Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Caramelized onion & cranberry chutney

 Christmas is just a few days away. And we truly had a very holiday like weekend last weekend. Had some friends over for dinner, delivered gifts to the family we adopted, went to see Santa and even saw Santa passing by on the fire truck. It's funny how every year, my tot's reaction to Santa is different. Our tradition is to go to Macy's which is the first place he ever saw Santa. The first year, he was not even one and just slept on Santa's lap. So precious. Last year, he didn't cry but he was not too sure and asked me to come sit close to him. Now his third year, he's a pro. As soon as he saw Santa, he ran right up to him and sat on his lap, seemed like he was talking to him. Turned out, he told Santa what he wanted. He loved the experience. Thank goodness for the express pass. If we had to wait for 2 hours like a lot of people, none of us would have enjoyed it. Well..it's never going to happen because without the express pass, we are not going anywhere near Santa land. Haha

And for more festivity, I made some caramelized onion and cranberry chutney. It's great with roasted chicken, pork roast, baked brie, crostini and the list goes on and on. This can be done days ahead as it keeps well in the fridge for up to 2 weeks or so. Great homemade condiment to add a little shine to the meal without having to stand by the stove while rest of the chaos going on at holiday meal. 

Caramelized onion & cranberry chutney

Ingredients :

1 small onion, roughly chopped
2 Tbsp butter
8 oz cranberries
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
4-5 sprigs of fresh thyme, only the leaves

Directions :

1. Melt the butter in a pan over medium heat. Add chopped onion and cook until onions are caramelized, stirring occasionally. It took me a little over 15 minutes with one small onion.

2. Add remaining ingredients. Increase the heat to high and bring it to a boil while stirring so sugar dissolves. 

3. Reduce the heat to medium and cook it down for 8-10 minutes until cranberries pop and mixture reduces slighly, while stirring occasionally. 

4. Cool completely and keep in the fridge up to 2 weeks. Take it out 30 minutes before serving. 

*Adapted from Go bold with butter.

Friday, December 19, 2014

White chocolate saltine toffee

Desserts are usually a big part of any holidays but I find Christmas season naturally goes with festive and pretty desserts. From decorative cookies to barks to yummy yule log cake and so on. Believe it or not, I love baking and making treats but I am usually satisfied with one or two bites. Except a few things. And this saltine toffee is one of the exceptions! 

I've always loved sweet and savory together. Like roasted chicken and some kind of chutney, salted chocolate or caramel, crispy bacon soaked in maple syrup sitting right next to pancakes. Well bacon with maple syrup didn't always get agreements often especially by my British friends for some reason. But that's me and I know I am not the only one. =) 

Slight saltiness from saltine and the nuttiness from toffee layer topped with chocolate, pistachio and cranberries.. My gosh, it is so addictive! Even the color is so festive and fits right in for the holidays. White, red and green. So pretty. I am a huge fan of dark chocolate and I've always done dark chocolate versions but my mom who loves white chocolate made me try with the white chocolate once and I fell in love with it because of how pretty it looks. 

It is super simple and easy to make and it is holiday season after all, so go for it. Diet has its own cozy little spot in new year's resolution every year anyway. =P

White chocolate saltine toffee

Ingredients :

40 saltine crackers (Little more than one sleeve)
1 cup butter(2sticks)
1 cup light brown sugar
3-4 cups white chocolate chips
1/3 cup pistachio, shelled and roughly chopped
1/3 cup dried cranberries, roughly chopped

Directions :

1. Preheat the oven to 400F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and arrange the saltines in a single layer.

2. In a sauce pan, melt the butter and brown sugar together and bring it to a boil on a medium high heat for 3 minutes or until it has caramel color. 

3. Pour the hot mixture over the saltines and bake it for 5-6 minutes or until bubbly.

4. Take the baking sheet out and sprinkle chocolate chips on top and wait for a few minutes for chips to start to melt and spread it evenly. I sometimes pop the pan back in the oven with the heat off so chocolate melts quicker with remaining heat - in this case just 1-2 minutes will do.

