Monthly Archives: December 2010

citrus sunshine cupcakes

i’m off to the wintry wonderland that is western europe later today.  i’ve been obsessively checking the heathrow airport page to see if our flights are a go after the great xmas blizzard of 2010.  so far it seems it seems like we’re in the clear.  fingers crossed, knock on wood.

we had planned our trip a few months ago when 20-30°F weather seemed theoretically bearable,  the lure of catching a sight of german xmas fairs  beckoned with flair.  we’ll be doing a few days in paris and normandy as well. now that the reality of traipsing around in said temperatures is upon us, we’re scratching our heads a bit, wondering why we didn’t pick a warmer climate.

as i’m heading into a snowy europe, i thought i should post about the sunshine citrus cupcakes i baked for R’s birthday a few weeks ago.   the cake is a citrus blend yogurt cake, topped with vanilla meringue icing and crowned with either candied limes or yellow sanding sugar. R said the cupcakes were delicious, and i certainly hope they brightened up her birthday festivities!

happy sunny and bright winter holidays to all!

Citrus Sunshine Cupcakes
(makes ~2 dozen cupcakes)

AP Flour 3 cups
Citrus Zest Zest of 1 lime, 1 lemon & 1 orange
Baking powder 1 tbsp
Salt 1 tsp
Sugar 1 ½ cups
Plain yogurt 1 cup
Eggs 3 large ones
Vanilla 1 tsp
Canola Oil 1 cup
  1. Preheat oven to 350ºF.  Place cupcake liners in cupcake pan. Set aside.
  2. Mix together sugar and citrus zests for about 2 minutes.
  3. Add in flour,baking powder, and salt.
  4. Add in yogurt, eggs, vanilla, and canola oil.  Mix by hand or on lowest mixer speed until well combined.
  5. Pour batter into cupcake liners and bake for about 25-30 minutes.
  6. Remove from oven and wait 5 minutes before unmolding.
  7. Pipe on vanilla meringue icing when cupcakes have cooled completely, and then decorate with sanding sugar and candied limes.

All the extras:

  • Vanilla meringue icing: the recipe can be found here.  substitute the 4 tbsp of rum with 1 1/2 tbsp of vanilla extract.
  • Yellow sanding sugar: can be found in most specialty food suppliers like Williams-Sonoma, Sur la Table, etc.
  • Caramelized Candied Limes:  i made my own as follows: slice 2-3 limes into 1/4 inch slices.  blanch them in boiling water for about 5 minutes.  toss them in a bowl with 1 cup of sugar.  then, place each one with some space in between on a parchment lined baking sheet.  sprinkle about 1/2 cup more sugar on the limes.  bake at 275ºF for 45-60 minutes or until the sugar has caramelized and the limes are golden brown.  while still warm, transfer the lime slices to a clean parchment lined baking sheet to allow them to cool.  (note: it  is  difficult to remove the limes when completely cooled; you may need to warm them up slightly again to remove them.)

triple yokan terrine

when i was a kid, i remember watching my mom stock up on these bricks of jelly-like substance  every time we found ourselves in the basement of a japanese depato.  they’re called 羊羹 or yokan, and come in a variety of flavors like red bean, green tea, yuzu, et al.  i think my mom liked to bring them back as gifts because while heavy and dense, these yokan blocks are relatively compact (about 2x6x1 inches in size), can be stored at room temperature, and sturdy enough to be stuffed into any which nook of one’s luggage.  plus, she likes the flavor quite a lot.  personally, i think it’s an acquired taste.  the texture is denser than jello, and also tends to be a lot less sweet.

i decided to make a yokan terrine for thanksgiving. everyone oooed and ahhed the 3 layers, which consisted of yogurt on the top, followed by matcha and red bean.  i don’t think everyone liked the way the yokan terrine tasted, but my mom did.  she brought the whole thing home with her and proceeded to eat it the week after thanksgiving, and even asked me for the recipe.

