Monday, January 30, 2012

unwrapping the secret to happiness



My son commented the other day while we were at the dentist, that people, like his dentist or teacher, who work in small groups, all seemed really happy with the job that they do.


I thought that was an interesting insight.  I watched our dentist, as he laughed and joked with the receptionists and dental assistants, creating a family atmosphere.  When I pick up my kids from school, I noticed that his teacher is equally smiling (although it could be because it's the END of the day!), however, he appears to truly care about the students in his class, whether he's watching them play hockey at recess or chatting over what they did on the weekend during lunch.




I remember when I was employed at a large corporation, we used to huddle in little groups and go out for lunch together.  It was like a little family.  Putting aside personality differences, egos, professional conflicts.  And spending time together, enjoying something universal:  FOOD.




I stumbled upon this Flickr photostream, where an Apple employee documents all the (organic) culinary lunch menu options at the Apple office. Organic free-range chicken wellington! Organic kale! Organic roasted baby carrots!  His appreciation speaks volumes about how important healthy food is and what it really means to him:


"I've never had the same dish twice, and the food is made with the freshest ingredients, and most of all crafted with love and attention...the same of which is asked from me while I produce the work that I do at Apple"


Eating well prepared, healthy foods together creates happier people.  It makes us more productive, so we can accomplish what we're here for, and move forward. (I wish more schools adopted Apple's idea of healthy options in the cafeteria...I'm in Jamie Oliver's camp when it comes to nutrition for children!).   I wonder if that's the secret ingredient to happiness.  That just might be the secret that is still waiting to be unwrapped.


French Cream Chicken Wrapped in Puff Pastry
(adapted from Food.com and Martha Stewart)

Inspired from the Chicken Wellington on "An Apple A Day Foodblog" on Flickr.  This recipe is a twist on the traditional chicken wellington dish, using a french mustard/tarragon cream sauce in the filling.  This can be made and refrigerated 2 hours ahead of time, and placed in the oven, increasing the bake time by 5 minutes.


Ingredients
  • 500g package of puff pastry sheets ( thawed for about 20 minutes)
  • 2 cups boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cooked and cubed (about 2-3 large breasts)
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • salt and pepper, to taste.
  • 1 large onion or shallot, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves minced garlic 
  • 1/2 cup (4 ounce) ricotta cheese (or cream cheese)
  • 1 tbsp. fresh tarragon (1 tsp. dried) or to taste.
  • 2 tablespoons Honey Dijon mustard
  • 1 tbsp of milk, to brush on pastry. (or egg whites)
Preparation
  • Heat butter in a skillet.
  • To the same skillet add in onions and garlic until tender.
  • On a floured surface, roll out each puff pastry sheet to a 14-inch square.
  • Cut into four even 7-inch squares.
  • Place about 1/2 cup of chicken over each puff pastry square (one side)
  • Set oven to 400 degrees.
  • In a small bowl combine the ricotta cheese with mustard and tarragon, salt and pepper, then spread over the chicken.
  • Then top with about 2-3 tablespoons onion & garlic mixture.
  • Fold pastry over the chicken breast, using a fork to press the edges to seal tightly.
  • Brush the tops with milk wash.
  • Bake for about 20 minutes, or until puffed and golden brown.

Serve with salad.





Saturday, January 28, 2012

worth a thousand

Hullet House, Hong Kong

Gorgeous details in this hotel room.  Would love to recreate this at my house!





Friday, January 27, 2012

yin and yan, east meets west


A few weeks back, we made a pineapple square that was a hit (both in our house, and on Pinterest).  My son originally thought we should turn a regular lemon square and infuse it with some Asian flavours...mango to be specific.  He thought mango would be terrific with coconut.  And for a twist, make a mango whipping cream instead of icing.  I thought that would be something perfect to bring as a dessert for Chinese New Year.



Here's an interesting quote from an article that discusses the cultural profile of Chinese food:
"Chinese culture believes there is a positive energy and a negative energy in the universe. "Yin" represents negative energy and "yang" represents positive energy. It has become a basic guideline for social, political, medical, and dietary usage... 
Foods belonging to the yin (also known as "cold" food) are bitter melon, winter melon, Chinese green, mustard green, water crest, and COCONUT.  Foods that belong to the yang (also known as "hot" food) are chili pepper, garlic, onion, curry, and MANGO.   
Both food groups need to be balanced evenly, not taken excessively or deficiently in order to create a harmonious and healthy state"

Our Mango Coconut Squares was a lovely compliment to our Chinese New Year's meal.  It was very representative of our family...East meets West...a perfect balance.




