Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Cantaloupe Almond Smoothie

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I guess cantaloupes are summer fruits, but I always end up getting more cantaloupes in the winter. Perhaps it's because there are less choices in the winter. Bill's not a fan of cantaloupes, but I love the fragrant, mellon-y sweetness. Back in Taiwan, I used to get smoothies made from all kinds of fruits--papaya, apple, even grapes. This cantaloupe smoothie reminds me of those drinks. It is healthy, yummy, and so pretty!

Cantaloupe Almond Smoothie
Makes 3 servings

1 cup cubed cantaloupe
1 cup almond milk
1 cup plain yogurt
4 tbsp honey

Blend cantaloupes, almond milk, yogurt and honey in a blender. Enjoy with an afternoon snack!

Alas, I still can't convince Bill to enjoy cantaloupes. But I will keep trying! If you like cantaloupes, you must try this!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Imitation Crab Cakes

I admit it. I like imitation crab. It might sound like heresy coming from someone who lived in South Carolina for a year, but imitation crab is not all that bad. In fact, we have this dish pretty frequently because it's ridiculously easy to make and it looks as good as it tastes. Plus, these are healthy because they're baked! Add some blue cheese for some zing.

Imitation Crab Cakes
Makes 9 cakes

6 oz imitation crab, in small chunks
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
1 large carrot, grated
1 scallion, chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 egg
3 tbsp Dijon mustard
1/2 tbsp dried dill
Salt & pepper
1 cup bread crumbs, divided
4 tbsp blue cheese (optional)
2 tbsp olive oil

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Mix imitation crab, celery, carrot, scallion, onion in a large bowl. Add the egg and mustard and stir. Season with dill, salt and pepper. Stir in half a cup of bread crumbs. Add blue cheese if desired.

Oil baking pan with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Form crab cakes and dip them in the remaining bread crumbs. Place on baking pans and drizzle with the remaining olive oil. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Serve with lemons and tartar sauce. Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Spicy Soft Pretzels

For those of you who always wanted to make soft pretzels...thanks to Martha Stewart's recipe, now you can! It's a simple recipe, especially if you have a stand mixer. If not, follow Martha's directions here.

These are addictive, tasty snacks. I think it's because of the cayenne. My adaptation is spicier. Martha recommends mustard dips. I like them sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar. You can make them savory or sweet!

Spicy Soft Pretzels
Makes 12 snack-sized pretzels

1/4 tsp coarse salt
2 tsp sugar
1 cup warm water
2 1/4 tsp quick rise yeast
3 cups bread flour
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tbsp butter, softened
3 tbsp baking soda

For seasoning:
1 tbsp coarse salt
1 tbsp butter, melted
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tbsp cinnamon sugar

Stir salt and sugar in 1 cup of warm water. Add yeast to a small bowl. Pour water into the bowl and wait five minutes until bubbling.

In a stand mixer, add flour and cayenne pepper, and stir. Add softened butter, and mix with a paddle mixer until incorporated. Add yeast mixture and mix until the dough comes together. Use a dough hook and mix for four minutes on medium speed. Form dough into a ball and put it in a large oiled bowl to rise. Takes about forty minutes to an hour to double.

Divide dough into 12 pieces. Form each piece into a boule and let the dough relax for ten minutes.

Roll each piece into an 18 inch rope, twist, and form into a pretzel shape.

Line two pans. Lightly brush with oil. You don't want to make the rookie mistake I made the first time of getting pretzels stuck on the pans.

They look nice, but it's a bad idea to not line the pans
Place on the sheets. They look small for now, but they get pretty big after the soda water treatment.

Let proof for twenty minutes in a warm room. They should look puffy. These are much spicier than Martha's--you can even see the cayenne in the dough.

Preheat the oven at 475 degrees. Boil half a pot of water in a large pot. Add baking soda. Boil pretzels in batches, one to two minutes per side. The pretzels double in size so keep the batches small.

Use a flat utensil with slots to lift the pretzels because any mark you leave will stay on when baking. Drain on a drying rack right side up until all pretzels are boiled.

The spoon lines are visible, but these pretzels are still delicious!