the yokan terrine is very easy to make.  the hardest part is probably sourcing agar agar, also known as kanten powder (see box above).  agar gar is the firming agent used to bind the liquids together into a solid jelly.  it’s made from seaweed and totally vegan (yes, if you got rid of the yogurt portion of my terrine, this would be a 100% vegan dessert).  i found kanten powder at my local japanese grocery store.  just 50g of the stuff goes for about $12.  on the flip side, you only need a little bit to firm up a 5×9 inch terrine.

a few things to note about agar agar (especially if it’s your first time using it):

  • you really do need to boil agar agar in order to activate it.  the first time i started working with the stuff, i thought it was like gelatin. i dissolved it gently in hot water, and then waited and waited and waited for it to solidify.  it remained watery even after 4 hrs in the fridge.
  • unlike gelatin, when properly activated agar agar will in fact solidify at room temperature, and in record time too (compared to gelatin).   i had a fun time watching it turn from liquid to a wobbly solid in under 15 minutes.

Triple Yokan Terrine
(makes 1 5×9 inch terrine)

Yogurt Layer
Plain Yogurt 1 cup
Sugar 1 tbsp
Agar Agar powder ½ tsp
Matcha Layer
Matcha powder 1 tbsp
Milk 1 cup
Agar Agar powder ½ tsp
Sugar 1-2 tbsp
Red Bean Layer
Red Beans (azuki) 1 cup either pre-made in a can or dry beans boiled for 1 hour
Sugar 2 tbsp
Water 1 ½ cups
Agar Agar powder 1 tsp
  1. Line terrine container with plastic wrap and set aside.
  2. Yogurt Layer:  put all ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a boil.  Then, let it cool for 1-2 minutes so it doesn’t melt the plastic.  Pour about 20% of the boiled solution into the lined terrine container.  Wait 2-3 minutes and then pour in the rest.   The yogurt layer should begin to set in about 20 minutes.  Start the matcha layer, when the yogurt has just begun to set.
  3. Matcha Layer:  same as above.  Add all ingredients to a saucepan and bring to a boil.  Wait 1-2 minutes after it has boiled to let it cool slightly.  Pour a small amount of the matcha layer on top of the solidified yogurt layer, wait 2-3 minutes and then pour in the rest.
  4. Red Bean Layer: same as matcha layer.
  5. When all three layers are complete, let the terrine set at room temperature.  Then wrap the whole thing in plastic and refrigerate for 4 hours to allow it to further solidify.  Well-covered, it will keep for 3-4 days in the refrigerator.
  6. Slice to serve.

sichuan powder steamed pork (粉蒸肉)

so for thanksgiving, i decided to dig up an old family favorite: powder steamed pork ribs.  my grandmother makes it with gusto.  when she lived in the US, she used to have it at every meal when we visited.  after making it myself, i understood why.  it’s a dish that you can make ahead in large batches and then re-heat as needed. because it’s steamed, the pork rarely dries out.  it tastes as good re-steamed as it does fresh out of the steamer.  plus, the prep time is virtually nil when you buy all those pre-packaged mixes! (grandma used to make her version the old fashioned way from scratch, but even she has discovered the convenience of modern mixes).

grandma usually makes her steamed pork ribs in a porcelain bowl, and then just sets the whole thing inside a steamer.  for our festive gathering, i decided to steam everything inside a lotus leaf wrapper.  the pork ends up taking on a bit of that lotus leaf scent, but really, it’s the dramatic visual effect of the lotus leaf i wanted.

grandma uses pork ribs in her version, and so do i.  when i visited sichuan over the summer, the restaurant served up a version made with fatty pork belly, which really wasn’t my cup of tea.