Mango Coconut Squares
(adapted from the lemon square recipe in the book, 

Bottom Layer
  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar

Second Layer
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup medium unsweetened coconut
  • 3 tbsp. mango juice
  • 2 tbsp. all purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. salt

Mango Whipped Cream 
  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 1/3 cup of powdered sugar
  • 1/3 cup mango juice 

Preparation
Preheat oven to 350degrees

Bottom layer: 
  • Mix all 3 ingredients  in a small bowl until crumbly.  
  • Press firmly into un-greased 9x9 inch pan.
  • Bake in the oven for 15 minutes.

Second Layer:
  • Beat the eggs with a fork in a large bowl.
  • Add the next 6 ingredients, and stir.
  • Spread evenly over the bottom layer.
  • Bake for about 30 minutes or until golden brown.
  • Let stand until cool.

Mango Whipped Cream:
  • Beat with a whipping mixer, all 4 ingredients in a small bowl until smooth, adding more sugar as necessary until a nice spreading consistency.

Cut into 36 squares and top with mango whipped cream.  Serve and enjoy!






Wednesday, January 25, 2012

wok don't run



Cooking Chinese food is one of the hardest types of culinary cuisine to master.  There is a lot of skill involved, especially the chopping of delicate vegetables, the use of various seafood, and the wok.  It takes years and years of honing the skill to create some of the lovely dishes that my Mom served for us on Chinese New Year's. None of those skills were inherited by me.




As I have become more comfortable in the kitchen (it's taken about a decade or so!), I've experimented with simple Asian dishes.  I make a fantastic Sushi Salad (it's like a chopped up sushi roll...and yes, I realize it's Japanese not Chinese).  I do a fine Chinese fried rice.  And now, I can make a stir-fried shrimp noodle.  




My husband is not Chinese, so the dishes I create are more fusion in nature, combining the types of dishes he was raised with (meat, potatoes and lots of baked goods), along with the flavours that I was raised with (like garlic, sesame oil, mangos and tons of seafood!).  I guess I'll just have to accept that learning how to make traditional Chinese dishes will have to be a slow journey.  I'll get there someday.


Stir Fried Shrimp Noodles
(adapted from Chow Mein recipe in the book 
"Complete Chinese" by Octopus Publishing)

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/2 pound large shrimp, shelled and deveined
  • 2 snow peas 
  • 2 scallions/green onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 carrot, thinly sliced on the bias (optional)
  • 1/4 cup chicken stock
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon Asian sesame oil
  • 3-4 cups noodles (I only had udon noodles on hand, but you can use Chinese egg noodles)
  • Salt and pepper
  • Chopped scallions, for garnish

Preparation

  • Boil water, then turn off and remove the pot from heat.  Add udon noodles and stir to loosen.
  • In a skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the vegetable oil. Cook the onion, peas and carrots, then set aside.
  • Add 2nd tablespoon of vegetable oil, then add the shrimp and stir-fry over moderately high heat until pink but not completely cooked, 2 minutes; add back the veggies.
  • Add the stock, soy sauce, sesame oil, shrimp and chicken, and the veggies and remove from the heat.
  • Drain the udon noodles, and add to the skillet. 
  • Stir-fry over high heat until heated through. 
  • Season with salt and pepper, and 1 tablespoon of soy sauce and toss.  
  • Garnish with scallions and serve.

Enjoy.



Monday, January 23, 2012

year of the dragon

Rice (米饭; mǐfàn) - fertility, luck, wealth, rice symbolizes a link between Heaven (God) and Earth (Mankind)

Today is Chinese New Year, and it is now the Year of the Dragon.  The dragon, according to Chinese astrology, is the most powerful of the 12 signs of the zodiac...it's associated with high energy and prosperity.

Last night we celebrated Chinese New Year's Eve at my parents.  There is a long list of foods that have symbolic meaning to them, and they worked very hard (high energy!)  to fight the crowds at the Chinese food market, to insure that we had a lot of food (prosperity).  It is definitely the Year of the Dragon, as there was an abundance of delicious foods prepared for this special evening.  Here's a small peek at some of the food we had, and their symbolic meaning.

