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Good basic hummus

I first had hummus when I was in junior high school.  My friend A. and her mother, who served many wonderful Armenian and Lebanese meals, introduced it to me as an after-school snack along with some fresh lavash.  I asked A. what the creamy looking dip was, with a layer of olive oil and a sprinkle of sumac or paprika (not sure which) on top.  She told me, “It’s ground chickpeas.”  Chickpeas, what’s that?  She then gave me this knowing look (as she’s apt to do😉 ) and said, “It’s good, just eat it.”  Later, her brother clarified that chickpeas were garbanzo beans.  I couldn’t believe these were garbanzo beans because the only time I’d ever eaten garbanzo beans were in the 3 bean salad out of a jar/can.  I’ve loved this creamy concoction of “ground chickpeas” ever since.

However, back then, I did not know that this dip had a name.  I didn’t know where you could buy it and I certainly had no idea how to make it myself!  The only time I got to enjoy this specialty was with my friend A.  So it wasn’t until many years later, in college, that I started seeing “hummus” on restaurant menus and in the stores and I got to enjoy it again.  Ever since I bought my food processor after college, I’ve been attempting to make my perfect hummus.

I’ve learned a few things since my early experiments with grainy hummus.  I know many people who have invested a small fortune in a Vitamix for the sole purpose of making a smooth hummus.  If you are one of those people who is thinking of making such an investment for that purpose, l am here to tell you that you don’t need a Vitamix to make a smooth hummus like this:

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Yes, you can make a smooth hummus with your food processor!  Yes, there is a secret.  The secret to a super smooth hummus is to warm your chickpeas (canned or freshly cooked) before putting them in your food processor!  If using canned chickpeas, heat them up in the microwave.  Or, my favorite method is to cook chickpeas in the slow cooker (see: Alton Brown’s slow cooker chickpeas) and use them immediately.  Be sure to add enough water to get the consistency you like.

Hummus
(adapted from Mark Bittman’s How to cook everything)

2 c. chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
Juice of one lemon
1/2 c. tahini
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1 clove garlic
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 Tbsp ground cumin
1/3 c water, or as needed

Blend all ingredients until smooth. Enjoy!

Bon appetit!

Disclaimer: I am a member of Amazon Associates.  This post contains links to Amazon.com and if you click on the link and purchase something, I get a few coins tossed my way.

I love to eat sticky rice, especially the kind wrapped in lotus or bamboo leaves.  The leaves impart a unique flavor to the rice which I really enjoy but it’s the sticky rice that I crave.  My Dad makes a deconstructed version of lotus wrapped rice without the leaf.  It’s one of my favorite comfort foods (I have many).  When I asked him for the recipe, he said he didn’t have one and that he just improvises.  I knew he would say that!  Thankfully, he gave me some guidelines and this is what we came up with.

stickyrice (Large) (4)
My Dad’s scattered sticky rice

2 c. sweet glutinous rice, soaked
3 Chinese sausages (lap cheung), sliced and julienned or diced
2 shallots, chopped
1 can chicken broth
1/2 can water
4 dried shiitake mushrooms (rehydrated and thinly sliced)
1 Tbsp. dried shrimp, chopped (optional)

Saute shallot, sausage, and shrimp in a pot until shallots are soft.  Pour liquids and rice into a pot and bring to a boil.  Lower the heat and stir.  After the liquids are absorbed, keep the lid on the pot until rice is cooked.*

*I am lazy so I tried making this using a rice cooker and it turned out even better!  I cannot cook rice on the stovetop for anything!  This is now my go-to meal when I don’t feel like cooking.😉

I think I will also try a version where I put the lotus leaves on the top and bottom of the pot to infuse the flavor into the rice.

Enjoy!  All the joys of sticky rice, without the hassle of wrapping and steaming.

Bon appetit!

