March 30, 2011

feeding the sick

A tall, three-storied dark chocolate cake, slathered on the outside with 2-inch thick dark chocolate ganache frosting. Inside, the cake layers are first covered with a thin layer of chocolate frosting before being topped with a delicious sour-cherry filling, with squashed juicy cherries embedded. I ate that cake all by myself, with a large bowl of whipped cream as side. With a dainty silver fork. That cake was all mine. And I was not in rags, looking like I just dragged my sorrowful feet through a three-month trek across the desert. I was dressed like royalty, like someone who knows how to enjoy a three-storied chocolate cake with a dainty silver fork.

When you are sick, and when there is not much that you can eat, your mind goes crazy. Above was the feverish fantasy I had one day when my limbs were wrapped around my belly button, fighting off aches and chills, determined to starve off the fever (and those nasty bugs causing my misery). But even as my body fatigued itself to fend off the attack of the mysterious but ferocious bug, my mind was alert and awake. It hungered for images of food. I know, I know. More noble minds crave for wise words, beautiful sounds and maybe even complicated mathematical problems to solve. Mine was the twisted hungry mind. I do not apologize.


So we've been sick for more than a week around here. Today is the first day we are all feeling human around here, with energy to hop around the house, and it's because we found out what we had was not the flu but the strep throat. Everyone else is on antibiotics except for me. I am the only soul without a temperature, and truly feeling on the good mend. I attribute that to my yoga practice and the bar of dark chocolate I secretly took bites of, an experiment to see if there truly are valuable anti-oxidants in dark chocolate. Apparently, there are. (And of course, all those garlic must have helped!!)

Today was a difference from the last days, when all of us were sick, coughing and sprawled around the house.

But, as S said it beautifully to me one day, "Though we are all sick [to a different degree], we help each other out."-- fetching straws, paper to blow our noses into, making tea, bringing food.

Food. It's tricky when you are sick: how to "starve the fever" but still keep the body nourished, and help it on its way to rejuvenation.

Food is even trickier when you are sick and your throat hurts from all that coughing.

First option we gravitated to was chicken soup. Something that will just slip silkily pass our tormented throats and soothe it. Of course every family has THE must-have ingredient and special recipes but I tend to use what we have or what we feel like. But first I marched off to Whole Foods to get chicken legs, chicken drumsticks, ginger, carrots, and literally took off with all the organic garlic they had in the store. (Also bought some ripe organic pears on sale. These delicious fruits with soft, sweet, and juicy flesh did not last long.)

Back in the kitchen, I browned the chicken legs lightly in some coconut oil (for its antiviral, antibacterial and anti-fungal properties), then threw in a million cloves of smashed garlic, some quartered onions, some carrots, a stick of cinnamon. Added water, brought to a soft boil, skimmed the froth, and then let simmer. It was well-received, sighs of relief heard around the table as we noisily slurped the warm soup. And I whole-heartedly believe we all slept better that night because of the soup.

I repeated same recipe a couple of times, using chicken drumsticks, and about the same ingredients, and probably more garlic every time,  thinking sinisterly that I was going to get to all those awful germs this time with the potent garlic. I think I even secretly whispered to those adorable little cloves of garlic to go get 'em.

But soon V began to complain: "We are having chicken soup again?"

This from the sickest person in the household.

I responded with, "What do you mean again? We are still sick. Moreover, when aunt M's family was sick, all her kids wanted to drink and eat for days was chicken soup."

"Yeah," V replied. "But can't we have something different? How about chicken porridge?"

I thought to myself, "Isn't that about the same thing? It's essentially chicken soup with rice added! I can handle that... ..."

So I made chicken porridge, adding a knob of smashed ginger, rice and some sweet peas to the chicken soup "recipe." V declared it "yummy!" I just wanted her to be able to eat something, and I also desperately wanted everyone to be healthy again.

Then we went back to another meal of chicken soup. But after that I made something slightly different. I think when children are sick and offered the same things over and over again, they begin to feel there is no end in sight, it is the same again and again and likewise they will never feel better. When served something different they are delighted and I absolutely believe that little perk in their moods contribute to recovery.

So I made noodle soup in chicken broth, with meatballs. It is the same recipe as the asian-style meatballs, except I made them smaller, and they were dropped in a diluted chicken broth to cook. It takes a bit more time and effort, having to cook the meatballs, noodles and spinach separately. But it was worth the effort, as the girls were pleased the flavor (and the departure from chicken soup). And, when the children have been feeling unwell, nothing is worth more than seeing their little faces brighten up with a smile. I took a quick picture of Sophia's bowl before she dug in (she loves this Japanese soup bowl, always eager to get to the bottom so the cute kitty cat can be revealed):

Noodles in light chicken broth, with tiny meatballs and Chinese spinach
And because I myself needed to find some cheer amidst the gloom of our ailments, I played with my food:

Fishies want their noodles too!

Eventually, even I tired of chicken soup and noodle soup and variations of those. One of the favorite food options in this house is salmon, and we were all beginning to crave some miso (perhaps a gut reaction to the antibiotics prescription), so I made for dinner last night a miso-salmon soup, based loosely on this recipe.I used what vegetables I had (carrots, asparagus, broccoli) and added some soba noodles (cooked separately) to the broth, as the girls love those. It was a very comforting dinner, full of goodness. I am thinking this could be a good (and relatively fast and speedy) dinner for a crisp autumn evening too. Definitely a good base recipe for numerous variations.

I did not work on the "presentation" for this one, I just wanted a snapshot to remember it!
So that's how and what we have eaten the past days. We are very much looking forward to 100% good health and lots more good food (I see the delicious champagne mangoes are on the market! Can't wait to get to them!!)
What about you?? What do you eat when your health is down? What nourishes, what entices??