Sprinkle with coarse salt if you like them savory. Bake in the oven for 13-15 minutes (Rotate pans after 10 minutes has passed). I usually do half savory and half sweet, but I forgot to salt the pretzels before they went in the oven so the salt didn't stay on as well.

If you like cinnamon sugar pretzels, brush them with butter when they come out of the oven and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Serve these right away. There may not be any left but if you do have left overs, they are just as delicious reheated. You can even pop them in the toaster. They're the perfect size for a snack!

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Sunday, January 22, 2012

Happy Chinese New Year!

In the Chinese tradition, eight-treasure rice is eaten for happiness and being together. All the ingredients can be found at the Asian food market. "Eight" treasures means there are many ingredients, not necessarily eight. But eight is a lucky number. Most recipes include dates, signifying hopes for new additions to the family, which is another way to wish for family togetherness. Share this sweet dish with your immediate and extended family/friends. Happy Chinese New Year!

Eight-Treasure Sweet Rice

5 slices canned pineapple
1/4 cup dried fruit, such as raisins, pineapples, dates, lotus seeds
25 dried pitted dates, reconstituted with water
2 cups sweet rice, cooked
1 cup sweetened red bean paste

Arrange one layer of half pineapple slices and dried fruits in a large steam-proof bowl. Layer on half of the sweet rice. Add a layer of  red bean paste, then the rest of the sweet rice. Steam for half an hour in the rice cooker.

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Saturday, January 21, 2012

Turkey Meatball Sandwich

Some things seem difficult until you actually do them. For me, having a pet is one. Now I have two cats. Cooking is another. I like taking on a challenge, but I'm still intimidated by recipes with a long list of ingredients. Making meatballs always seem magic to me. How do they taste so good??

Answer: lots of herbs. Don't mix too much. Just the right amount of bread crumbs so it holds together, but not too dry.

Now that I've made them a couple times, I realized it's simple enough to throw together for a weekday dinner. Get all the ingredients together. Mix in a bowl. Coat it with bread crumbs (this makes a nice crunch that my husband loves). Bake. Done.

But you gotta have good sauce. I love marinara sauce. I'm still experimenting, but this easy marinara sauce is pretty good. Scoop a big heap of it on the meatballs.

Add some grilled mushrooms.

Top it off with cheese. Don't forget the cheese.

Broil in the oven for two minutes or until melted. Add the top back on.

Turkey Meatballs
Makes 15 meatballs

1/2 lb ground turkey
1/2 cup frozen chopped spinach, defrosted
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
1 egg
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/2 cup bread crumbs, divided
2 tbsp olive oil. 

Mix ground turkey, spinach, Parmesan, egg, and spices in a large bowl. Add 1/4 cup of bread crumbs and mix. Make 15 golf ball sized meatballs. Roll each meatball in the remaining bread crumbs. Drizzle 1 tbsp of olive oil on a baking pan. Place the meatballs in the pan. Drizzle the remaining olive oil on top of the meatballs. Bake for 40 minutes at 350 degrees.

Easy Marinara Sauce
Makes 1 1/2 cups 

2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
14.5 oz (1 can) diced tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp basil
Salt & pepper

Heat olive oil in a medium sauce pan. Add onion and garlic and cook for three minutes, or until softened. Add diced tomatoes and tomato paste. Mix in oregano and basil. Cook on medium low for thirty minutes. Stir occasionally. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Turkey Meatball Sandwiches
Makes 4 sandwiches

4 large dinner rolls
1 1/2 cup Easy Marinara Sauce
4 turkey meatballs
4 button mushrooms, sliced and grilled
4 slices provolone cheese

Assemble sandwich: cut roll into half. Add a spoonful of marinara sauce. Then stack the sandwich with meatballs, more marinara sauce, mushrooms, and cheese. Broil in the oven for two minutes or until cheese melted. Put the other half of the roll on top.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Friday Flashback: Animal Tracks

A week of light snow in Upstate New York has been really exciting. It set the mood for our snowboarding day we've planned with Bill's sister. I've never snowboarded on the east coast, and it's kind of different, especially because most of the snow was machine made. Bill's sister never skied before, so she took lessons and really made some impressive progress. We all left exhausted, having had the best of times, with bruises to show for it. Afterwards, we had some hot cocoa and eggnog. Dumplings for dinner.

