Monday, January 23, 2012

Happy Chinese New Year!

CNY Greetings 2012

Or as I say, Gong xi fa cai, hong bao na lai! (Good luck and fortune, now gimme my red packet! It sounds better in Chinese.) Today is the start of the Year of the Dragon; if you believe in astrology and all that, you can go look up your specific horoscope for how this year will go for you. I read that I'll be having a difficult year in terms of health, and specifically that I may be injured at work! I will be using this as a pitch to work from home more often...

Like our centerpiece?! You've always got to have apples and oranges (auspicious colors, see) and Cedric was our stand-in for a dragon. He's got wings, I'm convinced! But there are dragons in edible form, too!

Last year, I decided I was going to make all of the zodiac signs into cookie form (yes, this will be a 12 year project!). As it turns out, it was a good year to start on, the rabbit being relatively simple in shape. The dragon? Not so easy! I kicked around a few ideas (and Megg had suggested a Trogdor shaped cookie), but I really wanted something rounder and cuter (like the bunny cookies, but, you know, dragony).


So I took some green tea and vanilla shortbread dough, and made something vaguely dragon shaped. Here is a crappy cell phone photo of what I was going for. See? Kind of dragony?

Dragon cookie fail :(

Aaaaand here is what happened after baking. Total collapse, whoops! It should not have been such a surprise to me that shortbread dough wouldn't hold its own weight. Sigh.


So I took a break from dragon cookies and made pineapple tarts instead. As usual, I made my own jam; you can see check out this old post for step by step instructions on making pineapple tarts. I made them bite sized this year, figuring that would help with portion control.

Cedric eyes the pineapple tarts

Unfortunately, that just meant that they are that much easier to keep grabbing and munching! Whoops!

Coconut nian gao

Then I made another traditional food, nian gao. This is actually somewhat untraditional, as the typical nian gao is brown sugar based and steamed, whereas this version uses coconut and is baked in the oven. Nian gao is a type of cake made out of glutinous rice flour, and is quite similar in texture to mochi. It is rather delicious, and has caused me to gain several pounds already.

So anyhow, after all that, i came back to my deformed dragon cookies and stared at them, long enough that I decided maybe all was not lost and there might be a way to salvage them after all. And so, with a little creative arrangement and some (extremely) rudimentary photo editing...

What do baby dragons dream about?

I give you dreaming baby dragons. Yes, they dream of cookies. What, don't you?

Happy new year! May it be healthy and prosperous, and full of nothing but good things.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Sweet potato glutinous rice balls!


Okay, so the name doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, but fortunately for you, this is easier made than said! One of my friends at work and I periodically trade links to recipes (for instance, I think I talked her into making Portugese egg tarts this weekend...muahaha!) and a little while back, she sent me a link to Christine's Recipes. I don't remember the original recipe she linked to, but I was browsing (it's a great blog!) and came across this post on sweet potato glutinous rice balls. The pictures looked so nice and reminded me of tang yuan (which I love, but have never made myself), so I knew I had to make these.


I decided to make both purple and orange sweet potato versions, since I happened to have stocked up on both. The first step to making these is to cook your potatoes; steaming is called for in the original recipe, but I baked mine, and it worked out fine. I wouldn't boil them, though! The ratio is 1 part glutinous rice flour to 2 parts of sweet potato, although of course, you will adjust based on how moist your potatoes are. I had to add a bit of water to the purple version, because they are much drier in texture than the orange sweet potatoes. You want a pliable, slightly moist, but not sticky dough. It actually feels a bit like playdough to me!


Pinch off a piece, approximately ping pong ball sized, and roll into a smooth ball. Then take your thumb and make a well; be careful not to go all the way through.


Fill with a chunk of palm sugar. Or, if you are like me and were too lazy to go to Chinatown to buy palm sugar, fill with some dark brown sugar. Pinch to seal, and then roll between your palms to make a nice smooth ball. Repeat with the remaining dough.