Abalone (sea snail; 鳆; fù) - definite good fortune; Oyster, dried (ho xi) - all good things, good luck; Fish ball (鱼蛋; yúdàn) - reunion; Shiitake, Black mushroom (冬菇; dōnggū) - longevity, sizing opportunities.


Vegetable, green (绿叶菜; lǜyècài) - close family ties.


Fish - The word 魚 (yú), meaning "fish", has the same pronunciation as the word 餘, which is "remain or surplus", 'having leftovers of money', an increase in prosperity.


Scallops ( 扇贝; shànbèi) - opening of new horizons.


Shrimp (小虾; xiǎoxiā) - happiness and good fortune.


Sweets and fruits are served on a round tray, the form resembling togetherness, hence the tray is called the 'Tray of Togetherness'.
I love these little sesame treats...the "crack" in the ball looks like a "smile", which represents happiness.  Love that!


 Noodles (面条; miàntiáo) uncut - long life.

{Food Information source:  Nations Online}



Gung Hay Fat Choi!

(Happy Lunar New Year!)



Saturday, January 21, 2012

worth a thousand

The Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong.


This would be a spectacular place to spend Chinese New Years!







Friday, January 20, 2012

behind the desk


With the cold weather, most of my time has been spent doing more indoor activities.  Baking, cleaning, laundry...writing. (ahem....and not doing too much exercise).

I've been searching for a desk for my son's room, and a few days ago I discovered a sturdy, perfect sized one hidden in the corner of my local thrift store.  It is solid wood, well made, and is screaming to be redone.





It's amazing how a little purchase can re-invigorate my motivation to get up and get moving.  At least to do a few small house projects.  Here's what I've found on Pinterest (my latest obsession), that has furthered my motivation.
Paint the desk a dark nautical navy blue?
{Source: Hackettstown}

Paint the desk "antiqued grey"?
 {Source: TritterFeefer}

After consulting with my junior client, I think I might just get some paint chips, sandpaper, and prep this piece....and try to get this project started (it's winter here, so painting will have to happen when the temperature is above the freezing mark).


White might be too feminine, but I love the handles on this desk.
{Source: The Furniture Factory}


At least I will get out from behind my desk.  









Wednesday, January 18, 2012

sowing some oats


Oddly enough,  I've been doing more baking now than I did during the Christmas holiday season.  Call it a baker's version of sowing my oats.  There are more cookies, squares, sweets in the house than I know what to do with.

I think this past year was my year to rebel...kinda.  Switch things up a little and do things I usually don't do.  Usually I bake quite a bit at Christmas...I didn't do that much.  Usually I start cutting back on the sweets in the New Year...nope.

Guilt begins in the New Year for eating too much over Christmas....well, not quite.  Just delayed guilt.  So, thought I'd make something a tad healthier...that I can put in the kids lunches, and have a little left over for me to enjoy...with slightly less guilt.


Cranberry Fig Oat Squares
(adapted from Allrecipes)

Ingredients

Crust 

  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups organic rolled oats
  • 1 cup brown sugar,
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1/4 tsp. baking soda

Filling

  • 1 3/4 cups of Cranberry Fig Sauce (found here) or a 14 oz can of cranberry sauce.


Preparation

  • Mix all the crust ingredients in a large bowl until crumbly.  Press approximately 2 1/2 cups of it into a greased 9x9 baking pan.
  • Spread cranberry sauce evenly over the crust.
  • Sprinkle the remaining 1 1/2 cups of oat mixture evenly over the filling, and press gently.
  • Bake in oven for 35-40 minutes until golden brown.
  • Let stand in pan until cool.
  • Cut in 24-36 squares.



Enjoy.



Monday, January 16, 2012

s'more to come



It's funny how we always want the opposite of what we have.  In the hot sticky summer months, sometimes we wish to have weather that is just a little cooler.  In the frigid cold winter months, we dream of exotic white sand beaches and hot weather.



We had a very cold weekend, so of course, our outdoor activities were limited.  To avoid cabin fever, I wanted to make something that is reminiscent of summer nights, but something that can also be enjoyed in the winter.