March 24, 2011

Lemons and Chocolates

lemons & chocolates
First, I have to confess that I am prejudiced against white chocolate. No, it has nothing to do with its color, but I just find it too sweet for my taste. Moreover, it is not really chocolate, as it is made from cocoa butter. Be definition of the FDA, chocolate must contain cocoa solids from chocolate liquor. I know many people who enjoy white chocolate, I am just a die-hard fan of dark chocolate. I enjoy the bitterness of it.

Second, what has lemons to do with chocolates? It is not a common pairing, although it has been done before. Once I treated myself to a dark chocolate-lemon truffle and truly enjoyed it. The citrusy notes of the lemon cuts the sweetness of the chocolate and heightens the character of the latter, what a treat!

And so, next time life gives you lemons, consider making some cookies instead of lemonade.

Normally, I disregard recipes that calls for white chocolate (I know, not a good habit, but I am trying to be more open-minded) but this one in Shirley O. Corriher's "BakeWise" caught my eye because of how she named the cookie: "Taste Sensation Lemon-White Chocolate Butter Cookies." I was immediately intrigued and totally hooked onto the idea. Chocolate is great, dark chocolate is divine, but sometimes the palette craves some taste sensation: to try something different, to experience new flavors and to just be wowed. Corriher noted that "the sharpness of the lemon is balanced by the sweetness of the white chocolate." I could see how the lemon and the white chocolate can marry so well together in this recipe, and truly shine. I could already feel the tingling of the lemon on my tongue. But my memory also did not forget that dark chocolate-lemon truffle I once had. I decided I will make Corriher's recipe, using white chocolate chips for half the recipe, and chopped dark chocolate in the other half, just to see if dark chocolate and lemon will get along well in this recipe. I guess a part of me believes that dark chocolate is the congenial ambassador of the cocoa kingdom, and that he will go well with everything.

white chocolate chips and chopped dark chocolate
Well, I was not disappointed. Though I was also a bit scared how addictive these cookies can be -- be forewarned!! I have to concede though, that the lemon paired much more superior with the white chocolate. Those cookies were tangy, bright, citrusy but they do not make you pucker up, because the sweetness of the white chocolate only makes you welcome the next bite of the lemony cookie. However, I will suggest you get a block of white chocolate and chop that up instead of using white chocolate chips, as they tend to break and chip when you slice the cookies, and if you have some chips around the edge of your cookie roll (as I did), it results in a broken cookie. Also, I think it will make the sweetness more subtle and distributed, versus having chunks of sweet.

A stack of the lemon-white chocolate butter cookies- I didn't say this is one serving!
The visual impact of the chopped dark chocolate in this cookie is fun to look at. I know it is not exactly the same but they remind me of leopard spots. I enjoyed the richness of the dark chocolate and thinks it goes well with the lemon. This is certainly a cookie to be slowly nibbled and savored!

I don't know why but these cookies look cute to me.
I aim for the dark chocolate chunks when I nibble.
As I have mentioned, this cookie can be addictive- I'll let you decide if that is a good thing or not! When my home panel of tasters were asked to pick a preference the answer was "Both are good!" Whether you decide to go for the white chocolate only, or make both types as I did, I hope these cookies will delight and cheer your day up. Corriher's recipe is below, I added notes for the dark chocolate version in parnthesis).

Taste Sensation Lemon-White Chocolate Butter Cookies
original recipe from Shirley O. Corriher's "BakeWise"
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, cut into 2-tablespoon pieces
  • 3/4 cup sugar 
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp light corn syrup (I found an organic one at Whole Foods)
  • 1/2 tsp. pure lemon extract
  • 1 Tbsp lemon zest 
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled)
  • 1 cup white chocolate chips (if making half-recipe of dark chocolate, use 1/2 cup white chocolate chips, 1/2 cup chopped dark chocolate, I used 72%)
1. In heavy-duty mixer with paddle attachment, cream the butter, sugar, salt, corn syrup, lemon extract, and lemon zest until light and creamy. Add the egg yolks, one at a time, and beat with each addition, just to blend in thoroughly.
2. On the lowest speed, beat in the flour, scraping down the sides of the bowl and across the bottom once. Stir in the white chocolate chips. (** If making 1/2 recipe dark chocolate, DO NOT add white chocolate chips. Divide dough into half, stir in white chocolate chips into one half, chopped dark chocolate into other half.)
3. Divide the dough evenly into 4 pieces. Roll each piece into a log about 2 inches in diameter. Wrap each roll individually in plastic wrap and refrigerator at least 2 hours or overnight.
4. About 30 minutes before you are ready to bake, place an oven shelf in the center of the oven and preheat oven to 350 F.
5. Cover heavy baking sheet with parchment paper or spray with nonstick cooking spray.
6. Slice cookies into 3/8-inch slices and arrange about 1 inch apart on the sheet.
7. Bake one sheet at a time until the edges just begin to brown, about 12-15 minutes. Allow to cool on the baking sheet for 2 minutes, and then remove to a cooling rack. These freeze nicely.
Makes about 4 dozen cookies.

March 22, 2011

Ugly but Good Chocolate Cookies

This is possibly the ugliest cookie I've ever made. They looked like cow poop with mold growing on it.

I am not trying to be rude here, just being honest with the first dismal thoughts that entered my head when I took the cookies out of the oven. Nevertheless, we let them cool, and tasted them and they were good. Chewy and fudgy, and the texture did not betray the presence of flaxseed meal. They are truly like bites of brownies. This is another cookie that I baked for my friend K. It is again from Elizabeth Gordon's "Allergy-free Desserts" and in her book she named them "Chocolate Crinkle Cookies." But as those of you on Facebook already know, these cookies did not look one bit like those shown in the photo in her book: even-sized, rather flat and perfectly round, with cracks on them that look like how a dry cracking ground does, during a drought.