I’m very happy that I managed to fit in our Chinese new year’s dinner during the middle of the traditional 2 week celebration instead of at the end or after.  Just in time to start anew and set new intentions for the year of the fire monkey!  Our friend J. joined us for dinner this year.  We wanted to wish her well before she set off on her spiritual journey to India!

cnymenuThe character of the fire monkey is described as “ambitious and adventurous, but irritable.”  I think that my dinner characterized the fire monkey well.😉

We started off dinner with something ambitious and adventurous, a Burmese tea leaf salad.  I’ve had an obsession with tea leaf salad ever since we visited Burma SuperStar in San Francisco 10 years ago.  I think it’s safe to say that most visitors, if not all, to Burma SuperStar are obsessed with this salad.  It took me 10 years to muster the courage to recreate this dish at home and I think I did a pretty good job.  Now, you’re probably wondering what the tea leaf salad has to do with Chinese new year.  Well, Chinese new year foods are symbolic and the tea leaf salad is my take on the Tray of Togetherness, a round tray with 8 compartments (8 symbolizes fortune) filled with candies, dried fruits, nuts, seeds, and other snacks (symbolizing sweetness) served during the new year.  It’s the equivalent to the perpetual bowl of nuts that you find displayed on coffee tables for guests and snacking, except this bowl is special for New Year’s.

The Tray of Togetherness symbolizes good luck and provides a sweet beginning to the new year! (Photo credit: Asian Inspirations)

I personally have never liked the offerings in a Togetherness Tray so you won’t find it among our Chinese New Year’s goodies.  But lo and behold, doesn’t the Burmese Tea Leaf salad look a little like a Togetherness Tray?:)

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Burmese tea leaf togetherness salad!

Tea leaf salad

Arrange the following ingredients on a plate as above
(I use an equal ratio for all ingredients except I double the cabbage):

Chopped cabbage or romaine lettuce
Chopped tomatoes
Toasted (split and peeled) yellow mung beans
Fried garlic
Fried onion (optional, this is my addition)
Sunflower seeds
Chopped or whole roasted unsalted peanuts
Toasted white and/or black sesame seeds
Fermented tea leaves (in the middle) (recipe below)

The fun part about eating this salad is the assembly.  Serve the salad as above with lemon halves and vegetarian fish sauce or light soy sauce on the side.  Guests will mix their own salad by adding a squeeze of lemon and a spoonful of vegetarian fish sauce.  Add additional lemon and fish sauce to taste.  Because the salad has crunchy components, it’s best to dress it right before eating.

Fermented tea leaves
(unfortunately, fermented tea leaves are nearly impossible to buy here)

1/2 c. organic loose green tea leaves
Juice  of 1 lemon
3 cloves garlic
1 Tbsp. fresh ginger
1 tsp. galangal
1 Tbsp. sesame oil
1 Tbsp. peanut oil
pinch of salt

Soak tea leaves in hot water (not boiling) for 10 minutes.  Drain and rinse.  Soak green tea leaves in cold water for 1 hour, then drain and rinse again.  Squeeze out any excess liquid.

In a food processor, add tea leaves and all other ingredients until well chopped and mixed.  Store in an airtight glass container at room temperature, out of direct sunlight, for two days.  Once fermented, store leftover tea leaves in the refrigerator.  If you don’t want to ferment the leaves, just store in the refrigerator right away.

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Mix all the ingredients to create this yummy togetherness!😉

Though Hot and Sour Soup is not a traditional new year’s food, soup is.  We really like this soup and felt the ingredients were appropriate for the new year (e.g., bamboo shoots for a new start, tofu for wealth and happiness, mushrooms for longevity, and scallions/cilantro (green) for money).

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Hot and sour soup

I haven’t found a favorite hot and sour soup recipe yet but here’s my basic recipe compiled from various sources.  See my vegetarian/vegan version too:

Henni’s hot and sour soup

8 cups chicken or pork stock
1 block of firm tofu, small dice
1/3 c. julienne bamboo shoots
1/4 c. thinly sliced shiitake mushrooms
1/4 c. thinly sliced wood’s ear
1/4 c. shredded chicken or pork (optional)
1 small potato, diced (optional)
2 dried red chiles
1/4 c. cornstarch dissolved in 1/4 c. water
3 Tbsp. white vinegar
1 Tbsp. soy sauce
1 tsp. sesame oil
1/2-1 tsp. white pepper
pinch of sugar
more salt to taste
2 eggs (egg whites work too)
Chopped scallions and cilantro to garnish

Bring stock to a boil, add tofu, bamboo shoots, mushrooms, potatoes, and chiles into the stock.  Cook until potatoes are tender (10 mins.).  Add cornstarch mixture, vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil, white pepper, sugar and salt (if using) to the soup.  Heat until slightly thickened.  Mix eggs well in a bowl.  Pour the eggs in a thin stream into the boiling soup and stir.  Soup is ready to serve!