When we were visiting friends a few weeks ago,  after skiing we planned on making s'mores over their backyard fire pit.  What a wonderful outdoor activity to do at any season...it's amazing how fires can be so warming and calming, no matter the weather.

Although we weren't adventurous this past weekend (it was -20 degrees here!), we do hope that we'll get more opportunities to make real s'mores outdoors, whether it's winter or summer.   We'll just have to settle for this fun-to-make substitute until then.





S'More Roll
(adapted from the Marshmallow Roll in 
"Company's Coming-150 Delicious Squares")
Makes approx. 36-48 rolls.

Ingredients:
  • 2 bars of Jersey Milk Chocolate
  • 1 can of sweetened condensed milk (300ml)
  • 2 cups of graham cracker crumbs
  • 1/2 cup of finely chopped walnuts (optional)
  • 20 large marshmallows
  • 1/2 cup medium unsweetened coconut

Preparation:
  • Heat 1 bar of chocolate in large saucepan on low heat, until almost melted.  
  • Remove from heat, and stir until smooth.
  • Add condensed milk, graham cracker crumbs, and walnuts.
  • Stir until it's almost like a dough.
  • Divide mixture in half, press half of dough between 2 sheets of parchment paper.  Roll out to about 5 x 12 inches.
  • Place 10 marshmallows, end to end, along the centre of the dough mixture.  
  • Bring the two sides together, and pinch along to seal.
  • Melt the other bar of chocolate gently in the microwave (about 30 seconds).
  • Drizzle half of the melted chocolate on the log, then sprinkle 4 tbsp. of the coconut evenly on top.
  • Repeat above steps with the other half of dough.
  • Wrap in plastic and chill until set.  
  • Slice into 1/2 inches.

Serve and enjoy...outside or in!





Saturday, January 14, 2012

Friday, January 13, 2012

on top of each other



I recently stumbled upon an interesting residential building that is being built in Hong Kong.  It is a condo that has "individualized" modules...you can choose your own layout according to the square footage you purchase (small, medium, large, like clothing).  But what is really intriguing, is the fact that these modules are completely mobile.  Every five years, the modules/units will be moved to another zone in the building, so you can still live in your dwelling (i.e. you don't need to buy new furniture), but have new neighbours and a new view!  


{source: Y Design Office}


The theory behind this is that the residents will create new social bonds and this will in turn, create a more unified community within the tower. 


I think this building concept speaks volumes of what we as humans, crave.  (and also shows how congested the population is becoming...where the only space to build is vertical).




Although there is a generation of people who communicate mostly via facebook, email, twitter etc, I think we participate in "social media" largely because we are all ultimately seeking to belong to a community.  To be able to connect with friends, old and new.  And although it may seem that we always have our heads down typing away at our device, we still crave social interaction at the other end.  That these devices should be just that...a means to get to that end.


I'd be curious to see five years from now, the success of that building.  To see if communities really are created when they move and meet new people.  I hope the residents of that building take the opportunity to meet new neighbours, and instead of exchanging twitter handles, to invite each other in, have a coffee and share the sweetness of new friendships.



Caramel Toffee Squares

These are similar to Nanaimo bars, minus the coconut.  It's a great treat with coffee or tea.


Bottom Layer

  • 1 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar

Second Layer

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp. corn syrup
  • 1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk

Top Layer

  • 1 1/2 cup chopped belgium chocolate
  • 1/4 cup butter

Bottom layer:

  • Mix all 3 ingredients in a medium bowl until crumbly.  
  • Press firmly into un-greased 9x9 inch pan. (I used 11x7).
  • Bake in 350degree oven for 15 minutes

Second Layer:

  • Combine all 4 ingredients in a medium saucepan.
  • Bring to a boil on medium heat.
  • Boil for 3 minutes, stirring constantly.
  • Remove from heat.
  • Stir vigorously for 1 minuts.
  • Pour over bottom layer, and spread evenly.
  • Let stand in pan for 30 minutes.

Top Layer:

  • Heat chocolate chips and butter in a small saucepan over the lwest heat until almost melted.
  • Remove from heat and continue stirring until smooth.
  • Spread evenly over second layer.
  • Let stand in pan for about 3 hours until set.

Cuts into 36 squares.