Maybe it's because I did not use palm fruit oil shortening as Gordon did. That was her replacement of choice for butter, but K is thankfully not allergic to dairy, and since I do not have any palm fruit oil shortening and am terribly in favor of butter, I used glorious yellow butter. Another thing I did different was to reduce the sugar a tad. I did not pack the light brown sugar and took out about 3 tablespoons of the granulated sugar. (I still find this cookie a touch too sweet for my taste, but I tend to not like my baked goods too sweet.) I found that the dough did not form into balls as easily as I thought they would, so I used fingers dusted with powdered sugar to form them into balls, then coat them with the powdered sugar, shaking off excess before placing them on the cookie sheet.

The truth is, with familiarity (having looked at the cookies more than 24 hours now) and with repeated tasting, I have come to accept this cookie. I fondly call it "The Dark Horse," but here I shall call them "Ugly but Good Chocolate cookies." They are a great gluten-free, egg-free choice and I am glad they turned out delicious. I can imagine how hard it is to be on a restricted diet, and having something good and somewhat familiar to put into one's hungry belly is a blessing. It makes me grateful that we can eat almost anything in our household.

So my friend M wisely told me to post a picture of the ugly cookie, as it would be a great life lesson to learn not to judge by looks. How true! I remember once I made a salad dressing with minced tomatoes and when I first poured it onto the salad leaves it looked like vomit to me. Maybe I have visual issues. But in any case, I am sure this example is not isolated, I am sure others have looked upon visually replusive food, and then tasted it to realize the virtue of its good taste. What is good for you may not look good either (example: kefir grains. But I won't tell you how I describe them, for otherwise this post will be composed of too many off-putting descriptions!).

To play off the ugliness of the cookie, I chose a dainty plate with one of my favorites flowers -- the peony. I actually had fun photographing it. I hope this recipe gives some food for thought, and may come useful one day for someone yearning for some chocolate goodness with no allergens in it. Below is the original recipe, with my modifications in parenthesis.

"Beauty and the Beast"

Gordon's Chocolate Crinkle Cookies
(hereby affectionately known as Ugly but Good GF, egg-free chocolate cookies)
original recipe by Elizabeth Gordon, "Allergy-free desserts"
  • 6 tablespoons water
  • 2 tablespoons ground flaxseed meal
  • 1½ cups Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free All-Purpose Baking Flour
  • 2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon xanthan gum
  • 1 cup organic palm fruit oil shortening (I used one cup butter, at room temperature)
  • ¾ cup packed dark brown sugar (I did not pack it in)
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar (used a bit less, probably 3 tablespoons less)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ cup confectioners sugar, sifted
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. In a small bowl, combine the water and flaxseed meal and allow to thicken for 3 to 5 minutes. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and xanthan gum.
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together the shortening (butter), brown sugar, and granulated sugar. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add in the vanilla and the flaxseed meal mixture, and beat until it is fluffy and the flaxseed is thoroughly mixed in. Add in the flour mixture and mix the batter until thoroughly combined.
  4. Drop rounded tablespoonfuls of the dough into the confectioners sugar, rolling the cookies around to form balls. (If this does not work, dust fingers with powdered sugar, lightly form dough into balls and then roll in sugar.
  5. Place the balls 2 inches apart, to allow for spreading, on the prepared baking sheets. 
  6. Bake for 14 minutes or until the tops of the cookies no longer look wet (I baked both sheets at the same time, rotating about halfway through.)
  7.  Transfer the baking sheets from the oven to cooling racks and cool for 10 minutes, then transfer the cookies directly onto the racks to cool completely. 
  8. Store the cookies in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days, or freeze for up to 3 months.
Makes about 2 dozen cookies.

March 21, 2011

guest post on food thoughts

I was really honored when Marinah asked if I will write a guest post on her blog, Midwife in the Clouds. She is a most amazing midwife, woman, mother. She is fun and wicked at the same time, sagely with a silly bone in her. You just can't help but like her, she's like a human magnet.

Shortly after I started this blog, a post about food and what it means to me, started to simmer in my head. I knew I was going to write that elusive something down, so when Marinah asked me, she gave me "the right push." I am so thankful for the opportunity. Please visit here if you would like to read it.

March 20, 2011

baking is an exercise

I have quite some lemons from our lemon tree, and I also saw some delicious looking blueberries the other day and bought them. I thought I'd make some blueberry muffins (which always seem to call for lemon zest). Though the best blueberry muffin recipe have been found (look here, it is from America's Test Kitchen), and we all enjoy it very much, I still had to look for a new recipe to try. It is a very bad habit of mine, this need to try something new. I also wanted to try to make it gluten-free. We do not need to eat gluten-free, but from what I've read, I do feel it'd make good sense to not rely on gluten-laden goods all the time. Plus, I have friends who eat gluten-free and want to be able to offer something from time to time.

I looked and looked and finally settled on this recipe I found at dinner with Julie. I used Bob's Red Mill all-purpose gluten-free mix, and sour cream instead of yogurt. I found it curious that the recipe stated that you should not beat the mixture in an electric mixer or the muffins will not rise, but then almost all muffin recipes I have made were mixed by hand. However, this one calls for butter and not oil. When I had the ingredients in the mixing bowl, I had no idea how I could "cream" them with a spatula. But then I remembered my Home Economics cooking classes from two decades ago! Oh, what memories! Paired by two's, our class of girls learned to bake and cook in a kitchen supervised by a very prim and proper teacher, whose dress is always starched, her hair each and every strand ever in place, and she would maintain a smile on her face even when she was angry at us. While we cooked she would walk around, chiding us for not wiping down the counter-tops right away, and muttering about the sinks being dirty. I was not her star student then, nope. But I remember this creaming method that she talked about. Using a wooden spoon or spatula, we scrapped (or smeared) the butter against the side of the bowl, scrap it up again, and continued with the smear and scrap movement.