See? Nice and neat :D These are now ready to be cooked. Simply bring a large pot of water to the boil, and then drop the balls in gently. Stir immediately so that they don't stick to the bottom of the pot, as they'll sink. (And don't crowd the pan!) Boil until they float; they will also swell somewhat, especially if you cover the pan. After they float, cook them for another 2-3 minutes, and then scoop out with a slotted spoon. Let drain for a minute and then keep the cooked balls on a lightly greased plate until they're all done.


Just before serving, roll each ball in some shredded coconut. You could also serve these as tang yuan, in a ginger syrup. That would probably be pretty delicious, too (and I'll probably do that with the leftovers!) These should be served still warm, so that when you bite into them you'll get a delicious explosion of liquid sweetness. Mmm, sweet explosions.


Aren't they pretty? :) Happy Saturday!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Almond cream & pear tartlets

Pie Greetings

So here's what I did with the leftover almond cream from yesterday's not so photogenic galettes--almond cream and poached pear tartlets! This was the very last pear left from my CSA, so I felt quite virtuous about using up a bunch of stuff. My fridge is actually looking quite bare these days: no giant bunches of kale and turnips lurking around. Sniffle.

Pear & almond tartlet

Since I had all the components on hand (I almost always have some form of pie crust dough in the freezer, for last minute baking emergencies) this took about 15 minutes to put together, and most of that time was for poaching my rather old pear. I gave it a quick bath in a ginger syrup, both to soften it up and to give it some flavor. All you do is press crust into a tartlet pan, spread almond cream across the bottom, and then lay your sliced pear on top. These took about 30 minutes to bake, and then I just brushed a little glaze over the top.

So, anyhow, this is my virtual birthday pie for my mom, whose birthday is tomorrow! Don't worry Mom; I'll bake you a fresh one next time I see you. In the meantime, Mamegoma and Horsie and I wish you a happy birthday and hope you are eating something yummy (although it won't be as yummy as this tart I'm sure ;)).

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Happy New Year!

Arrr num num

So did you make any resolutions? I usually don't bother, but this year I have four:

1. Less procrastination
2. More bento
3. Less complaining
4. More exercise

Lofty goals, to be sure! If I achieve 2 of these, I'll consider myself successful (and then next year my resolution will be, as they say at work, underpromise and overdeliver). Ahem! I just also want to point out that I did not procrastinate this post, I just haven't had time because I'm too busy overpromising at work. :)

Anyhow, you're probably wondering about my hungry little dino friend and what it is he's eyeing so beadily. It's not very pretty, I admit, and I had second thoughts about posting these photos, but you know what, things don't always turn out perfectly, and that's cool. The important thing is, it's delicious! And if you want to see what a proper galette des rois looks like, then you should go check out the photos and recipe at Chocolate and Zucchini. I hesitate to actually bestow the name "galette des rois" on mine!


These galettes, also known as king cakes, are eaten in France to celebrate Epiphany. But there's no prohibition on everyone else enjoying them too, and if you've got frozen puff pastry and ground almonds handy, you can knock this together in very little time. Oh, also, since I was just making it for me, I made a mini version and didn't bother with the little token inside (traditionally it's served as a large cake and whoever gets the bead, bean, or whatever inside is the king or queen). Well, mine may be on the ugly side, but that almond cream certainly is delicious. I've got about a cup left and I have plans for it which will hopefully result in something more photogenic.


By the way, this is Cedric, my dino friend. He's Canadian.

Margaret! Flowers!

And, guess what! I was watering my remaining plants and discovered that Margaret had put out new flowers! And one of them is even forming a strawberry. Apparently Margaret does not care about seasons. I'm very pleased that she's still alive because I managed to kill many plants in 2011.

First Meal of 2012

And finally, our first meal of 2012. I spent NYE in Vancouver and Py whipped this up the next day (I think we slept through breakfast). Sort-of-cioppino (but really fish soup). Delicious, and a nice, relatively healthy start to the year.