June 29, 2011

Watermelon granita

I love eating watermelon throughout the summer.  It's such a refreshing treat for those hot, sweltering days that are just around the corner.  My favorite way to have it is just as it is, cut up into chunks and ice-cold.  But I thought I'd change it up and try something new by making watermelon granita.  I've been wanting to try making a granita at home because it reminds me of my other favorite summertime treat, Italian ice!
Living in Brooklyn as a child, there seemed to be a pizzeria around every corner (maybe more than one, actually).  I remember going for pizza with my friends after school all the time and all these pizzerias would have a little window off to the side where they'd sell Italian ice (I've always called it "Italian icy" for some reason) during the summer.  I loved getting the Italian ices.  My favorite flavors were cherry, chocolate, lemon, and rainbow - I guess I pretty much liked them all!  And you'd get them in one of those little paper cups and worry that the paper would disintegrate before you get a chance to finish.  But who are we kidding - it takes but 2 to 3 minutes to polish one off.  That taste of a cherry Italian ice brings me right back to Brooklyn, to being a kid, and of summer.
A granita is probably the closest way I can get to a homemade "Italian ice" without any equipment.  Where Italian ice is smooth, a granita is more like shaved ice and chunky in texture.  Both are refreshing and a nice dessert for the hot summer days.  So until you can get to your local pizzeria or ice cream/Italian ice shop, you can make and enjoy a nice icy granita at home.

June 27, 2011

Good morning

How do you start your morning?  We all have certain habits when it comes to our morning routine but I bet breakfast depends, in part, on your schedule for the day.  A leisurely breakfast is probably reserved for a lazy Sunday morning (though even those seem to be rare and we basically have to schedule them) or for days when we can hit up our favorite local diner.
I never miss breakfast.  Since I love to eat so much, I look forward to waking up so I can have my first meal of the day.  It's no joke.  The meal doesn't have to be elaborate.  In fact, it usually isn't.  Occasionally, you may find me at the local coffee shop ordering my favorite coffee drink and a breakfast sandwich.  At home, it's probably a cup of tea and generally something quick and simple to eat but it gets me started for the day. 

For a while recently, it was all about my favorite cereal.  I ate it relentlessly for nearly 6 months and finally got tired of it.  Recently, I've been sticking with a nice toasted bagel.  Other mornings may be a soft boiled egg with some almonds or a bowl of oatmeal.  For my husband who's on a tight schedule before work, it may be a muffin or a slice of banana bread.  When we have the time, we'll make pancakes, french toast, or a fried egg and ham sandwich.  Once in a while I like to have a breakfast party and invite my family over to enjoy the first meal of the day together.

This little breakfast toast is something I've been making a lot for my husband and son (I love it too) and I wanted to share it with you.  It's simply toast with sweetened condensed milk.
This toast with some butter and condensed milk is a very common breakfast sandwich or snack we'd have growing up in Hong Kong.  You'll see in on the menu of many Hong Kong style tea shops or what would be considered Chinese cafes or diners.  And you'll find this kind of restaurant in the Chinatown communities of major cities.  To this day, I love visiting this type of "tea shop" where they serve a sort of fusion of Eastern and Western dishes and snacks with your choice of milk teas or other signature drinks like iced tea with lemon (hard to explain but it tastes different from what we're used to).  I'm not sure that I visited many of these cafes when I was a child in Hong Kong but for whatever reason, I love these places and the eclectic variety of food you can find there. 

What's great about having experienced life in Hong Kong (for the first 7-8 years of my life at least) is that while I certainly grew up around amazing Cantonese food and culture, Hong Kong being a British colony for a long time, meant we also had Cadbury chocolate bars, and enjoyed tins of butter cookies, high tea, and Christmas celebrations in our lives.  European imports were common and I remember eating nutella before it became as common as it is now in the States.  We love to spread it on a warm bagel for breakfast.
I hope you can make a little time for breakfast.  Have a wonderful day!

June 23, 2011

A savory break...

It's been a busy month!  Those of you with kids can probably relate.  There are quite a few events, activities, and general to-do's leading up to the end of the school year.  The little guy graduated from kindergarten recently - it seemed like yesterday when we were nervously walking him into his first day.  On top of the normal end of the school year activities, we've been busy planning and celebrating the little one's sixth birthday and enjoying Father's Day together.  I think we're now ready for the lazy days of summer...