This smear-and-scrap movement seemed to be what that creaming is about. It takes arm strength. Every time I have to make a recipe like this (or whip up a small amount of egg whites or heavy cream in a bowl), I think of women in the pre-electricity day and their buffed arms -- that keeps me going as I try to hold back the tears. At least I exercised my arms while baking! Now that arm exercise does not stop with the creaming part. As you add the flour the batter gets really stiff and you will be kicking up your arm exercise a notch (no whining allowed). I was a bit alarmed at how the batter looked by the time it was almost done, as it very much resembled a bread dough and I was afraid the muffins will turn out tough. They turned out fluffy and had a nice chewiness to it. The girls enjoyed it very much and told me they could really taste the lemon in it too.

Other things I will improve upon next time: smooth out the batter after placing them in the muffin cups. I didn't and though I don't mind a tousled look in my baked goods, this caused some of the parts to get overly brown.I will also watch it a bit closer, and check the muffins before 25 minutes. Because of the sugar topping, it can get burned and we had a few burned spots. Other than that, this is a yummy gluten-free recipe.

Gluten-free Lemon Blueberry Muffins
Adapted from dinner with Julie who adapted from Gluten Free Girl

  • 10 Tbsp. butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • grated zest of a lemon
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3 cups Bob's Red Mill All-purpose gluten-free mix
  • 1 ½ tsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. baking soda
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1 ½ cups sour cream
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries (you can use frozen ones too, without thawing)
  • sugar for sprinkling
  1. Preheat the oven to 375F.
  2. In a large bowl, cream the butter, sugar and lemon zest together with a spatula. (smear the butter against the side of the bowl, scrap it up, and smear again, until everything is well-mixed and looks creamy. The sugar should have worked well into the butter.)
  3. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing after each.
  4. Add a cup of the flour along with the baking powder, soda and salt, and mix well. Add half the sour cream and stir until combined, then another third of the flour, the rest of the sour cream and the rest of the flour.Batter will be rather stiff!
  5. Fold in the blueberries.
  6. Divide the batter among muffin tins that have been lined with paper liners or sprayed with nonstick spray, filling them, and smoothing the tops, somehow. (You’ll get about 16-18 muffins.) Sprinkle the tops with sugar and bake for 25-30 minutes, until golden and springy to the touch.

March 19, 2011

meatballs asian-style (go-to dish)

Every time we eat this, S always says, "HOME MADE IS THE BEST!!" with a big smile on her face.

Oh, I love home made too. Most days. Other days I just want to give everyone a stick of carrot (unpeeled) and tell them that is dinner and that we are doing an orange-colored detox diet that night! Once I declared we were all going out to the backyard to eat some grass for dinner.

But if I am not experiencing cooking-fatigue, or just plain feeling that I was becoming a fixture in the kitchen, I enjoy home-made. These meatballs I have adapted from a recipe in Gourmet (recipe can be found online here) and it very much reminds me of an everyday dish that my grandmother made when I was young. Instead of making such a mixture into meatballs, she puts the seasoned ground meat into a dish and steams it. It is then served over steamed rice with some soy sauce drizzled over, with vegetables added. It truly is homey food. I like to add some minced ginger during the cold months to add some heat to the belly. The girls enjoy rolling the meatballs together. I think that is part of why "home-made" is best-- it is fun too.

This recipe makes enough to feed five mouths, with extras to freeze for at least another meal.

Meatballs asian-style


  • 1/2 cup whole milk

  • 1/2 cup fine dry bread crumbs

  • 3 pound ground chicken

  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten

  • 1 medium-sized jicama, peeled and chopped finely

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • 1 cup chopped fresh cilantro plus 1/4 cup sprigs

  • 1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp soy sauce

  • 8 teaspoons Asian sesame oil

  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice

  • 1/4 cup water

  • 1 Tbsp sugar

    1. Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 450°F.
    2. Pour milk over bread crumbs in a large bowl and stir until liquid is absorbed. 
    3. Add ground chicken, eggs, jicama, salt, chopped cilantro, 2 tablespoons soy sauce, and 4 teaspoons sesame oil and mix with your hands until combined well. Shape meat mixture into balls (whatever size you like, but about 2-inch ball is what we go with) and transfer to a 13- by 9-inch glass baking dish (or parchment-lined baking sheet), arranging meatballs about 1/2 inch apart in baking dish. (Having a dish of water to keep hands wet while rolling is useful.)
    4. Bake until cooked through, about 15 minutes.
    5. Meanwhile, stir together lime juice, water, sugar, remaining 1/2 cup soy sauce, and remaining 4 teaspoons sesame oil in a bowl until sugar is dissolved.
    6. Transfer meatballs to a serving dish. Stir sauce, then drizzle meatballs with some sauce and sprinkle with cilantro sprigs.
    7. Serve meatballs with remaining sauce. 
    8. The meatballs freeze beautifully. You can also cook the meatballs in broth and make an easy one-bowl noodle soup, adding shredded cabbage, shredded carrots and sweet peas to fill out the meal. Or you can do it as my grandma did, and pat the mixture into a dish and steam till cooked.

    March 18, 2011

    Blogger Day of Silence

    I was going to post another go-to recipe that my family enjoys but while I was online I saw that there is an event going on called "Blogger Day of Silence."

    It is organized by two bloggers, UtterlyEngaged and Ever Ours. Essentially, a campaign for everyone to do what they can, including simple things like sending thoughts of love and healing. You can also go here to donate.

    And so, today we will snuggle down and read instead. It is one of our very favorite things to do together.

    See you tomorrow, then. May you and yours have a lovely day.