5. Sprinkle pistachio and dried cranberries. Put it in the fridge until firm and break it apart.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Cranberry apple jam - no pectin

Growing up, for as long as I can remember, my mom's always been kind of a health freak - the fact that she's a nurse also had some effect on that I think. For example, before going to work, she would make us fresh celery, apple, carrot juice or ginseng honey shake(still my favorite!) every morning, homemade yogurt was always available in the fridge, and everything had to be at least environmentally friendly or all natural to name a few. It's amazing how she did all that while working. At that time the word organic wasn't common at grocery stores, but even then, she somehow brought home all these stuff that has healthy sounding wordings on it. Now there's a small organic grocery shop near her, my sister tells me that when the owner of that little shop sees my mom walking in, her face just brightens up. Haha. That's how much she contributes there. It's hilarious. Anyway, being that way, my mom used to make jam at home time to time. And she never added commercial pectin in it. I remember her saying something about adding commercial pectin other than the pectin coming from fruit you're using for the jam has some health concerns. I didn't care much at that time nor did a full research but now I know, depending on the kind of pectin you use, it is true. I've seen natural based ones which I assume safe, but the fruits I use to make jam are usually the kind that has a lot of natural pectin, so I did not add pectin either. 

This fall, I made apple cinnamon jam and cranberry apple jam. I find cranberry makes it a lot easier to form that jelly consistency compared to just apple and cinnamon alone. And when cranberries pop, it is absolutely beautiful. Love the little specks of cranberry seeds in it. They're great for holiday gift too as the color is just screaming Christmas! In fact I gave a few bottles to my friends, hope they enjoy it. =)

Cranberry apple jam - no pectin

Ingredients :

8 cups apple, peeled, cored and diced
4 cups whole cranberries
5-6 cups sugar
1 cup water
2 lemon, zest and juice

Directions :

1. Combine apple, cranberries and sugar in a large pot and boil over high heat. Skim the foam as it cooks. Cook for 10-15 minutes or until cranberries start to pop.

2. Add lemon zest and juice. Simmer until thickens. I used a immersion blender to blend when it started to thicken as I didn't want it chunky. It depends on your preference.

3. Boil for another 30 minutes or until it becomes thickness you like. Check the thickness by putting it on a plate placed in a freezer for a while.

4. Proceed to canning or place in airtight containers and keep refrigerated. 

* Recipe from food in jars.

Friday, December 12, 2014

No chill sugar cookies

I have tried many sugar cookie recipes. Mostly ones that needs chill time and even then, my cookies wouldn't have the same results every time depending on how patient I am and how fast I cut out the cookies. Sometimes successful, sometimes spreads. But when I found this recipe a couple of years ago, that was it. No more search for sugar cookie recipes. I've done Christmas cookies with it, cute spoon shaped cookies for tea parties, made birthday favor for my tot and so on. And I am happy with the results every single time.

When I was pregnant with my tot, I took a cake decorating course. That's when I didn't think much about food coloring and went to town with all kinds of fancy color and decorations. Although I rarely ate what I made because I just didn't have sweet tooth during pregnancy. Ever since I had my tot, well more like ever since my tot started to eat real food, I started to think more about what I use in food. My decorations tend to be a little more simple now, as I try to avoid food coloring, though some special occasions for certain themed party, I sometimes use natural food coloring from vegetable concentrate that you can buy. Long story short, that's why my cookies now only have white icing these days. I did try with matcha powder(green tea powder) this time. Because I love matcha taste, I loved it. But color was obviously not vibrant. It's like gloomy greyish green and that is why they didn't even make it to the dessert table at the party. So I did some research and found out that if you don't have  the natural food coloring, some people use spinach juice for green. Simply blend the spinach and squeeze the juice out of it and use it in the icing rather than water and you don't taste spinach. I have not tried it but it's a brilliant idea and I will definitely try next time. 

I have omitted almond extract a few times in the past and taste was just as good even though almond extract does add another layer of flavor. So if you're not a fan of almond flavor or have food allergy concerns, simply omit it. 

No chill sugar cookies

Ingredients :

1 cup butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract
1 egg
2 tsp baking powder
3 cups all purpose flour

Royal icing
1 lbs confectioner's sugar
3 Tbsp meringue powder
4-5 Tbsp water (Or more depending on the consistency you need)

Sprinkles for decoration


1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Cream the butter and sugar until smooth.

2. Add extracts and egg.

3. Combine baking powder and flour in a separate bowl and add it to the wet ingredients little by little. Dough will be stiff. 