Doesn't this picture make you want a cup of hot cocoa or tea?

The morning of the first snow, I took some pictures around the area and got some interesting duck track pictures. So I thought I could have a round up of animal tracks we've seen and photographed so far. Most of them were in Alaska, as you would imagine.

Matanuska Glacier State Park, Alaska, Winter 2009, Moose Tracks

Denali State Park, Alaska, Summer 2009, Bear Track

Denali State Park, Alaska, Summer 2009, Wolf Track

Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, Summer 2010, Caribou Track

New York State, Winter 2012, Mallard Duck Tracks

Some ducks walked all the way across the pond.

We saw some pretty awesome animals in the wild during our stay in Alaska. If you ever considered taking a trip to Alaska, you should do it.

Maybe we'll get to add a few more to the list in the future. Perhaps a kangaroo or a koala?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Easy Spring Rolls

I'm on a roll with carrots. ;) Last weekend, we had these carrot cake cupcakes after a dinner party. For the appetizer, we had spring rolls with lots of carrots, cilantro, and bean sprouts. It's the healthiest dish in the world, if not for the dipping sauce.

The ingredients are all sold at the Asian grocery market, or even at your local grocery store. (If Alaska's grocery stores have them, you would think surely upstate New York would too. No so.)

The hardest part is getting the rice paper to not stick to itself. I've tried dipping it in a pot of water, but it's very difficult to unfold it. Then I tried adding a small amount of warm water to a plate before placing a sheet of dry rice paper on the plate. Add some water on top of the rice paper and wait a minute or so for it to soften. This technique is much easier to keep the rice paper in check, but rolling is still an art that I've not yet mastered.

Easy Spring Rolls
Makes 10 spring rolls

20 cooked and peeled shrimp
1 cup (1 pack) vermicelli (green bean noodles)
10 rice paper
2 cups mung bean (green bean) sprouts
2 cups cilantro
1 cup thin carrot sticks
Spring roll sauce for dipping
Lime slices for serving

Cook vermicelli noodles in boiling water for two minutes. Prepare softened rice paper on a plate. Add bean sprouts, cilantro, and carrots towards the bottom of the rice paper. place two shrimps on top. Fold in the sides, and tightly roll up the rice paper. Cut in the middle for serving. Serve with lime slices and spring roll sauce.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Carrot Cake Cupcakes With Walnuts

This is a deliciously moist cake. Healthy without the frosting, decadent with it. I'm still in love with my Orange Chocolate Dream Cupcakes, so there's more orange zest in the frosting. I love the different textures between the fluffy cake, soft carrots, and crunchy walnuts.

Carrot Cake Cupcakes With Walnuts
Adapted from flour
Makes 15 cupcakes

2 eggs
1 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup canola oil
1 tbsp sour cream
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup plus 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
2 cups shredded carrots
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

8 oz cream cheese, softened
6 tbsp butter, softened
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
zest from 1 orange

Beat the eggs and brown sugar in a stand mixer until light and thick. Mix in the oil, sour cream, and vanilla extract. In a small bowl, mix together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and ginger. Stir into the egg mixture in three batches. Stir in the carrot and walnuts. Pour into cupcake liners and bake for 35 minutes at 350 degrees, or until a toothpick comes out clean from the center of the cupcake. Let cool on a wire rack.

Beat cream cheese and butter with the powdered sugar. Add the orange zest. Frost each cupcake generously. There's a LOT of frosting to go around.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Winter Lager Beef Stew

As snow covered upstate New York, I craved this satisfying and soul warming beef stew.

Chopping vegetables is easy and fun now with a never-dull ceramic knife, thanks to my thoughtful husband.

It doesn't hurt that beer is involved either.