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D.’s army of dumplings!

What is Chinese new year without dumplings (jiaozi) that resemble gold ingots for wealth?  This year, we had vegetarian (chives, carrots, cabbage, mushrooms) and meat (ground turkey and chives) dumplings.   We were “ambitious” this year and prepared them 3 ways: steamed, boiled, AND pan-fried!  J. said she liked the steamed ones best.  My favorite are still the potstickers.:) Unfortunately, the meat dumplings were overcooked and some of the steamed ones stuck to the steamer, thanks to the “irritable” fire monkey.😉

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D. set the new year’s table!

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Meat dumplings in the yellow wrappers and vegetable dumplings in the spinach wrappers (vegetable filling recipe from one of my favorite blogs, the Woks of Life)

And of course, there are the requisite noodles for long life!  I made Ants Climbing a Tree, one of my favorite Sichuan noodle dishes because glass noodles (also known as silver threads or silver chain) also symbolize … wealth, of course.  The noodles were very, very long which is auspicious but difficult to serve and eat (thank you again, fire monkey).  We were so busy enjoying the dumplings that by the time we got to the noodles, all the sauce had already been absorbed.  This dish was “irritable” in those respects but yummy still the same.

Ants climbing a tree

Ants climbing a tree

For dessert, we had 2 sweet offerings in order to promote as much sweetness as possible in the new year!  Since J. and I are both big fans of mochi, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to make not one but two glutinous rice desserts!  The first dessert was tangyuan (literally Soup balls or Soup rounds, named for the disc shaped dumplings) and they symbolize completeness and togetherness.  I didn’t like tangyuan when I was younger.  It was a bland, chewy rice ball swimming in water.  They were fun to make but not pleasant to eat.  Now that I’m an adult (although that is debatable …) I decided to revisit the idea of tangyuan after encountering some interesting modern variations online such as this peanut butter filled version in honeyed green tea from Lady and Pups.  I also spied a black sesame filled version from the Woks of Life.  Don’t they sound crazy good?

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Peanut Butter Sticky Rice Balls in Green Tea from yet another one of my favorite blogs, Lady and Pups

And last but not least, we have New Year’s cake (or literally, Year cake).  New Year’s cake (nian gao) is a quintessential Chinese New Year dish that is similar to Japanese mochi.  Nian gao can also refer to sticky rice cakes which are prepared in savory dishes.  The name “nian gao” is a homophone, as are the names for many Chinese New Year dishes.  “Nian” can mean “year” or “sticky” and “gao” can mean “high/tall” or “cake.”  When you put it together, you have something that translates loosely to “Reach taller heights in the new year.”  The Chinese language is full of homophones (words that sound the same) which makes for great puns and double meanings.  I think the names and symbolism of New Year’s foods and ingredients are my favorite part of Chinese new year!  Check out this Chinese studies student’s article on his Top 9 funniest Chinese homophones and you’ll see what I mean.

Nian gao

Nian gao

Chinese new year’s cake (Nian gao)
(Traditional nian gao is steamed but here is a baked vegan version)

1 pound glutinous rice flour (such as Mochiko)
1½ cups coconut milk
1½ cups unsweetened almond or other non-dairy milk
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ cup neutral tasting oil (e.g., canola, veg, grapeseed, etc.)
1 teaspoon almond or vanilla extract

1 cup chopped nuts (almonds, walnuts), flaked coconut, and/or untoasted black and white sesame seeds

Mix together coconut milk, milk, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and oil in a large mixing bowl. Whisk in rice flour until smooth and no lumps.  Sprinkle nuts, coconut, and/or sesame seeds on top.  Pour into a parchment paper lined 13 x 9 pan.