    March 16, 2011

    veggies in the oven

    Growing up and watching my mother and my grandma prepare food, nothing was ever prepared in the oven. Vegetables were steamed, sauted, stir-fried, deep-fried, braised, cooked in a broth, but never in the oven. The oven was used by my aunts for baking cookies, fruit cakes, pineapple tarts (that people die for) and the most delectable chicken pot-pies.

    What I have now, this kitchen that I cook and bake in, is the second kitchen I can call my own. Prior to this house in the United States, R and I lived in a tiny apartment in Hong Kong. It was a tiny little place we rented near to the university where we studied and worked (and met). The so-called kitchen was a very small room plunked right in the middle of our teensy apartment. It was about 40-square foot, and now that I think about it, our bathroom was even bigger than the kitchen, which contained the sink, a small fridge, the cooking range (no oven), two small cabinets for storage, and a washing machine too. Usually I am the lone person in there, cooking up a sweat; it had an accordion folding door that afforded me all the privacy (and focus!) I needed while I struggled to balance colanders of washed vegetables on barely-existing counter-tops (usually I used the top of the closed washing machine as my counter-top when cooking), stirring the other simmering pot (there were only two burners), reaching for condiments and all that. It had a small square window that allowed me to look out over to what was happening in the pet store next door. Mostly I see (and hear) dogs yelping while being manicured and shampooed.

    Which makes me very grateful for the oven I have right now. It is nothing fancy or top of the line. In fact, since it's the same thing the previous (and first) owners of this house had installed, it should be about 20 years right now. But it still works, thank goodness! I love how it helps me prepare delicious vegetables without too much time and effort involved. No splattering oil, no skillets to scrub. No need to stand and flip, or stir. And honestly, I don't think any vegetables that came out of the oven, nicely roasted and served onto a platter with steam still billowing all around, had been rejected by any of my children. Never ever. I love how roasting vegetables in the oven intensify its flavor and free up hands and space for other components of the meal.

    And really, there is no recipe, and therefore no limits. And I am not the only one who loves preparing veggies in the oven. This week I got some really good-looking asparagus from Trader Joe's and while checking out, we got talking about how to prepare the asparagus (oven-roasted) and how we also roast potatoes, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts in the oven, and how people fight over their yummy goodness.

    Of course, variety is key, so not every meal in our house ends up with an oven-roasted veggie. There are many ways to cook, but today I am here to sing the praises of oven-cooked vegetables. I think when my children grow up they are definitely going to remember how their vegetables came out from the oven, hot and alluring.

    The greatest virtue of veggies in the oven is its simplicity. Wash the vegetables, cut into chunks if necessary, toss with olive oil, salt and pepper, and whatever seasoning you fancy. (Sometimes I roast garlic cloves with the vegetables, which becomes really sweet, and we then eat the garlic with the vegetables.) Pop into the oven and roast to how you like your vegetables. Usually we like to see a few brown spots on our sprouts and cauliflower. For the asparagus I made last night, it only took about 12 minutes in a 350F oven. After it came out, I shaved some pecorino cheese over it.

    Oven-roasted asparagus

    Sometimes I cut up a few strips of bacon and toss it with the vegetables, leaving the saltiness and smokiness of the bacon to flavor the vegetables, making them even more irresistible. I have also roasted Brussels with lemon zest and black pepper, and sometimes I toss the vegetables with some chopped roasted nuts. I've also experimented with green beans roasted with a bit of sesame oil, and sprinkled with sesame seeds.

    Thankfully, my children do not say "yuck" to vegetables, and we endeavor to eat them in various ways, but veggies in the oven? -- they rock.

    March 13, 2011

    Quest: the perfect brownies

    Actually, I've never tasted brownies until after we moved to the United States. And then I learned new things, and new words: cabinet, not cupboard. Cookies, not biscuits. Biscuits, not scones. Band-aid, not plaster. And so on. And I was introduced to brownies, the food. Dessert, they call it. Yum. I liked it, very much.

    When my firstborn was a little over a year old, we made a road trip to Santa Barbara to visit my professor from grad school. There, I tasted the perfect brownie, at a cafe that I can no longer recall the name of. It is odd, as we visited the cafe a couple times more during our trip (on top of that tacos place so loved by Julia Child), just to savor the brownie again. I know that after the trip I also talked about that brownie with a fellow mom online and she looked up a book she had containing recipes of famous dishes from Santa Barbara restaurants, but that brownie recipe was not in there. I even wrote the chef at the cafe, and she wrote me back a few months after, thanking me for my compliments but politely declining my request for their brownie recipe. She did promise that she would send me a copy of the recipe should they decide to go public with it.

    So I am waiting. For those dreamy, perfect brownies. A thin crust, just enough for you to experience the crispiness from being perfectly baked. Then a chewy, delicious chocolate layer beneath, with just the right touch of sweetness, held in balance by a slight hint of bitter chocolate. Those brownies were enjoyed with a wonderful cup of coffee, sitting out on a sunny and crowded patio.

    I cannot keep count how many brownie recipes I have made since, in those nine long years. Some were good, some mediocre, some failed. None were exactly like those Santa Barbara ones. Almost everyone, it seems, claims to have a perfect brownie recipe. I am just not finding it yet, but I am beginning to suspect that it is in my memory that its championship place had never been swayed. And that perhaps my tastebuds are just biased.

    Recently, I made two different recipes of brownies. One was adapted from Carole Walter's "best brownies" recipe, which my family thoroughly enjoyed. In fact, R felt those were the best and that I should stop hunting for more brownie recipes. The other is a gluten-free, egg-free version that I tried for my friend K. It uses flaxseed meal to replace the eggs, and I am not particularly thrilled with the results. The brownies had a good flavor, but a bit on the dry side, and kind of crumbly. K reported that they paired perfectly with vanilla ice-cream. She thought too the flavor was good, but the texture was not the chewiness that she enjoys in brownies. I am posting the recipe below in case anyone wants to try, or improve upon it, or make it using another egg replacement. Please report back if you do!