Amidst the hustle and bustle, I've been comforting myself with chocolate.  For me, it's the ultimate treat and just totally comforts and relaxes me.  The molten chocolate cake has gotten my husband and I through some long days lately (I learned my mistake and made the full recipe for 4 cakes this time).  That being said, however, I think our waistlines could use a few days' break.  Or at the very least, we need some time to catch up and finish what we have around the house first.  So how about we take a short break and talk about something other than sweets? 

What do you love to eat?  Aside from chocolate, I love pasta!  I could eat it for lunch and dinner everyday and not be sick of it at all.  I love carbs in general - I yearn for the old days when I'd sit down at a restaurant and eat all the bread and butter I want without worrying about the scale.  Aside from bread, I love rice, and noodles are my passion - soup noodles, fried noodles, pasta, you name it!  I love going to the local Malaysian restaurant weekly to get my "noodle fix" but at home, I'm ultimately better at following a simple recipe, so I make a lot of basic pasta.  It's easy and generally a one-bowl meal.  Here are a few of my favorites that I make regularly at home.  I know almost everyone loves pasta - what are some of your favorites?

If I had to pick only one type of pasta dish to eat, it would have to be linguine with clam sauce.  So easy and delicious.  All you really need besides clams is some garlic, red pepper flakes, and white wine.

Spaghetti or linguine with white clam sauce
More pasta after the jump...

June 19, 2011

On Father's Day...

Happy Father's Day to my husband!!  You are the best dad I've ever known.
My own father passed long ago when I was a small child but I get to look on with admiration at my husband, who is the best dad a kid could ask for.  This is not about clichés or making things sound good on paper for others to read.  My husband is a wonderful dad who is dedicated to our son (that lucky kid!) and has the patience of a saint when it comes to that child.  I think he makes me look bad in comparison but it inspires me to be a better parent.  But seriously, I don't know where his patience comes from!

My husband essentially spends all his free time with our son.  The man does not get many breaks and insists he doesn't need one.  All I can say is thank goodness the little guy's bedtime is around 8pm!  When he's home from work, you'll find my husband in the playroom with our son or they'll be out doing something together or just talking about this or that (well, mostly about cars - their shared interest).  He takes the time to really talk and explain things to the little one.  If my husband dares to leave for a bathroom break, he'll hear a loud voice shout "Daddy!  Come down!" before he's even reached upstairs.  He doesn't even get much privacy to take a shower.  Our son will repeatedly ask how many more minutes it'll be before daddy's done and has been known to barge right on in there with some question or something to say.  And daddy welcomes him.  It doesn't stress him out and he'll tell me how much he loves spending time with the little guy and how "he's so cute!"

And instead of going home and catching a short break, my husband will hustle over to the baseball field after work to catch the last minutes of Jalen's T-ball game.  Rather than take a break on his own once in a while, he says he'd rather hang out with his little guy.  Even after spending the entire day together, he will stay for "just a few more minutes" in our son's room at bedtime to talk some more.  I'm pretty much redundant during the weekends. 

It's all really sweet and I don't really need Father's Day to remind me how lucky Jalen and I both are.  I always joke to my husband that he is an even better dad than he is a husband.  It's actually a big compliment.
It's not a celebration without some sort of cake.  We love the flourless chocolate cake..
So here's to all wonderful dads out there!  I know you deserve as much appreciation as us moms.  Keep up the good work because we all know how important dads are to a kid's life. 

And to mark this Father's Day occasion, we celebrated the best way I know how - with food, of course!  As you can see from the photos, we had a nice relaxing breakfast at home on Father's Day morning: some french toast and banana bread with chocolate (a new family fave).  For dinner the night before, I made one of my husband's favorites, seafood risotto, along with tomato & basil bruschetta - an appetizer I make all the time.  I do cook lots of "regular" food!  For something sweet, we had another of his favorites, flourless chocolate cake (this time with a little lemon zest).  And since we love to eat out, we're heading to a local Italian restaurant on Sunday night for dinner...the one with that panna cotta.

Happy Father's Day!!

June 17, 2011

Our little guy is six!

Remember when you were young and really looked forward to your birthday?  That's how it should be for all of us, every single year.  Children's birthdays are so exciting - it's all about celebration and what a special day it is for the child.  Getting older is actually a good thing for them! 
I love my Jalen (aka, "our little guy") so much.  He just turned 6 and it was such a joy to watch his little face light up when everyone sang "happy birthday" to him.  That's my favorite part of a child's birthday party.  That moment when everyone stops and sings for the birthday boy or girl and it's all about the child for that moment.  I've been known to stop the song midway and demand everyone sing louder...happily, this year's crowd was quite rousing and didn't require that.

