June 30, 2016

Chilled red bean dessert soup

In the mood to consider something different?  It's time for another Asian dessert, this one using red azuki beans.
An Asian dessert soup of red beans and tapioca pearls, served cold
Dessert soups are very common in Chinese culture.  I've talked about a few in the past - from a sweet potato one, to taro-tapiocaglutinous rice balls, and my husband's favorite, mango sago.  This red bean dessert soup is a very common one, often served at the end of a meal in a Chinese restaurant or as a dessert in a Chinese banquet (for say, a wedding).  After seeing a recipe for it on a blog recently, I realized I'd never made it at home so why not give it a try!

There are just a few ingredients in this red bean dessert soup.  The main one is the red azuki beans.  Red beans are very popular in Chinese and Japanese food - whether as a sweet paste stuffed in buns or pancakes, or as a filling in cake, or in the form of popsicles or ice cream, to name a few uses.   
Red azuki beans used for this dessert soup
One of my favorite food memories growing up, in my early days in Hong Kong, was of eating little red bean pudding cakes that were served on a stick.  I really love all things red bean but I don't get to enjoy them nearly as much as I wish so I'm making up for things a bit today by whipping up a batch of this red bean dessert soup.
Besides the beans, all you need is water, sugar to sweeten, and, if you feel like it, a few tablespoons of tapioca pearls to thicken things up a little further and give it a fun extra texture.  This soup is often flavored with tangerine peel (or you could use a little orange zest, as I've seen suggested).  I opted to omit this because in all cases where I've had red bean dessert soup flavored with tangerine peel, the flavor has always been too strong for me.  I never knew what it was for the longest time but I knew I didn't like it all that much.
As for the cooking process, the beans should be soaked for a few hours and there will be about 1 1/2 - 2 hours of cooking time on the stove.  I know stovetop cooking isn't the most appealing thing in the summer but I tried to make up for it by cooking this and chilling the soup to serve cold.  While this is typically served hot/warm, you can usually enjoy most Chinese dessert soups either hot or cold.  I am extreme - I like things either really hot or really cold!  The benefit, to me, of chilling the soup is it thickens up rather substantially (it's almost pudding like) and personally, I like a thick hearty texture.  If that's not your preference and you prefer a more fluid "soup", serving it at room temperature would be a better option.

June 25, 2016

Frittata muffins

The other day, I found myself with a couple ounces of leftover pancetta (after making spaghetti carbonara for dinner) and decided to use it to make a few mini frittatas for breakfast the next morning.  I'm calling them frittata muffins, and I baked them in a regular-sized muffin tin.
Mini frittatas have been one of those things I've wanted to make and possibly have extra to freeze and have handy for a quick weekday breakfast.  Somehow, I'd never gotten around to it but here was my chance to whip some up.  I didn't have enough ingredients to make a big batch to stash any away in the freezer but it was just right for a fresh, hot breakfast.
I cooked and rendered the leftover pancetta and added it to the basis of 4 eggs and about a quarter-cup of milk.  The fun thing about frittatas is the flexibility for customization; add any ingredients - as much or as little - as you like.  In this case, I kept it pretty simple by adding the pancetta, a few tablespoon of Parmesan as well as Gruyere cheese, plus a little parsley I plucked from my herb box.  
I placed my frittata mixture into 5 muffin cups and watched them puff up and set, ready in less than 15 minutes.  Add a few slices of toast and breakfast was ready! These little frittata muffins are easy to make and another great way to enjoy eggs for breakfast.  

June 20, 2016

Pinata cupcakes

This past weekend was a very eventful one.  My son turned 11!!  It's incredible how quickly each year flies by, and equally shocking to see the little guy growing by leaps and bounds before our very eyes yet seemingly overnight.
We were lucky to enjoy a gorgeous weekend - sunshine, low-humidity in the high 80's, with a light breeze - the perfect backdrop for a little birthday barbecue we had for the birthday boy on Saturday.  

Dad was on the grill and the kids were busy working up an appetite playing and just being kids.  This year, I bought a classic ice cream cake for our birthday boy but I made him some fun cupcakes.
They're chocolate cupcakes with vanilla frosting...but there's a little surprise inside. They're stuffed with some celebratory goodies...in the form of sprinkles, miniature m&m's, and other colorful candies!
They're pinata cupcakes!  Slice them open and let the colorful treats spill out!  They are such fun!  When I first saw them a couple of months ago on the Food Network show, The Kitchen, I knew I wanted to make them as a little surprise for my son's upcoming birthday and that's what I did for him and the other kids at the party.
The little guy thought they were just regular cupcakes but I gave each child a plastic knife and asked them to slice their little cakes open for a surprise.  And seriously, the best reward for this small effort of mine was the smile that came to the birthday boy's face and the look of surprise, and happiness.  It was such a great feeling and a wonderful moment.
My birthday boy loved the pinata cupcakes and said they were the best thing at the party.  I think he was just saying that to be nice but it was lovely how appreciative he was.  And I know he did enjoy them because I turned around to slice his ice cream cake and when I looked down again at his plate, his cupcake - including the pinata filling - was all gone.  He ate it all! Somehow, I had envisioned the candy and sprinkle filling as more of a decorative element as opposed to for eating.
These were such fun and easy to do.  I'm really glad I made them and thankful for another year of happy birthday memories.

