. Kuakeli (a syllabic translation of “quickly”) seemed like a lively hangout, though I was clearly at least ten years everyone’s senior. I thought I should eat something else relatively healthy to wash down the squid balls, so I also ordered the “Taiwan Chicken Leg and Rice.” For $4.99, I was expecting a chicken leg quarter on a mound of rice. When I picked up my takeout bag, I stopped and asked if I had been given the right order, because it was REALLY heavy. Surely, my food had been confused with the order for a family of four? Nope, it was just huge. I was expecting something generic, and instead, it looked like I had a lunch lovingly packed for someone by their Taiwanese grandmother. Crispy fried chicken tinged with five-spice, pickled greens redolent with that Chinese herbalist shop smell, garlicky baby bok choy spicy ground pork and a heavenly marinated hard-boiled egg. As I took my first bites, I was transported back to undergraduate days when my roomates would return from trips home in Queens bearing endless tupperware containers of pickled mustard greens and ground pork. The combination of sour, salty and crunch on a bed of hot rice is unbeatable. Grinning and full, I pulled back on the freeway, wondering what the next day’s gridlock would bring.

Cooperative Thanksgiving: Act III

In Uncategorized on December 2, 2008 at 8:05 pm

img_0267Success! The first cooperative Thanksgiving (for my family, at least) was great! I arrived at my mom’s at around 1p, and while the turkey was in the oven, one of the cooks wasn’t even out of bed yet. After he was roused and began shuffling around the kitchen, I took a moment to realize that I had really underestimated my siblings. Even half asleep, it was clear that Blake knew a thing or two about mashed potatoes.  The end result was creamy, garlicky and pretty divine. My youngest brother’s focus on the bird paid off. He served a beautifully browned, moist bird that any home-cook would be proud of. I threw my half-done dishes in the oven to finish at the last minute and got to work on the gravy. I love to make gravy, because I believe it requires a judicious hand with the wine. That level of precision requires me to hold (and occasionally drink from) a bottle of pinot grigio for about twenty minutes straight, which I am happy to do. In my mind, this year’s gravy was delicious, but probably illegal to buy or sell in several states on Sundays.

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Kendall's pride and Joy

My mom, whom we were trying to help relax by taking over the dinner itself, turned out an array of desserts instead. Her little pumpkin mousse cups sprinkled with brown sugar crystals were the most popular, but I thought her apple-pear pie was probably the best pie I have ever had. Seriously, most fruit pies are too sugary for me, but hers was a perfect blend of cinnamon and fruit and the firmness of the filling was just right.( I’m regretting not taking some home with me as I write. ) My grandmother and I also contributed pumpkin cream sandwich cookies, which were sort of like a whoopee pie based on pumkin bread. The best dessert of the weekend actually came Friday night. My mom’s signature dessert is cream puffs, and this weekend she topped them off with a bittersweet chocolate sauce and whipped cream that made my heart sing.

Blake learning to make deviled eggs

This year, I am thankful for my cookin’ family.

Blake learning to make deviled eggs

Cooperative (?) Thanksgiving: Act II

In Uncategorized on December 2, 2008 at 8:05 pm

I looked forward to Wednesday afternoon all week long. Since we are driving up to my mother’s house on img_0248Thanksgiving day, I needed to make everything ahead of time. That situation suits me just fine, I blocked out 6 hours with just me, the dog and banal afternoon TV to keep me company in the kitchen. By the time Martha Stewart finished (she seems a bit tense about methods for layering potato slices in your gratin) I had cooked up the sausage and macaroni and was heading into cranberry country. When the evening news blinked off at 6p, I had a counter full of “almost-delicious” unbaked mac n’ cheese, half-done stuffing, cranberry sauce that wasn’t very thick but pretty good, and unfilled pumpkin cream sandwich cookies. I had some extra time so I also made cheese crisps and a calzone (which I ate immediately).

Hope it’s all going well with my brothers….