Bake for 1 hour at 325 degrees.  Bake an additional 5-10 mins. if knife inserted doesn’t come out clean.  Let cool. Cut into squares or diamond shapes.

For the red bean variation, pour half of the batter into a 13 x 9 pan, add a layer of red bean paste or red beans (canned), and top with the other half of batter.

Gung Hay Fat Choy!  Wishing everyone much joy, happiness, peace, prosperity, fortune, good health, and adventures in the new year!  (and happy travels to J.!)

Happy Christmas 2015!

After our Feast of the Seven Fishes last night, we don’t have room in our tummies for much more.  But it’s Christmas, and there IS much more!

Here are some goodies we couldn’t do without at the holidays:

Cookies: D. and I made a ton of cookies this holiday: chocolate chip oatmeal cookies, vegan chocolate chip cookies, shortbread, and cut-out sugar cookies.

These are the newest cut-out sugar cookies from my collection, made from a reindeer cookie cutter from Pentik (gift from my friend, T.).  Pentik is an international interior design retailer based in Finland.  Pentik is the equivalent of Crate and Barrel in the US.

Pentik reindeer cookie cutter

Pentik reindeer cookies

As American as apple pie … This year, there was a pie crust malfunction so the apple pie became an apple crisp instead.  E. says. ,to all you pie makers out there, do not use Trader Joe’s AP unbleached flour for making your pie crusts!  Judging by the pie dough, Trader Joe’s flour lacks the gluten needed to hold a pie dough together.  But hey, an apple crisp is good too!

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GrannySmith and Golden delicious

Bûche de Noël: And, last but not least, my favorite thing to make at Christmas is the yule log!  Last year, I hinted that I had a new idea for the bûche de Noël.  Let me present to you, the Stump de Noël!  What do you think?

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I was lazy this year and made the forest “mushrooms” from white fondant instead of meringue.  Like previous years, I used matcha powder for the moss.

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I love this new version of bûche de Noël because I can use my favorite cake and frosting recipe!  It’s also very forgiving because the messier it is, the more authentic it looks.:) No more finicky sponge cakes!

Happy Christmas and bon appetit!

Feast of the Seven Fishes

After my sister remarked that our Thanksgiving table looked the same every year, we decided to do away with the turkey and do something different for our Christmas dinner this year.  She mentioned that she had been dying to try Thomas Keller’s recipe for Moules au Safron et à la Moutarde for a while and felt that Christmas would be the perfect opportunity to indulge in something special.  How about a potluck style seafood and vegetarian dinner, with everyone contributing at least one dish?:)

As we started planning the dinner, we realized that we didn’t want to do our shopping too far in advance because we wanted our seafood as fresh as possible.  My sister suggested doing the dinner on Christmas Eve so we could shop on the 23rd without worrying about certain stores being closed on Christmas Eve.  When I mentioned our Christmas Eve dinner plans to my friend, N., she remarked, “Oh, that’s what the Italians do!  Feast of the seven fishes!  And the dinner is held on Christmas Eve.”  And there I thought we had hatched a new original Christmas dinner tradition!😉 Thank you, Italy!

Feast of the seven fishes

Our Feast of the Seven Fishes

In a nutshell, the Feast of the Seven Fishes (Festa dei sette pesci) also known as The Vigil (La Vigilia) is an Italian celebration of Christmas Eve with a meal consisting of 7 different seafood dishes.  The tradition originates from Southern Italy and celebrates the wait, the Vigilia di Natale, for the midnight birth of the baby Jesus.  The Catholic tradition of abstinence (no eating meat, though fish is allowed) on certain holy days is the inspiration behind the Feast of the Seven Fishes.

Salmon chowder

1st course: Salmon chowder by Henni

In hindsight, a chowder was too heavy for a 1st course.  I will have to keep that in mind for next year, if we decide to do this again!