    (And also, I am trying to do better with my photos. It's a challenge, because I am rather impatient with the technical aspects of excellent photography, and also I feel the real test is in the eating, and I just want to get to the eating part quick quick quick! If you have useful tips for taking droolicious photos of food, I would love to hear!)

    I like to cut them bite size so I can keep popping them into my mouth!

     Almost-perfect brownies
    Adapted from Carole Walter's recipe

    • 1 cup unsalted butter
    • 5 oz bitterwseet (or dark) chocolate, coarsely chopped
    • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
    • 2 cups powdered sugar (sifted)
    • 1/4 tsp salt
    • 2 tsp vanilla extract
    • 1 cup plus 2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
    • 1 cup coarsely chopped pecans, toasted
    • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
    1. Position rack in middle of oven and heat to 350F. Butter a 13" by 9" baking pan.
    2. Melt butter over low heat in a medium saucepan. When butter is almost melted, add the chopped chocolate. Remove from heat after one minute and let stand until chocolate is completely melted, stir occasionally.
    3. In a large mixing bowl, whisk the eggs lightly, then stir in sugar in a steady stream. Add the warm chocolate mixture, and stir lightly with whisk to blend. Mix in vanilla extract and salt.
    4. Sift the flour over the chocolate mixture in three additions, folding the flour gently in each time with the whisk. Whisk till flour is just incorporated. Fold in the nuts and the chocolate chips with a spatula.
    5. Immediately transfer batter to the baking pan, spreading evenly and smoothly the top with the back of a large spoon. Bake for 28 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out slightly moist, a few crumbs attached. DO NOT OVERBAKE.
    6. Cool brownies in pan on a wire rack for at least 4 hours before cutting. (Get out of the house if you cannot resist temptation! -- I did.)
    7. Store brownies in an air-tight container, up to 5 days. They can be frozen.

    Gluten-free, egg-free brownie
    Gluten-free Egg-free Fudgy Brownies
    Recipe taken from Elizabeth Gordon's "Allergy-free Desserts"

    • 3 tablespoons plus ½ cup freshly brewed espresso, cooled
    • 1 tablespoon ground flaxseed meal
    • 1¾ cups Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free All-Purpose Baking Flour
    • 1 cup granulated sugar (I did find this recipe a tad sweet, you may want to reduce the sugar a tiny bit)
    • ½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
    • 2½ teaspoons baking powder
    • 1 teaspoon baking soda
    • 1 teaspoon salt
    • ¼ teaspoon xanthan gum
    • ½ cup canola oil (I used melted coconut oil)
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    • ½ cup gluten-, soy-, dairy-, egg-, and nut-free semisweet chocolate chips (I added a handful more, it didn't seem enough! :-) )


    1. Preheat the oven to 350°F and lightly grease a 9-inch round cake pan with oil.
    2. In a small bowl, combine 3 tablespoons of the espresso and the flaxseed meal and allow to thicken for 3 to 5 minutes.
    3. In another small bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and xanthan gum. Pour in the cconut oil, vanilla, and the remaining ½ cup of espresso. Stir with a wooden spoon until thoroughly combined and smooth. Fold in the chocolate chips.
    4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 40 minutes, or until the brownies are firm and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the brownies cool completely in the pan on a rack before cutting them into triangles.
    5. Store the brownies, tightly wrapped and refrigerated, for up to 5 days.
    The batter before being sent into the oven, yum!

    March 9, 2011

    "We'll help you eat it all!"

    Some weeks ago I made a delicious Banana Coconut Cake from a recipe that I found on Tropical Traditions. I thought it was good, but could be better. So I decided to tweak it, making it gluten-free and replacing the icing in the original recipe with a chocolate almond ganache filling. And after a day’s work, I was very pleased with the results, and was over the moon when my girls were ooohing and aaahing over the cake. I wiped down the counter-top and cut a good chunk of the cake to give to my friend K, who cannot eat wheat for now. I heard V exclaiming, “And this is gluten-free mom! And it’s so good!”

    And I almost burst through the roof, all pumped up with pride.

    Then V asked, “And there are no eggs either, mom?”

    That’s when the roof came crashing down, and my pride, well, I think it went down the garbage disposal.

    I had totally forgotten about the eggs!! I was so focused on the wheat I forgot about the eggs!!

    You have no idea how sad I was, for it was a good cake. I could not tell K I forgot the other half of her allergy and give her half the cake. As I was banging my head against my very clean counter-top, I heard V pipe up: “Don’t worry, mom! We’ll help you finish it all up!”

    Isn’t it sweet? And funny?! – I was not worried that the cake would not get eaten up, I was just agonized that I forgot to replace the eggs with something else! Such things take practice, I suppose. I am pretty sure the way this cake is made, the eggs can be easily replaced with applesauce, but I am no expert. What are your favorite ways to replace eggs in a cake recipe?? All ideas and suggestions much appreciated!

    And below, the gluten-free but not egg-free banana coconut cake recipe. If you manage to make this egg-free, I would love to hear!!