4. Do not chill the dough. Roll it out and cut out cookies. Place on a lined baking sheet and bake for 6-8 minutes or when they start to brown a little. (I usually bake mine for closer to 8 minutes.) Let cool on the sheet until firm enough to move and transfer the cookies to a cooling rack. 

5. When all the cookies are completely cooled, Make the royal icing. Beat all the ingredients until it forms stiff peaks. 

6. Put the icing in a pastry bag with a piping tip or just cut the end of a pastry bag and decorate the cookies. 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Cocoa Brownies

We had a big holiday party at our house last weekend. It rained but we had a huge turn out and it was a lot of fun. Seriously, when the forecast showed rain, I wasn't thrilled but was still happy because it's rain. Last year, the day of the party, we had a snow storm. Not good. Not good at all. This year, knowing there will be about 70 people, we hired a chef well in advance. I did not even attempt to cook. But since baking is easier to be done in advance, I chose to go that way. A couple of years ago, I saw a picture of brownie bites with strawberry Santa hats. Ever since then, I always wanted to make them. And I finally got to make them this year.

Here. Aren't they adorable? For people who don't like strawberries, I served half with the hat, half without. A lot of recipes use butter cream but I made mascarpone whipped cream, which is my favorite kind of whipped cream. Cut the brownies into bite size- using a small circle or square cookie cutter works the easiest. Pipe a ring not too close to the edge, put a strawberry that you cut the bottom already on top and press it down gently. And pipe a little circle on top. There, you have a cute little Santa hat brownie bite.

 I don't bake brownies often. But when I do, there are only a couple of recipes I use. This Alton brown recipe is very fudgy not cakey. I love the richness. Giving a 15 minute rest out of the oven during baking definitely makes it extra fudgy. On food network original recipe, it is not mentioned but that's one of AB's recent tips. 

I also baked Christmas cookies, since it's a holiday party after all. Well..Christmas sugar cookies are so simple but it took me a while to find a recipe that doesn't need to be chilled, yet doesn't spread. I will be sharing that great find soon!

Alton Brown's cocoa brownie

Ingredients :

4 large eggs
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup butter, melted
1 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
1/2 cup all purpose flour, sifted
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp salt

Directions :

1. Preheat the oven to 300F. Line an 8 inch square pan with parchment paper, cut to size, leaving the edge hanging. It's better if you line with two pieces of paper on two sides so all four sides have hanging parchment paper to prevent sticking and easy lifting. 

2. In a mixer fitted with a whisk, beat the eggs until light yellow. Add both sugars. Add rest of the ingredients. 

3. Grease the parchment paper with a cooking spray and pour the batter. 

4. Bake for 15 minutes, take it out and let it rest for 15 minutes. Keep the oven on. Put it back in the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes or until toothpick inserted come out clean. Do not over bake. 

5. Let it cool in the pan for a few minutes and lift the parchment paper edges and move it to a cooling rack. Cut once it's cooled off.

* Recipe by Alton brown.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Fresh cherry tart

As Christmas approaching, I think this would be a great dessert whether you're hosting or going to a house party. As I mentioned in my previous post, I made this for Thanksgiving as my nephew loves fruit tart and recently I found out that he goes crazy for cherries. I know. This dessert doesn't scream Thanksgiving. When I make fresh fruit tart, I usually make it with variety of berries but since I know what he goes crazy for, why not just make it with cherries? Since I rarely cook or bake with cherries, I didn't own a cherry pitter. As soon as these cute little guys comes in my hand, I would just devour them so I didn't even need a pitter. But since I had to keep them in pretty shapes for the tart, I decided to invest in one. And I am truly impressed with the results! I got one that pits 4 cherries at a time and how does it get the seeds so perfectly every time? Well..you can obviously tell that I am new to this and enjoyed the pitting. It was actually pretty enjoyable. Something that listens and follows my direction without my yelling involved. 

Because I took pictures before I brought them to dinner, I don't have any picture of a cut piece. I didn't even have a chance to save a piece. It was destroyed in minutes. Which is a good sign. Recipe makes a lot more custard than you'd need for this tart and you can halve the recipe but I just make the whole portion and save some. It's great with fruits -of course- and warm brioche buns. My gosh, custard cream with a soft bun? Brings back my childhood memories. I have a holiday party this weekend and this will be served as well since it's very festive and so pretty! 