Sichuan Powder Steamed Pork Ribs (粉蒸肉
(7-8 servings)

Pork Ribs 3 lbs, cut into 1 inch cubes (easiest to find these at a Chinese grocery store. I buy the super premium strips and then cut into cubes at home)
Sweet Potatoes, Yams, Carrots or Pumpkin 2-3 cups, peeled and cut into 1 inch chunks
5-Spiced Zheng Rou Fen (Steamed Pork Powder) 1 package.  See picture above
Lotus Leaf 2 leaves, soaked overnight
Fresh Garlic 4 cloves, finely minced
Rice Wine 2 tbsp
Canola Oil 2 tbsp
  1. The night before, soak lotus leaves overnight.
  2. The “5-Spiced Zheng Rou Fen” package contains 4 items: 2 packages of flavoring spice and 2 packages of a coarse white mealy substance that is the broken rice.
  3. The night before or at least one hour before, marinate the pork ribs using the 2 packages of the flavoring spice from the “5-Spiced Zheng Rou Fen” box, then add fresh garlic, rice wine and canola oil.  Mix everything well and leave in refrigerate to let it marinate.
  4. When ready to steam, line the bottom of a 10 to 12 inch round steamer with the lotus leaf, letting the edges of the leaf flow over the sides of the steamer.
  5. Place the sweet potato, carrots, pumpkins or yams on the bottom of the steam, on top of the lotus leaf.
  6. Sprinkle the rice powder (the other two packages inside the “5-Spiced Zheng Rou Fen” box) on top of the marinated pork.  And, pour the pork on top of the sweet potato.
  7. Fold the lotus leaf edges over to cover the pork.
  8. Place the lid on the steamer and steam for ~90 minutes, or until the pork and sweet potatoes are tender.

sweet potato tart redux

i made a sweet potato tart for thanksgiving last year, and it turned out so swell that i decided to make it again.  i think it’s becoming a bit of a signature turkey day dessert of mine.  this time around, i did away with the chocolate layer, used a pate brisee tart shell, and decided to cover the entire top of the tart with candied pecans.

i wonder what iteration next year’s sweet potato tart will take?

overflowing with flowers

i have this vivid image in my head of my place looking like floral vision after S transformed it into his romantic vision of a thanksgiving spectacular.  of course, going through the pictures, i realised that i forgot to snap any standalone photos of the flowers by themselves. i did find one photo of my absolute favorite bouquet among the three that S threw together.  i took the photo the next day and even modified it (*gasp*) a bit by placing a lone rose bud into the base.  i needed somewhere to put it, right?

the thing i love so much about this particular bouquet is that it straddles so many elements. it’s a bit zen, a bit holiday, a bit romantic, a bit exotic, and it also looks different depending on the angle of your gaze.

a few days post thanksgiving, a friend of mine sent along another gorgeous bouquet from Fellan Florist in NYC.  it’s pretty in pastels and bursting with blooms!  i particularly like the flowering kale (the one that looks like a mini cabbage). how adorable!

so yes, for about 1 week, my place, outfitted with six separate bouquets in total, resembled a mini florist . . . i’m a lucky duck, ain’t i?



hidemi sugino’s financiers

S came over early on thanksgiving to “tablescape.” i literally turned around after i saw what he did, and said, omg, who is getting engaged!  i’ll post more S tablescape pictures in a bit, but his floral arrangements and tablescapes were romantic, artistic and stunning.  personally, i think he should start his own tablescaping enterprise.

as the title suggests, this post is really about hidemi sugino’s chocolate financiers.  while in tokyo earlier this fall, i picked up a little cookbook  because the front cover contained a picture of a financier that looked very much like those sublime ones i tasted at Victor & Hugo in paris.  the book itself is titled, Desserts Faciles Au Chocolat par les Plus Grands Pâtissiers, and contains chocolate related recipes written in french from some of the most famous pastry chefs around the world (though weighted towards those in europe).  [note: if sugino’s recipe is any indication, the recipes are not by any means beginner.  you do need an understanding of pastry fundamentals to decipher a lot of the recipes — assuming you can read french.  on the other hand, most french recipes are written assuming the cook knows something about what they’re trying to cook.]

while sugino isn’t the pastry chef at Victor & Hugo (he has his own shop in tokyo where he’s famous for mousse cakes), his recipe for financiers turns out a velvety morsel that is shockingly similar to the Victor & Hugo financier.  S, who had recommended the V&H financier to me initially, took a bite and excitedly agreed that this was in fact the V&H financier.