Salmon chowder
From Gourmet magazine, June 2007

1/2 pound red potatoes, diced
1/2 pound sliced bacon, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-wide strips
2 cups chopped scallions (from 2 bunches)
1 cup fresh or frozen corn
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic (3 cloves)
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme
1 Turkish or 1/2 California bay leaf
1/8 teaspoon dried hot red-pepper flakes
3 cups whole milk
2/3 cup heavy cream
1 (1 1/2-pound) piece salmon fillet (preferably wild), skin discarded and fish cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 teaspoon salt (I found this to be optional)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

  1. Cut potatoes into 1/2-inch cubes, then cook in a 1- to 1 1/2-quart heavy saucepan of boiling salted water until just tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain in a colander and set aside.
  2. Cook bacon in a 5-quart heavy pot over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until crisp, about 8 minutes. Transfer with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons fat from pot, then cook scallions, corn, garlic, thyme, bay leaf, and red-pepper flakes in fat in pot over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until scallions are tender, about 5 minutes. Add milk and cream and bring just to a boil. Reduce heat to moderately low, then add potatoes, salmon, bacon, salt, and pepper and cook, gently stirring occasionally, until salmon is just cooked through and begins to break up as you stir, 5 to 8 minutes. Stir in lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste. Discard bay leaf before serving.
D.'s special roast potatoes with secret seasoning, garlic, and Parmesan

2nd course: D.’s roast potatoes

D.’s roast potatoes with secret seasoning, garlic, and Parmesan are famous in our household.  I’m not allowed to post the recipe here but you can always try to ask him nicely for the recipe.  However, I don’t make any guarantees that he will comply with your request! :-p

E.'s stir fried kale

3rd course: E.’s stir fried kale

‘Tis the season for kale!  Stir fried kale with a bit of broth, garlic, and red pepper flakes.  It’s a good accompaniment for seafood.

L.'s lemonade israeli couscous

4th course: Lemonade’s Israeli couscous by L.

This was a great side dish/carb with lots of yummy mushrooms (L. used shitake and cremini)!  Instead of Israeli couscous (aka pearl couscous), you can also use fergola (a Sardinian pasta) or grain such as farro or wheat berries.

Israeli Couscous with Lemon-Truffle Vinaigrette
(From The Lemonade Cookbook)

3/4 pound assorted wild mushrooms, such as crimini, shiitake and oyster, wiped of grit, stemmed and sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
Coarse salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup Israeli couscous
1 cup vegetable broth or water
1/4 cup Lemon-Truffle Vinaigrette (See recipe below)
1/2 cup shaved Parmesan cheese (optional)
1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

2. Put the mushrooms on a large baking pan, drizzle with the oil, toss to coat, and spread out in a single layer. Season generously with salt and pepper. Roast, shaking the pan from time to time, until the mushrooms lose their moisture, shrink, and begin to brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Transfer the mushrooms to a mixing bowl, and set aside to cool. The mushrooms can easily be prepared in advance, covered and refrigerated.

3. To prepare the couscous, place a large dry skillet over medium-low heat. Toast the couscous, stirring frequently, until it smells nutty and is golden-brown, about 5 minutes. Pour in the broth, cover, and simmer until the couscous is just tender, 10 to 12 minutes. Set the couscous aside to cool. The couscous can easily be prepared in advance, covered and refrigerated.

4. When ready to prepare the dish, in a large mixing bowl, combine the cooked, cooled mushrooms, couscous, vinaigrette, cheese and parsley. Season with salt and pepper, and toss to combine. Makes 4 cups.

Lemon-Truffle Vinaigrette

Simply omit the truffle oil for an all-purpose Lemon Vinaigrette.

Juice of 2 lemons
3/4 cup canola oil
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon white truffle oil
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

1. In a small mixing bowl or Mason jar, combine the lemon juice, canola, olive and truffle oils; season with salt and pepper. Whisk or shake to blend.