Winter Lager Beef Stew

1 tbsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, smashed
1 lb. stew beef
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 carrot, sliced
1 celery, chopped
3 small potatoes, chopped
1 onion, quartered
1 tomato, chopped
15 cherry tomatoes
1 bottle Samuel Adams Winter Lager
2 cups water
15 whole black peppercorn
1 bay leaf
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp salt
3 tbsp flour

Heat the oil on medium high heat. Add garlic and beef. When beef is half browned, add the Worcestershire sauce. Stir until beef is browned, about five minutes. Add beef to a crock pot. Add the remaining ingredients except the flour. Mix and cook on high for 5 hours or low all day. Mix occasionally. Scoop a cup of soup out. Add the flour and stir. Mix it back in the stew. It smells as wonderful as it tastes!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Orange Chocolate Dream Cupcakes

Did I say Dream? I meant Cream for the sour cream in this recipe! But they're my dream cupcakes. These are the most delicious, fluffy, light, and everything cupcakes. All the other cupcakes I've ever made seemed dry and dense and overly sweet in comparison. Slightly adapted from Lemon Cream Cupcakes.

Orange Chocolate Cream Cupcakes
Makes 12 cupcakes

1/3 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup dark cocoa powder
3/4 cup sour cream

2 1/2 tbsp butter, softened (rest of the stick)
3/4 cup confectioner's sugar
zest of half an orange
1/8 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 to 2 tsp milk
Demerara sugar for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream butter with sugar. Beat in the egg and vanilla. In a separate bowl, stir flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and dark cocoa powder. In separate batches, add the flour mixture into the butter mixture and mix. Mix in the sour cream. Fill each cupcake liner with batter two-thirds to the top. I used silicon ones because they're usable. Save the environment! Bake for 25 minutes. Cool on wire rack before frosting.

While cupcakes are cooling, make the frosting. Cream butter with sugar. Add the orange zest and vanilla. Whisk in the milk until frosting reaches desired consistency. Spread on each cupcake and sprinkle with sugar. The frosting is very sweet and fragrant with orange zests, which balances out the smooth and dark chocolate cake. These cupcakes are very lightly frosted, and they're good this way. Very very good.

I can't wait to bake another batch. If you like orange, or chocolate, or chocolate oranges, you must try these!

Monday, January 9, 2012

White Chocolate Strawberry Whipped Cream Cake

I finally get to share this cake! I've been saving it for a good day but I just can't wait any longer. So I'm just going to share it because it's a Monday. Happy Monday everybody!

It's one of my best cakes yet, and the first one since I started this blog. Last year for Christmas, I received this cookbook, All Cakes Considered, just in time for my stepfather's birthday on New Year's Eve. The first recipe I made there was the Red Velvet Cake. This year, I decided to make the whipped cream cake for his birthday gathering because I've always wanted to decorate a cake with white chocolate flakes. It was light, creamy and not too sweet. The best part was that everybody was at our apartment to enjoy it with us. 

There are some things to be improved on. Perhaps it was a little dry because the cream had been whipped too much. The second layer has some coffee, but it's not as good as the plain layer.

White Chocolate Strawberry Whipped Cream Cake
Adapted from All Cakes Considered

1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
2 eggs
2 cup whipping cream, separated
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup powdered sugar
2 tbsp strawberry jam
4 oz white chocolate shavings
About 15 strawberries

Line and grease two 8-inch round cake pans. Mix flour, salt, and baking powder together. Set eggs out in a medium bowl until they're at room temperature. Whisk until light and lemon-colored. Whisk 1 cup of whipping cream in a large bowl when soft peaks form. Mix in the eggs and vanilla and whisk until light as foam. Mix in the sugar. Sift in flour mixture in three batches and fold in. Pour mixture into cake pans. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes.

Remove cakes from pans and let cool. Whisk the remaining cup of cream until soft peaks form. Add powdered sugar and whisk until stiff peaks form. Spread the jam on the bottom layer. Then spread half of the cream evenly. Add the top layer and spread the remaining icing on the top and the sides. Decorate with strawberries on the side. 

Top with white chocolate shavings. I was using a cheese grater to shave my white chocolate. Then my talented sister arrived and showed me how to make chocolate curls using a vegetable peeler. Technique really is everything.

Refrigerate immediately! It can be served right away or after half--even a whole--day in the fridge. I think it tastes even better 24 hours later. Here's to many more birthdays for me to practice cake decorating!