We had a bowling party to celebrate - so much fun!  For the all-important birthday cake, he passed up on anything I offered to make (I thought I could handle some cupcakes) and preferred a commercial "hot wheels" cake.  He's been feverish about cars since he was an infant and has picked a car-related cake in the last 3 years where he's been old enough to choose for himself.  This cake was bright and colorful (healthy, it is not), a whole lot better-looking than anything I could attempt!  I may make  a lot of sweets and desserts but fanciful cake decorating is definitely out of my realm.  The cake had 2 layers, plain/vanilla and chocolate, with chocolate pudding in the center.  I knew I'd get in trouble for that plain layer and sure enough, I got an ear-full from the now 6-year old.  I had to explain to him that there are kids and people in this world who do not like chocolate.  I think he was taken aback by this but accepted it.
Not to be totally outdone, I made some sugar cookies for the party.  I also made that little ice cream "cake" you see at the beginning of this post for the occasion and we enjoyed it a bit more quietly on our own on his actual birthday after the festivities with friends and family.  Well, I should say I assembled an ice cream cake since I didn't make the ice cream myself.  I put together this ice cream cake using chocolate and mint chocolate chip ice cream, two of our little guy's favorite flavors.  The cake may be a bit homely looking but it was made with lots of love. 
In addition to having this cake on the actual big day, he chose to go to "Legal Sea Foods" for dinner so he could have eat...their hot dog!  He loves their hot dog...I think it's the buttery bun he falls for.  It's ironic, I know, but it's his day and he can do what he likes (within reason).

A big thank you to all the family and friends who celebrated with us!  It's amazing how quickly times flies and it just seems to quicken even more with kids in the picture.  I guess in some ways, birthdays are a reminder to stop, celebrate, and appreciate what you have.

June 15, 2011

Chocolate cutout cookies for kids

I call these cutout cookies "chocolate sugar cookies" because to me, they are very much the chocolate version of the more common, plain vanilla, sugar cookies.  I have to tell you that taking out a rolling pin for cookies is not my favorite thing to do.  It involves more work and clean up but more importantly, the crisp texture of these types of cookies is not something I yearn for.  Don't get me wrong, I like them...but I don't crave them.  And something always seems to go a bit wrong in the process of making roll-out/cut-out cookies.  Either the dough keeps cracking or it's too sticky or I over or under-bake them a bit.  I've just learned to let go and realize that it doesn't need to be perfect and it won't be.  As long as it tastes good, it works.  So that being said, I do make roll out cookies on occasion - particularly during holidays like Christmas and Valentine's Day.  It's also really cute for kids since they like the fun shapes you can make.  My son likes them and it's fun to pack a few as a school snack.
This was my attempt at making the cookies more interesting by sticking them in this dish.  Didn't work too well...forgive me because it was a very hot day and I was pressed for time.

June 13, 2011

Banana "ice cream" really works!

Aside from eating out (preferably with family or others I really enjoy hanging out with), my favorite hobbies are reading, watching cooking shows, perusing food magazines and cookbooks, and visiting a handful of food blogs.  I have some other hobbies but those stand out the most...

While doing a couple of these favorite things recently, something grabbed my attention and peaked my curiosity.  I watched a cooking show host make banana ice cream and didn't think too much of it at first but then I also saw this post on thekitchn.com.  The crucial part being it's banana "ice cream" made with just one thing: banana! 

OK, not that I'm a huge fan of banana ice cream per se but the idea of making "ice cream" from just banana is pretty interesting.  I was wondering if it'd really work and have the taste and texture of ice cream.  So I finally got around to it a few days ago and I have to say, it's fascinating because the frozen banana really turns into/tastes like ice cream!  All you have to do is freeze it and give it a blitz in the food processor.  It's a very healthy alternative to real ice cream.  I'm going to be honest and admit that, all things equal, I'd rather have the real thing but it was good enough to make again and you just can't beat the nutritional value and simplicity of it.