2. Keep any leftover vinaigrette covered in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. Makes 1 cup.

My Dad's salmon cakes

5th course: Salmon cakes by my Mom and Dad

My parents made 2 types of salmon cakes: OG and Chinese black bean and garlic.  The OG (original) style salmon cakes were from a recipe originally inspired by Bobby Flay.  The Chinese black bean and garlic version is based on the Bobby Flay recipe.  My Dad and sister kept talking about THE OG salmon recipe and I had no idea what they were talking about!  Apparently my family started making salmon cakes when I went away to college and it became part of our family recipe repertoire.  I won’t tell you how long I’ve been out of college but I’ve never eaten these OG salmon cakes before!  Then I remembered that I did not acquire a taste for salmon until after college so that probably explains why it was never on the table whenever I visited home. :)  In any case, these were very good!  I know that my friend, N. would heartily approve!😉

    6th course: Mussels with Saffron and Mustard (Moules au Safron et à la Moutarde) made by E.  Recipe from Bouchon

6th course: Mussels with Saffron and Mustard (Moules au Safron et à la Moutarde) made by E. Recipe from Bouchon

Of course, you can’t have moules without frites!  Here are D.’s famous oven baked frites, which are so good that they are a meal in themselves:

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6th course continued: D.’s oven baked frites

Spicy fish in chili oil

7th course: Sichuan water boiled fish in chili oil (tilapia) by Henni

Dessert: Cranberry, caramel, and almond tart by L.

Dessert: Cranberry, caramel, and almond tart by L.

When I asked L. the inspiration behind her choice for such a festive dessert, she replied that she wanted to use up the frozen cranberries she had left over from Thanksgiving! :-D  Well, this “afterthought” was a tart with cranberries and slivered almonds swimming in an ocean of caramel in a pate sucrée crust (similar to shortbread).  Topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, this tart turned out to be the all-in-one dessert that had it all: sweet, tart, crunchy, gooey, cookie, and pie rolled into one!

Cranberry, caramel, and almond tart
(From the LA Times)

Standard tart dough

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Let the butter sit at room temperature for 15 minutes, until malleable.

2. Place the powdered sugar in the bowl of a standing mixer or a large free-standing bowl. Add the pieces of butter and toss to coat. Using a paddle attachment with a standing mixer, combine the sugar and butter at medium speed, until the sugar is no longer visible.

3. Add the egg yolk and combine until no longer visible.

4. Scrape down the butter off the sides of the bowl. Add half of the flour, then begin mixing again until the dough is crumbly. Add the remaining flour and then the cream and mix until the dough forms a somewhat sticky mass.

5. Flatten the dough into a thick pancake, wrap it in plastic and refrigerate at least 2 hours before preparing to roll out the dough.

6. Lightly butter a 9-inch pastry ring or fluted tart pan and place it on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a nonstick Silpat pad.

7. Once the dough has thoroughly chilled, cut it in half, then cut each piece in half lengthwise. Rotate the dough 90 degrees and repeat, until you have 16 equal pieces. Sprinkle your work surface with a thin layer of flour. Knead the pieces of dough together until it forms one new mass and shape it into a flattened ball. Flour a rolling pin and sprinkle flour again on the work surface underneath the dough. Roll out the dough into a circle one-eighth-inch thick.

8. Dock the dough with a pastry docker or prick the dough all over with a fork. Transfer the dough into the ring or tart pan by rolling about a third of it around your rolling pin, lifting it and placing it into the ring. Gently pat the dough onto the bottom and up the sides of the ring. Trim the edges so that they are flush with the top. Put the baking sheet with the ring into the freezer for one hour. Bake 15 to 20 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from the oven and let cool to room temperature before filling.

Filling and assembly

1 1/4 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into eight pieces
1 cup granulated sugar
1 3/4 cup frozen cranberries
2 cups unblanched sliced almonds

1. Measure the cream and butter into a saucepan and heat it over low heat. When the butter has melted completely, turn off the heat.

2. To make the caramel, spread the sugar evenly in a perfectly dry 10-inch deep skillet and place it over medium-low heat.

3. The sugar should turn straw-colored, then gold and then a nutty-brown caramel after about 10 minutes. (If the caramel cooks unevenly, gently tilt or swirl the pan so that the sugar is evenly distributed.) Remove it from the heat and slowly whisk in the cream and butter. Be extremely careful about the sugar, which can splatter as the cream is added (long sleeves are a good precaution). If the caramel seizes, return it to the heat and continue to stir until it is smooth and creamy. Strain the caramel into a bowl and cool it for 30 minutes.