the rise in sugino’s version is achieved by whipping egg whites into a soft meringue; no baking powder is used.  having looked at several other financier recipes, i think it’s this technique that enables sugino’s financier to achieve that peerless velvety texture.  he doesn’t stop there though.  he goes on to add a rich nutty encore behind the chocolate curtain through the use of browned butter. all this packed into the petite body of a simple financier. so genius!

sugino’s original recipe also calls for morello cherries and raspberry jam.  having run out of steam cooking 16 dishes and 6 desserts, i decided to simplify his financier a bit by baking with fresh raspberries instead.  (And yes, i don’t have a financier pan, so i suppose, technically, i didn’t make financiers, but you get my drift…)

Simplified Sugino Chocolate Financier
(makes about 30 one-inch round financiers or 20 small rectangular financiers; modified and translated from the original recipe publishes in Desserts Faciles Au Chocolat par les Plus Grands Pâtissiers )

Almond Flour 150g
Sugar 150g
Cornstarch 25g
Cocoa Powder 15g
Egg whites 5 egg whites
Honey 30g
Butter 90g
Raspberries 1 pint
  1. Butter the financier molds and place it in the fridge until ready for use.  Pre-heat oven to 320ºF
  2. Sift together the almond flour, sugar, cornstarch and cocoa powder into a bowl and set aside
  3. In a small saucepan, brown the butter and then set aside to cool slightly
  4. Add egg whites into the bowl of your standmixer and beat until you reach soft peaks. You can add a bit of cream of tartar as a stabilizer.
  5. Very gently, fold the almond flour mixture (from step 2) and honey into the meringue
  6. Transfer the meringue mixture into the molds.  Place a raspberry in the center of each.  Then bake for 12-15 minutes, remove to cool on rack.
  7. When cool, you can dust with powdered sugar or coat the raspberries with a bit of strawberry jam.




tomato and caramelized onion tart

given my blog’s name, you’d have thought i’d have a plethora of tomato recipes on the site!  well, i finally got around to writing up a tomato tart recipe.  it was also a good opportunity, too,  to use up all the cherry tomatoes that i had been amassing in my fridge.  of course, it turned out that i was a few tomatoes shy ,but i think i had just enough to fill up the tart shell in a decent enough manner.

did i ever mention that tarts, savory and sweet, are like the perfect thing to make when entertaining?  you can make all the individual parts in advance, store them in your fridge, and just assemble and bake the day of.   Or, if you’ve got plenty of fridge space, you can just make the whole thing a day or so in advance, and re-heat.  i baked mine in the morning, and got away with serving it at room temperature later in the evening.

or, if you’re, hubs you can gobble up the leftovers for breakfast straight from the fridge.  .  .  i suppose it’s a bit like eating cold pizza for breakfast?

Tomato & Caramelized Onion Tart
(makes 1 nine-inch round tart)

Pate Brisee About half recipe here
Onions 3 medium sized onions
Butter 2 tbsp
Dijon Mustard 1 tbsp
Assorted Cherry Tomatoes 2-3 cups, washed and dried.  Remove stems and leaves, if any
Salt & Pepper 1-2 tsp each
Olive Oil 1 tbsp +1 tbsp, separately
  1. Roll-out the dough on a well-floured surface until it is about 13 inches wide and about 1/16th inch thick.
  2. Fit the dough into a 10 inch tart ring.
  3. Place the raw tart shell in the freezer and pre-heat oven to 350ºF.  When the oven reaches 350ºF, bake the tart shell for 15 minutes. Then brush on some egg white and bake for 10 more minutes. Remove from oven to cool.
  4. Slice onion into thin rounds.
  5. Heat butter and 1 tbsp of olive oil in a flat skillet.
  6. Add in onions and cook on low heat until the onions have caramelized.  Yes, you can do this quickly over high heat, but onions won’t release their sugars unless you do this low and slow.  It will take 25 minutes or so.  Patience is a virtue…
  7. Remove caramelized onions from skillet and mix with mustard.
  8. Spread the onions on the bottom of the tart in an even layer.
  9. Toss tomatoes with salt, pepper and olive oil in a bowl.
  10. Arrange the tomatoes on top of the onions.
  11. Bake for another 40 to 45 minutes, or until the tomatoes are puckered and slightly charred.