June 13, 2016

Devon (British-style) scones

Having a jar of homemade strawberry jam on hand was the perfect reason to bake up a batch of scones.  It gave me an excuse to try my hand at British-style scones and I made a British-themed breakfast out of it; I love a good theme to a meal!
For a while now, I've been intrigued with the idea of baking up a different kind of scone.  Now, I speak with no authority whatsoever on this - having never had the pleasure of sitting down to a proper tea in the U.K. - but it is my understanding that British style scones are very different from American ones.

Cook's Illustrated has an excellent article that outlines the difference between the two. To sum up, British-style scones use less butter, are more cake-like, on the more light & fluffy side, and are less sweet than American-styles scones. American scones are more buttery, flaky, and biscuit-like.  While American-style scones often incorporate all kinds of add-ins (from fruit to chocolate chips), British scones are generally plain or simply include currants or raisins.
It's not to say that one type of scone is better than the other; they're just different. And for me, different is good; there's a time and place for everything.  British scones aren't necessarily "better" or more virtuous simply because they're lighter. There's actually a reason for the restrained use of butter...British-style scones are meant to be split open and topped with an ample slathering of butter, jam, cream (clotted or otherwise), and/or other equally tantalizing things like honey or golden syrup.  I can remember watching Nigella Lawson eating a scone in such a way on one of her television programs, and being totally mesmerized.
British-style scones are more cake-like, lighter, and crumbly in texture than American ones
When it comes to American-style scones, on the other hand, we rarely need anything to go with it because they are so buttery and flavorful all on their own.  So it's essentially about different philosophies.  Why not try both and enjoy them in their own way?

Today, it's British-style scones.  I used Mary Berry's Devon (or Devonshire) scone recipe.  Are you familiar with Mary Berry?  I came to know of her after I started watching The Great British Bake Off (where amateur bakers take on baking challenges, very often amazing me with their abilities).  
Now is the time to admit, again, that I am really not good at handling dough, as in scone or biscuit making.  I'm pretty sure the dough can sense my fear.  Take a look at the scones above...only one baked up with a fluffy height and, ironically, it came from some re-rolled dough!  It's all a bit of a mystery to me and I just can't seem to get a good handle on it.
Luckily, despite the general lack of height, the scones turned out light and fluffy - definitely more cake-like than we're used to when we think of scones.  They were a great canvas for the homemade strawberry jam, and other things, we decided to spread on.
The "ceremony" of sitting down, splitting our scones, and deciding what we wanted to spread them with was a nice way to slow things down.  I would definitely say our British-themed tea breakfast was a fun hit!

June 7, 2016

Easy strawberry jam, and vanilla-strawberry swirl ice cream

I finally got to put one of my wreck jars to its intended use by filling it with a small-batch of homemade jam!  It is easy to make, beautiful to look at, and delicious to eat.
I've had easy strawberry jam, or "refrigerator jam", on my to-try list for a long time but it was Tricia's beautiful post on her blog, Saving Room for Dessert, that motivated me to finally do it.  Take a look at her gorgeous photos and I challenge you not to want to go straight out to buy some strawberries and make this jam.  

Tricia, I hope you agree that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery because I tried very hard to imitate you and your results in this case.  Since this was as easy to make and as tasty as you said it would be, I think I did pretty well!
I followed Tricia's sage advice to use Grand Marnier (instead of lemon juice) in the jam.  Maybe you can't exactly pinpoint the liqueur but I know it does something magical in there.  This was definitely a worthwhile use of 2 cups of strawberries.  In a matter of 10-15 minutes, I had a thick, vibrant-red, sweet jam - ready to be enjoyed for breakfast.  My husband, who loves strawberry jam, was very impressed and we are both enjoying the fruits of my minimal labor.  I only made one cup so it's going went fast!
There are many ways to enjoy this homemade jam - from simply spreading it on top of toast or biscuits, to serving it with pancakes or crepes.  I took a few spoonfuls and stirred it into a batch of homemade Philadelphia-style vanilla bean ice cream!  
My husband loved this ice cream.  The eggless vanilla ice cream really showcases the vanilla flavor while the strawberry jam adds a level of sweetness and fruitiness.  Both have strong flavors but stand on its own as well as combined nicely together.  

June 2, 2016

Cheese soufflé

I've always wanted to make a cheese soufflé.  Maybe it's the fantasy of channeling my inner Ina Garten...I'd have a few people over for lunch out in the garden on a beautiful sunny day...there'd be a big charcuterie board and I'd serve cheese soufflé and a great big green salad.  Then, we'd make ice cream sundaes for dessert.
It's a funny image but for various reasons - probably because we already know how amazing sweet dessert ones are - I've wanted to try a savory soufflé.  I am finally checking it off my bucket list and honestly, it turned out so tasty that I may well be making it more often than I would have imagined before having tried it.
This gruyere cheese soufflé is cheesy, nutty, and eggy.  It's fluffy and light.  To me, it's like the flavor of the best homemade cheese cracker in soft, pillowy form.  A simple salad (and maybe a glass of crisp white wine) is the perfect accompaniment to it.  

I followed this Judith Jones recipe via Martha Stewart for a single-serve cheese soufflé.  I will likely have to double-up the recipe in the future because even our 10-year old liked it, and frankly, I hadn't anticipated sharing with him.  I can picture making this in the morning and serving it for breakfast with some plain multi-grain toast, and a strip of bacon!  
I did make this for lunch but we didn't sit in the garden.  It's been hot lately and I'm content to stay indoors when the sun is blazing and I can just enjoy the sunlit view from the cool of my dining room.  However you eat it though, I highly recommend you try it.  It was better than we expected!


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