4. Stir the frozen cranberries and the almonds into the caramel and mix until all the fruit and nuts are coated. Spoon the filling into the partially baked tart dough mounding toward the center.

5. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until juices and the caramel are bubbling slowly around the edges. Remove from the oven and let stand for one hour, then gently lift the tart ring off the pastry.

6. Carefully transfer the tart to a serving platter. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Overall, I think we did very well and made way too much food (yes, a real feast!).  We didn’t quite have 7 seafood dishes but we did manage to create 7 courses plus dessert, including some Italian influenced dishes!  We wanted our dishes to be a bit of a surprise so we didn’t do much group planning and ended up with 2 salmon dishes.  We might want to plan a little better next year so we don’t end up with 7 shrimp dishes! ;)  I really enjoyed this dinner because I had so many ideas.  In fact, I had to save a few of my ideas for next year.

I hope that everyone had a wonderful holiday!  Buon Natale!  Happy Christmas!

Disclaimer: I am a member of Amazon Associates.  This post contains links to Amazon.com and if you click on the link and purchase something, I get a few coins tossed my way.

Thanksgiving 2015

My sister commented that our Thanksgiving table looks the same every year.  That was news to me so I decided to look up our past Thanksgiving dinners.  To my amusement, she was right!  Though the season ends up dictating my choice of veggies for the side dishes, I like to try new recipes or add a little something different to them.  For example, I made my usual scalloped potatoes but added nutritional yeast to give the dish a salty, cheesy flavor without added salt or cheese.

ust right I made my usual scalloped potatoes but added a special ingredient: nutritional yeast

This year, I dressed the table with napkin folded “turkeys” to match the dishes

We always roast a turkey at Thanksgiving but, to our chagrin, it’s difficult to roast a turkey properly due to its size and varying oven properties.  This year, we roasted a 22 lb. bird (pretty big!) at 425 F for 1 hour, breast side down, and then breast side up at 325 F degrees convection for 3 hours.  The legs were cooked too well on top and undercooked on the undersides.  The white meat was cooked just right.  Last year, we roasted the turkey at 300 F degrees convection for 4 hours.  Again, there were parts done just right (dark meat) and others overcooked (white meat).  The quest for the perfectly roasted turkey continues, but perhaps we just need to do away with the turkey altogether and make a turkey cake instead! ;)  The author of the blog, How to cake it, was kind enough to give me permission to link to her how-to video here so check it out!  What do you think?  … Wouldn’t it be a great opportunity to wow your guests with your cake making skills and save the planet at the same time?  A turkey cake not only looks better than the real thing but also tastes delicious and can be made to please both carnivores and vegetarians alike.  And you will be able to shoot 2 birds with one stone (pun intended) since this turkey cake will take care of both the turkey and dessert courses!😉 Pretty cool, huh?  It’s certainly something to think about, especially if you can’t roast a turkey properly (I know I can’t!) and your Thanksgiving table seems incomplete without the presence of the iconic roast turkey that is synonymous with American Thanksgiving.

Or maybe try something completely different, like our friends JL and JC who made a biryani stuffed pumpkin!

Biryani stuffed pumpkin (photo by JC)

Isn’t it gorgeous?  Biryani stuffed pumpkin (Photo by JC)

Photo by JC

Slicing into the stuffed pumpkin–as good as cake! :) (Photo by JC)

I really wanted to serve Brussels sprouts this year but I had a difficult time locating a good source.  I decided to go with root vegetables (again! but heck, we have them only once a year!) and spaghetti squash.

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Asian style spaghetti squash with sauteed garlic, onion, red chili flakes, soy sauce, sesame oil, and fried onions!

We really like the root vegetable slaw because it keeps well in the fridge for several days (even after dressed) and it’s the ideal filling for leftover turkey banh mi sandwiches.