Wednesday, January 11, 2012

not a lemon



I was making squares the other day for one of our family gatherings, and honestly, I was perplexed with what to make.  You see, there are not a lot of "sweet tooth" types, so (gasp!), I had to cut back on the chocolate stuff.

Going through one of my cookbooks, I came upon a lemon square.  Not sure if there are lemon types in the crowd either, however, my son was going through the book with me, and suggested that I "should replace the lemon with mango or pineapple...it would be sooo awesome Mom!".  It was one of those "a-ha" moments.





I have to say, my kids have great taste...especially my son, who loves to indulge in the exotic.  He's the type of kid who'd rather eat sushi than hamburger and fries.   (How many kids do you know that, when going out to a restaurant, orders lobster with tiger striped ravioli off the adult menu instead of chicken fingers on the kids menu?!?). Anything that reminds him of tropical weather is usually a good bet. 


So, I indulged his unique taste palate, and made these lemon squares with pineapple instead (we didn't have mango in the house at the time).  I was a little worried as I wasn't sure if they'd turn out, and I'd have a "lemon" on my hands (pun intended).  Well...they turned out amazing!  

Pineapple Squares
(adapted from the lemon square recipe in the book, 

Bottom Layer
  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar

Second Layer
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup medium unsweetened coconut
  • 3 tbsp. pineapple juice
  • 2 tbsp. all purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. salt

Pineapple Icing
  • 1 1/2 cups icing sugar
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 4 tsp. pineapple juice

Preparation
Preheat oven to 350degrees

Bottom layer: 
  • Mix all 3 ingredients  in a small bowl until crumbly.  
  • Press firmly into un-greased 9x9 inch pan.
  • Bake in the oven for 15 minutes.

Second Layer:
  • Beat the eggs with a fork in a large bowl.
  • Add the next 6 ingredients, and stir.
  • Spread evenly over the bottom layer.
  • Bake for about 30 minutes or until golden brown.
  • Let stand until cool.

Pineapple Icing:
  • Beat all 3 ingredients in a small bowl until smooth, adding more juice or sugar as necessary until a nice spreading consistency.
  • Spread evenly over second layer.

Cut into 36 squares and serve.  


Monday, January 09, 2012

counting our vanilla beans



After the expensive holiday season, I can’t help but feel a little jittery about the year ahead, when I listen to the news about the financial situation, especially in Europe.  I feel so helpless…people losing their homes.  Losing their jobs.  Or retirees with no money to retire with.  It feels like such doom and gloom, such dire straits.

I wonder if things got this way because as a society, our generation felt entitled.  Entitled to oversized houses, fancy cars, luxurious vacations and exotic meals at restaurants.


Don't get me wrong.  I love luxurious, beautiful, and fancy, just like the next person.  However, as much as I love the finer things in life, I sometimes wonder if that aspiration has attributed to the escalating notion that we need to show that we have more. I once stood behind someone at Starbucks, who ordered a small (Grande) cup of coffee, but asked for it to be put in a large (Venti) cup.  She didn’t want to be seen drinking from a small cup!




I think it hit me right then.  Was I in Starbucks to be seen?  Is the liquid in the cup worth that much more than the one I make at home?  I think I'll just count my blessings that I actually have a home, and enjoy all the things I can do inside it.


Vanilla Bean Hot Chocolate
(recipe adapted from Epicurious)


Ingredients
  • 4 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/2 vanilla bean, split crosswise 
  • 1 1/2 pounds high-quality semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 8 ounces milk chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder, preferably Dutch process

Preparation
  • Place sugar in large bowl. Split half vanilla bean lengthwise, scrape seeds into sugar, and add pod. Work seeds in with your fingers. Cover snugly with plastic wrap and let stand overnight at room temperature.
  • In food processor fitted with metal blade, process semisweet chocolate and milk chocolate until finely ground, using 4-second pulses. (Process in two batches if necessary.)
  • Remove pod from sugar. Add ground chocolate and cocoa powder to sugar and whisk to blend.
  • Store mix airtight at room temperature for up to six months.

To serve
  • For each serving, heat 8 ounces milk in small saucepan over medium heat until scalded (or microwave 2 1/2 minutes at full power). 
  • Whisk in 1/4 to 1/3 cup mix. 
  • Serve with unsweetened softly whipped cream or marshmallows.

Enjoy your luxurious indulgence...at home.



Saturday, January 07, 2012