Fresh cherry tart

Ingredients :

tart shell
2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup confectioner's sugar
6 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened
1 egg
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp vanilla extract 

2 cups milk
1/4 cup + 1/3 cup granulated sugar 
2 egg yolks
1 egg
1/4 cup corn starch
2 Tbsp butter
1 tsp vanilla extract

2 cups cherry, pitted
confectioner's sugar to dust on top

Directions :
1. Make tart shell - In a food processor, pulse butter and confectioner's sugar for a few minutes until fluffy. Add egg and salt and process for a minute or so. Add flour and process for a few seconds. Dump the dough on the surface and form a dough. 

2. Roll it out evenly and put it in a tart pan. If you see some gap here and there, just use the dough scraps and press it down to patch it up. Prick the bottom with a fork and freeze for 15 minutes. Bake at 350F for 30-40 minutes or until golden brown. If you see the center puffing up a little while baking, you can use a spatula to gently press it down and continue to bake.

3. Make custard - In a heavy saucepan, mix milk and 1/4 cup sugar and bring it to a boil over medium heat. 

4. In another bowl, stir together egg yolks and egg and add remaining sugar and corn starch. Stir them together until smooth. 

5. When the milk is ready, add milk to the egg mixture in a thin stream while stirring constantly so eggs don't cook. Return the mixture to the pan and slowly bring it to a boil. Stirring constantly. When it comes to a boil and thickens, stir in vanilla and butter and mix until well blended. Pour into a heat proof bowl and cover with plastic wrap directly on the surface to prevent a skin forming. Refrigerate until chilled and ready to use.

6. Assemble the tart. Spread the custard evenly in the tart shell(You won't need all of it). Top with pitted cherries and keep in the fridge until serving. Dust with confectioner's sugar before serving. 

*Custard recipe - all recipes
 Tart shell recipe adapted from inspiringtheeveryday 

Monday, December 1, 2014

The best apple crumb cake

I can't believe Thanksgiving's over and it's already December. This second half of the year went by so quickly. I have been meaning to post this very best apple crumb cake I've ever had but every time I make it, I am either in a rush or pictures turn out like a disaster. So this finally gets to be posted now. Well..this picture isn't the best either as I was in a rush to go to Thanksgiving dinner. But at least it's better than the past ones. 

This is the lonely piece that I saved from dinner, so I could take a picture of a cut piece. I have had my share of crumb cakes and this is by far the best I've ever had. It even has a nicely thin and even layer of apples between the moist cake and scrumptious crumbs. Mmm-mm.

There's always apple pies or/and pumpkin pies at everyone's Thanksgiving dessert table. This goes in the fall dessert category but it's something a little different. I usually serve it with some homemade vanilla ice cream using my go to vanilla ice cream recipe by Alton Brown. But guess what, something had to go wrong. Ice cream base is perfectly chilled and waiting to be churn, and my ice cream maker insert was not frozen!!! Something went wrong with the freezer in the garage where we usually keep the insert. It just had to be thanksgiving day. Ugh..But whether with the ice cream or not, this was still enjoyed by many members of the family. I also made a cherry tart for my beloved nephew who's a huge fan of fruit tart and cherries. Not at all thanksgiving but oh it is good! It's so perfectly red and wintery with some powder sugar on top. Great dessert for Christmas time. That comes next!

Apple crumb cake

Ingredients :

Crumb topping
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cup all purpose flour

3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp salt
1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp milk
3/4 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup + 2 tsp vegetable oil
1 large egg

Apple layer
2 apples, peeled,cored and sliced thin
2 Tbsp granulated sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar

Directions :

1. Preheat the oven to 375F and grease and flour an 8" springform pan.  

2. Make the crumb topping. - In a bowl, mix all topping dry ingredients and add melted butter. Mix and fluff with a fork. Set aside.

3. Make the apple layer - Add sugar, cinnamon and vinegar to the apple slices and set aisde.

4. In a large mixing bowl, add all the cake dry ingredients and mix. In a different vessel, combine milk, vanilla extract, oil and egg and whisk until smooth.

5. Add wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir. Do not over mix. A few lumps are OK.

6. Pour the cake batter to prepared pan. Arrange apple slices on top evenly. Top with crumb topping.

7. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until top is golden brown.

8. Let it cool completely in the pan and take it out of the pan. 

*Recipe from crunchycreamysweet.