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Root vegetable slaw (shredded rutabaga, turnip, butternut squash, cabbage, cilantro, green onions) with warm maple Dijon dressing

Warm maple Dijon dressing
(Adapted from Eating Well)

1/4 cup cider vinegar
2 Tbsp. maple syrup
1Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
1/2 thyme leaves (optional)
Salt & freshly ground pepper, to taste

Whisk ingredients together and warm in a saucepan.  For best flavor, make ahead the night before and re-warm it before serving.

Like my scalloped potatoes, my Dad’s cranberry sauce is an essential part of our Thanksgiving table.  He makes subtle changes to it every year.  In the past, he had added ginger, cilantro, or mandarin oranges.  This year, he added fresh cranberries instead of canned ones which imparted a tart zing which I really liked.

For dessert, E. made 3 pies …

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Pecan pie: It’s one of those pies that I’m not sure whether I like or not.  I’ve had good ones and bad ones.  This one was the best I’ve had.  It had a strong caramel flavor and the texture was almost right.  I liked the sticky caramelized edges near the crust.

Apple pies with granny Smith and golden delicious apples (the combination was very apple-y), and another with Braeburn and pippin (this combination is very floral and little tart). I really liked them both.

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Hope that you and your families had a happy Thanksgiving!

New taco salad

I live on salads during the summer because it’s too hot to cook.  I’m also always on the lookout for something new.

I remember taco salads being very popular when I was a kid but I don’t see them much anymore.  The best part of the taco salad was the big edible fried tortilla bowl … but let’s not forget the lettuce greens, guacamole, sour cream, cheese, taco meat, and salsa too.  ;)  I was recently inspired to bring the concept of the taco salad back to our table after catering a taco bar lunch for 80 people and because D. often orders the California Bowl at Rubio’s (a plastic bowl containing rice, black beans, guacamole, salsa, lettuce, and a choice of protein: chicken, shrimp, or fish).  It’s such an easy concept–I can’t believe I didn’t think of making my own to-go lunch version!  It’s so versatile that I can have a different version everyday: Make it vegan, carb-free, gluten-free, sugar-free, or with meat, there’s a version for every mood and diet!  Move over Rubio’s, here comes something leaner (and better)! 😉

My version of the California Bowl starts with this:

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Henni’s taco seasoning

(adapted from Alton Brown’s Taco Potion #19)

2 Tbsp. chili powder
2 Tbsp. ground cumin
1 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1 1/2 tsp. onion powder
1 1/2 tsp. hot smoked paprika or paprika
1 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. chipotle pepper powder
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. oregano

Mix together and store in an airtight container up to 1 month.

To use, add 1 cup chopped onion, 1 Tbsp. taco seasoning, and 1/2 to 1 tsp. kosher salt (or to taste) to one pound of protein (e.g., beans, tofu, mushrooms, ground beef, ground turkey, chicken breast, etc.) when cooking.

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Henni’s California bowl
(inspired by D.’s cravings)

Recreating this California bowl (the new taco salad) for lunch to-go requires 2 containers (one small and one big) but it’s well worth the effort.  This can be prepared the night before.

In the big container, add any or all of the following, in this order (basically, add all wet ingredients to the bottom of your container and build delicate ingredients on top.  This way, the greens don’t get soggy):

Large container (salad)

Salsa
Sour cream or plain yogurt
Diced tomatoes
Corn kernels (frozen, canned, or fresh)
Diced green bell peppers
Chopped lettuce, spinach, and/or cabbage
Diced avocado or prepared guacamole
Sliced olives
Chopped red onion
Shredded cheese
Chopped cilantro
Lime wedge (optional)

Small container (rice and protein)

Your choice of rice (white, brown, plain, flavored, etc.)
Your choice of beans (black beans, refried beans, chickpeas, etc.)Your choice of protein seasoned with taco seasoning (recipe above) (chicken, ground turkey, ground beef, tofu)

You will heat up the small container of rice and protein at work.  If you are using something like grilled chicken, you can add it to the salad container if you prefer to eat it cold.  Add the heated rice and beans/protein to your salad.  Mix the salad to incorporate the wet ingredients at the bottom of your container, watch the cheese melt into your rice, and enjoy!  Add a squeeze of lime, if you like!  For a treat, pack some tortilla chips to go with your salad.

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Bon appetit!

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