Here is the pure banana "ice cream", with nothing added, just plain right out of the food processor in all its soft-serve goodness. 
And then I couldn't resist playing with it a bit so I also made it with unsweetened cocoa powder and chocolate-hazelnut (Nutella) spread thrown in.  I know adding all the extras takes away from the pureness but I just couldn't help myself.  I was thinking of all those crepes with banana and nutella that my husband likes to order.  If you freeze the ice cream for a few hours, you can scoop it like regular ice cream.  Here it is with a sprinkling of chocolate on top.

June 9, 2011

A simple egg custard is comfort food for me

Sometimes I think maybe I should've named this blog Playing with Eggs instead of Playing with Flour...but it just doesn't sound right, does it?  I know there are plenty of controversies surrounding eggs if you are looking for it - whether it be about how chickens are raised or concerns about high cholesterol or even potential salmonella - but I'm going to set that aside for the moment.  Personally, I love eggs and I don't know what I'd do without them.  I love a soft-boiled egg for breakfast with a little sprinkling of salt, eggs fried in a sandwich or over just about anything (salad, rice, steak, noodles...the list goes on and on). 
I kind of look at the egg in awe.  Eggs are irreplaceable when it comes to making all these treats that I love.  No where is this more evident than when we talk about making a custard or a soufflé.  After tackling a soufflé, I thought I'd try making a simple egg custard.  For me, this is pure comfort food.  I like to eat it slighly warm; it is smooth, simple, and very soothing.
It reminds me of the chinese egg custard tarts that I love so much and is very similiar to the steamed egg custards I can order in some chinese restaurants.  I'm glad to know that now I can whip some up at home quite easily.
This is the custard after less than an hour out of the oven.  If you are patient and wait a bit longer, the custard center will set up a bit more.

June 5, 2011

Lemon soufflé

I made a soufflé!  Yes, my very first soufflé.  I've always wanted to try making it at home but never have until now.  Look how this blog has broadened my baking horizon.  And since we've already kicked off the unofficial start of summer, it's a light lemon soufflé.  It was tart yet sweet, and light as air. 

You ever notice we don't often see a soufflé on the dessert menu?  It's too bad but understandable since they need to be made-to-order and timing is so critical (they tend to start deflating seconds out of the oven).  All the more reason to try making them at home.
While I haven't had many soufflés in my life, I remember one of the best desserts I ever tasted was a soufflé.  Ironically, it wasn't even my own dessert!  It was my birthday years ago (can't remember how long ago but must've been over 8 or 9 years...if you have kids, do you ever wonder how your life before having your child becomes kind of a blur?) and my husband - then boyfriend - took me to dinner at The Four Seasons Restaurant (not the hotel) in New York.  So there we were sitting in the lovely pool room and I'm really hoping to bump into Martha Stewart (for some reason, I pictured her hanging out there at that time).  But alas, there was no Martha sighting but there was delicious food and for dessert, my husband ordered an apricot soufflé.  I can't remember if the soufflé itself was apricot or if it just came with an apricot sauce.  Either way, I'm thinking "apricot?  no thanks..."  

Well, I don't remember what I ordered for dessert (probably something with chocolate) but we do remember the soufflé arriving in all its puffed-up glory.  We took a taste and it was like nothing we ever had.  I can't even describe it but it just tasted sooo good.  It was light and airy and you break into it with your spoon to reveal a hot, slightly liquid center where you then pour a little sauce into.  Beyond just the texture, I just remember it being so delicious.  It was a wonderful surprise and those few bites have left a lasting memory.  While the soufflé I made at home here might not be as glorious as that one was, it felt great to be able to do this with my own two hands. 

June 1, 2011

Lace cookies - part 2

Back in April, I talked about those thin, crisp lace cookies or tuiles.  I love them because they bring back good memories for me and also because they're pretty, delicate, and tasty yet really easy to make.  Plus, I think they were made to go with ice-cream and who doesn't love ice-cream, particularly this time of year.  Well, I wanted to play around with these cookies a bit more by making and molding them into different fun shapes.  More on this later but I used a fantastic recipe here for almond-butterscotch tuiles that is super easy and versatile.

Here's one of the cookies that I shaped into a little cup or bowl for a scoop of pistachio gelato.
Or how about a little edible plate here to go with your favorite ice-cream flavors?
You could also just roll them up a bit and dress up your bowl of ice-cream.
You can get more creative than I have with the shapes but whatever form they take, these tuiles are delicious - a crisp crunch with a light butterscotch sweetness.  The almonds I used add extra crunch and blend really well within the cookie.  They are much easier to make than they might look.  I hope you'll give these a try.


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