    Gluten-free Banana Coconut Cake

    • 1 1/4 cup whole cane sugar
    • ½ cup virgin coconut oil
    • 2 eggs
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla
    • 2 cups Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-free all purpose flour
    • 1 tsp xanthan gum
    • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
    • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
    • 3/4 teaspoon salt
    • 1/4 cup buttermilk
    • 1 cup, about 3 bananas, mashed
    • 3/4 cup chopped toasted almonds
    • 1/2 cup shredded coconut 
    • 1 recipe Chocolate Almond Ganache filling (recipe follows
    1. Preheat oven to 325. Grease and flour a 13 by 9 baking pan. (You can also bake in two 9-inch cake pans if preferred.)
    2. Cream sugar with coconut oil (remember to measure in liquid state!) until well combined. Mixture will look thick, and creamy yellow. Add the eggs and vanilla, and continue to mix until fluffy.
    3. Combine dry ingredients in a bowl and whisk to mix. Mash up bananas and add to buttermilk.
    4. Reduce mixer speed to low, and add in dry ingredients alternately with buttermilk and bananas. Start with flour mixture, then buttermilk mixture, and end with the flour mixture. Stir in chopped toasted almonds and shredded coconut. 
    5. Pour into baking pan and bake for about 40 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean. Cool completely on wire rack.
    6. Run a knife around the edges of the pan. Cut cake into half cross-wise. Remove the two halves from the cake pan and then slice each half of the cake into half horizontally. Spread about 2/3 cup of the ganache filling on top of one layer of the cake, top with another layer, and repeat this with the next layer, finishing the cake by topping off with a last layer of cake. Enjoy!!
    I love how the almonds look atop the ganache before being stirred in.

    Chocolate Almond Ganache Filling
    Makes 2 cups

    ·        ½ cup of almonds
    ·        8 oz bittersweet or dark chocolate, chopped
    ·        1 cup heavy cream
    ·        2 Tbsp amaretto
    ·        1 tsp vanilla extract

    1. Spread almonds on a baking sheet and toast in 350F oven for about 5-7 minutes, until fragrant. Cool completely and then chop into medium-fine pieces.
    2. Add chopped chocolate to food processor and process until fine.
    3. In a heavy small saucepan or pot, scald the heavy cream (heat to boiling point, watch for small bubbles forming around the edge of the pot).
    4. With the motor of the food processor running, pour the cream through the feeding tube in a steady stream. Process until smooth, then pulse in the amaretto and vanilla extract. 
    5. Scrape ganache into a glass bowl, stir in the chopped almonds and allow to cool for an hour. Cover the bowl and cool for several hours, or until it reaches a soft frosting consistency.

    March 6, 2011

    Go-to meal: Easy fish dish

    We all have a few of these recipes up our sleeves, that we pull out when we do not know what to cook, is pressed for time, or just want to cook something familiar that we know the family is going to eat. I call it my go-to meal, or my reliable fallback, and sometimes it becomes my food rut, when I simply cannot get out of cooking the same old dishes over and over again. I am going to slowly post my go-to meals, and I'm actually curious to see how many I end up with!

    Kicking off this series is an easy fish dish. We first encountered it at a buffet when vacationing at Rocky Point, Mexico. R tried the dish first and then set off to get us more, urging me to try it as it was really delish. Oh it was good, fresh fish, very flavorful, and I suspect the sunny blue skies and fresh oceanic breeze enhanced the savoring experience! When we got home, I decided to figure out how to make this easy fish dish, which can be named however you fancy, but we call it "That olive-tomato fish dish."

    The beauty of this dish is that it uses few ingredients, and can be simply and quickly whipped up. You can of course fancy it up and I'm going to talk about that. You can use any mild flavored fish. I tend to use tilapia, which is normally farm-raised, and I have to say when you get it from a source that is responsibly farmed, you can taste the difference in quality and taste. Recently I bought some farm-raised tilapia when Whole Foods had a sale, after reading about why theirs was different, and we definitely enjoyed the pristine taste of the fish. I am always able to find some variety of wild-caught fish at Trader Joe's at good prices.

    The other ingredients in this dish are: minced garlic, tomatoes, italian parsley, sliced black olives.

    When tomatoes are in season, I chop them up and cook them down to a yummy sauce (with some sliced garlic added). But when tomatoes start to look pale and simply not appealing during the off-season, or when I want it all fast, I reach for a jar of tomato sauce. I try to avoid canned tomatoes (and canned food in general) due to the dangers of BPA in tin can linings leaking into the food. Instead I use pasta sauce in glass jars if I need tomato sauce quick for this fish dish. Sometimes I get the variety with mushrooms added, so I save even the job of chopping yet another item! For the olives, I also get those in glass jars from Trader Joe's and then slice them up, or chop them coarse and quick when pressed for time.

    So, here's the recipe, with no absolute measures (that's how you cook it fast!):

    Easy Olive-Tomato Fish Dish
    • 2 pounds tilapia (or other fish)
    • minced garlic (as much as you love!)
    • 1 glass jar of tomato sauce
    • sliced black olives (as much as you like)
    • italian parsley, chopped (as much as you like)
    1. Mince garlic, chop parsley, rinse the fish and pat dry, then cut into chunks (about 2-inch is good).
    2. Season fish lightly with salt and pepper.
    3. Heat olive oil in a large skillet (or pot if preferred), and when hot, add the minced garlic and saute quickly till light golden brown.
    4. Immediately add the olives and continue to saute.
    5. Add fish pieces, sauteing a minute or so, and then add tomato sauce. Add more salt and/or pepper if desired.
    6. Let dish simmer for about 20 minutes. Adjust seasoning if needed. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve.

    I serve this with steamed white rice. I do wish this is a one-skillet dish but the vegetables is rather lacking. I don't think those sliced olives count much towards the desirable daily vegetable quotient, and thought italian parsley do contain a multitude of minerals, you wouldn't want to be adding an entire chunk of it. So, what about the vegetables?

    Sometimes, I put some vegetables (cauliflower, broccoli, sugar peas) on top of the steamer and let it cook at the same time as the rice. If I'm really tired, I just slice up a bowl of cucumbers and carrots and serve it raw or quick pickled. If I am lucky to have pickled beets or kimchi in the fridge I pull those out. Very often we do a easy vegetable dish, which is simply blanching green beans, cauliflower or broccoli, and then tossing with a good olive oil and sprinkled with good sea salt. It may sound bland, but I find that a good vegetable dish does not demand a whole lot of tinkering or even a plethora of spices or seasoning. Usually a good olive oil and sea salt brings the flavor out nicely, and I like that it keeps the palette simple so we can enjoy the fish dish better.

    As for fancying up this fish dish, you can slice up some onions, and then slowly caramelize it in a separate skillet as the fish dish simmer, then folding the delicious caramelized onions with the fish dish before serving it up. You can also "beef up" this dish by sauteing some chopped mushrooms and zucchini in olive oil and herbs, and then folding it into the fish. This is a great simple dish to experiment with! Let me know if you do, and I would love to hear your simple vegetable dish ideas if you'd share!

    March 2, 2011

    Two ways to pecan

    So I was burrowing through the fridge, weeding out unintentional “science experiments” and gathering up candidates for the big “leftovers medley” when I chanced upon an unopened bag of pecans. I must have bought it thinking I would use it, but didn’t. What to do now? ---

    I went burrowing through my pile of to-be-organized recipes, and came up with: “rustic maple pecan cookies” by Carole Walter, a gluten-free “Pecan Sandies” recipe from "Incredible Edible Gluten-Free Food for Kids" and a Brussels sprouts recipe that included buttered pecans (yum!). I have made the first two recipes but not the last, as the Brussels sprouts season may be over (they can be harvested through June in some places though, so I am going to keep my eyes open!).

    The Carole Walter recipe can be found here. I did not make any changes, but I did not have imitation maple extract and did not want to get any, so I increased the vanilla extract to 11/2 teaspoon, and added another ½ tsp of the Fiori de Sicilia extract from King Arthur Flour. Note that if you bake these cookies with your windows thrown open you will soon have neighbors knocking your door down! They smell divine, and taste delicious! Another thing I will change when I make it next time is to toast the pecans before hand, to enhance the flavor of the cookie.

    I was happy to discover the Pecan Sandies recipe. I have friends who need to eat gluten-free and most times when I have them over I reach for the Pamela Product’s Chocolate Chip Cookie mix. They are very good indeed and I always stock up on them so we eat them not infrequently ourselves. Still, it is nice to be able to make something different from time to time. I had my friend K in mind when I made these cookies, which from the sound of the recipe, resemble Pecan Crescent cookies. Well, these turned out much better than I had expected! The ingredients are simple and the process pretty straight-forward too. The dough does seem to be rather wet and sticky, so I had to re-flour my hands with rice flour every time after I finish shaping one cookie. The recipe called for the cookies to be shaped into elongated balls but I decided to make them crescent shaped instead. The cookies spread out quite a bit during baking and became flatter. They are also rather fragile, so when I picked them up and tossed them in powder sugar, bits and pieces kept breaking off, so I kept eating them- yeah, they were scrumptious! For the second batch of cookies, I decided to leave the cookies on the baking sheet and dust them over with powdered sugar instead, and then left them to cool completely on the cookie sheet. That worked better!

    I did feel the cookies were a bit grainy, though I guess that is why they are called “sandies”! No one else complained about the texture though! I gave K a tin of the cookies and she thought they were simply delicious. My picky husband also thought them good and the texture was fine by him. The girls wished there were more of the cookies. One said to the other, “Mmmmmmm, these were made in heaven!” and the other replied, “Mom made them in heaven!” I hope you will enjoy this recipe as well!

     Gluten-free egg-free Pecan Sandies
    adapted from "Incredible Edible Gluten-Free Food for Kids"

    • 1 cup butter
    • 1/2 cup sugar
    • 1 Tablespoon water
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla
    • 1 cup rice flour
    • 2/3 cup potato starch flour
    • 1/3 cup tapioca flour
    • 1 cup chopped pecans (I recommend toasting them first)
    • 1 cup sifted powdered sugar 
    1. Preheat oven to 325 F. Place rack in middle of oven.
    2. Beat butter until soft, then gradually add the sugar, beating until light and creamy. Blend in the water and vanilla.
    3. In another bowl combine the flours with the chopped pecans.
    4. Add flour mixture gradually to the creamed mixture. Mix well between additions.
    5. With lightly rice-floured hands, shape one-inch size balls of dough into crescent shapes, flattening a little. Place them at least one-inch apart on ungreased cookie sheet.
    6. Bake cookies in oven for 25-30 minutes, until very light brown. Let cookies sit for 10 minutes on cookie sheet, then sift powdered sugar over the cookies.
    7. Let cookies cool completely on cookie sheet before carefully removing with spatula. 
    Make about 40 cookies.


    And before I sign off, can I tell you about the series of unfortunate events that occurred in my kitchen last Friday? First, my toddler decided she wanted to help with baking, and before I could say “one”, she had pushed her chair to the counter-top, grabbed one of the eggs (set out to warm to room temperature) and smacked it flat on the counter-top. The lemon pound cake I made nearly burned when I had to run out to help my husband, and when I opened the oven, I discovered some of the batter had managed to seep out of the bundt pan and cooked itself on the oven floor. While preparing to make dinner, I opened the freezer to have a chunk of frozen lamb fall to hit a glass bowl of egg whites (fridge door was open as well and the glass bowl was close to the front) and shatter the bowl. There goes more macaroons, and another glass bowl! Dinner was late, with many interruptions from my toddler and during dinner, after three big gulps of red wine I announced that the kitchen gods wanted me to stop cooking, so I will not even boil water the following day! And with the trend of things, perhaps if I tried to toast a bagel I will manage to set our entire street on fire. And indeed I did not cook at all on Saturday! That was a bit long, but I thought some of you may commiserate! Share your kitchen disasters, if you will!