Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Mince Meat Pies

Every X'mas, I make mince pies. I have learned to love this little pastry in England and from its fruity sweet and citrusy flavor, I also started to like the English fruit cake which is more heavier with the brandy and rum effect. I guess it is very true that our tastes and palates change over the times and I loathed the sight of fruitcake when my own dad got it every X'mas last time and I couldn't figure out what he loved about it then. But now, I look forward to next year to make one myself and share with my kids, perhaps lighter on the alcohol and sugar content as I think it was the overbearing smell of the brandy and rum that really put me off eating it when I was younger.

Although they are called Mince Meat Pies, I rather call them Mince Pies as there is no meat at all and Meat Pie sounds savory rather than sweet. I haven't learned the trade of making the mince meat filling yet and bought a large jar which contained no rum ingredient. And I thought there was no one who will make them till I return to the same aisle in my grocery the other day to find all the mince meat filling gone!! Luckily I bought mine a month ago. Without mince pies, I think I will not enjoy X'mas!

The pastry cases were made from a combination of 3 cups flour, 1/2 tsp baking soda, 2 sticks of butter and 3/4 cup cold water. The butter must still be cold and cut to slices before rubbing them with the flour. The idea is to get every bits of flour coated with the butter and the hands are the only best tool to do this. I used plastic gloves to maintain the temperature of the butter while in contact with my hands and for easier clean up later. I skipped the addition of sugar to the dough as the filling will be sweet enough and added the cold water in 3 batches of 1/4 cup each time. Doing it this way gave me a better control of the texture of the dough and to ensure that I get the right firmness. The dough must be rested for at least an hour in the fridge before the rolling out, cutting and filling. This recipe is enough to make 12 pastry cases measuring 3.5 inches each. Depending on the shape of the upper surface of the pies, my star shape used less dough, hence the scraps from the 12 perfect rounds were enough. For close tops, I would recommend an extra batch of the dough recipe.

For extra bite, I added dried cranberries to the bottom of each pastry case before adding on a tablespoon of the filling. I think the star design was from a previous recipe in my BBC Good Food magazine and I like the idea of exposing the filling, hence I couldn't be skimpy!! The whole bottle of mince pie filling was used up. Before baking, they were brushed with milk with emphasis on the pastry to get the right brown color and also to adhere the tips of the stars to the main pastry cases. Baked them in a preheated oven of 425F for 18 to 20 minutes, with 1 rotation of the pan and another brushing with the milk for the last 5 minutes of baking. The oven was turned off after the baking and I left them inside for an extra 10 mins so that they will set and brown evenly. I like them served warm with the English custard but whipped cream will do too. Sprinkling the confectioner sugar is also a must or else the pies look bland and can never tempt a non fruit cake eater to try these!

I made mini sizes of these pies a week ago for my friends cookie tins. The little ones took more effort as they were much more smaller with less filling of 1 teaspoon each. I wasn't sure if my friends were into these pies so I made them mini sizes. One feedback was not favorable towards sweet pies so I know now what to make next year for that friend's gift but hopefully the rest likes them.

Wishing everyone who reads this blog a Merry X'mas and Happy Holidays. May you all have good food, be merry and enjoy yourselves. X'mas comes once a year and we have to wait till the last month every year, so cherish the gatherings of families and friends and the companies of good people.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Linzer Cookies

Of all the cookies I made for this X'mas, these are the most simple in terms of ingredients requirements and yet the prettiest to make. I absolutely adore their simple designs with the strawberry jam oozing out of the punched out heart shape and sprinkled with confectioner sugar, they looked like winter snow on the outside but warm with love in the inside. I couldn't help myself to a few pieces while I was preparing and packing them up.

The texture of these cookies is more akin to shortbread, slightly sandy and dense and firm after the baking. I rolled out the dough to 1/2 inches thick for easier cutting and I love to make it plump and thick like shortbread. These cookies are enjoyed for its buttery taste and firm bite and I used the fluted 2 inches cookie cutter for a better presentation.

I started with 3/4 cups of softened butter and creamed with 1/2 cup of sugar. As usual, I beat the egg before adding into the butter sugar mixture together with 1 tsp almond extract. The dry ingredients consisted of 1 & 3/4 cups of flour sifted with 3 tbsp cornstarch and 1/2 tsp baking powder with little salt. This was added in 3 batches into the butter sugar mixture to get them evenly combined. Roll out on a flour surface and cut with the desired cookie cutters. Cut even numbers of whole patterns and punched out ones. Space 1 inch between them in the baking sheet and bake for 12 mins at 350F till edges are slightly brown. When totally cooled on the rack, I dusted confectioner sugar on the punched out rounds before sandwiching them with the bottom round part with strawberry jam. I spread more thickly in the middle so that when sandwiched together, the pressure spreads out the jam to the rim and oozes upwards filling the punched out cavity.

As this year was the first time I am doing cookie gifts, I had no idea on what cookie tins to get and got mostly round ones. So, I found it difficult to arrange 5 different cookies with different shapes and sizes into one tin. I was skeptical that these cookies will still stay firm after the filling and packed them in wax paper before inserting them into the tin. Some jam oozed out and I should learn my packaging technique next year! And I recommend rectangular or square tin boxes too! Or perhaps make bigger sizes cookies.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Pistachio & Sesame Seeds Green Tea Chocolate Truffles

I have never attempted making candy nor chocolate of any sorts and I was so tempted to try this one. With packs of green tea powder lying around and a big bottle of white sesame seeds that never seems to be used up as only a teaspoon or two is required for any recipes, I bought some white chocolate blocks and thought of including these sweet confections into the gift boxes will jazz up the sweet tooth of my friends. Hopefully they like it!

White chocolate is of course much more sweeter than dark chocolate and if I didn't need to use the green tea, I would have opted to use dark chocolate to make the truffles instead. Having said so, these white ones are also a treat especially with a cup of black strong coffee.

From the recipes available to me, everyone seems to have commented that the white chocolate doesn't firm up properly and was still very soft when being shaped into balls. Mine was totally opposite. They hardened up within 1 hour and I had to use spoon to scrap them off the pan and were not as malleable as other people's experiences. Perhaps the liquid content of heavy cream I added was not sufficient and I did not substitute with anything when I omitted the flavoring liquer. Or perhaps the addition of green tea powder affected the consistency of the chocolate.

The white chocolate was first melted in a bowl over simmering water or bain marie. The heavy cream was warmed in the microwave and poured into the melted chocolate. Green tea powder was then added and continue stirring is required to incorporate all ingredients and the mixture will become thick like custard consistency. The whole mixture was then poured into a pan and covered and cooled in the fridge for 1 hour till firm but still malleable. Plastic gloves is a must when rolling the chocolate into balls for hygiene reason and also, body temperature tend to melt the chocolate a bit and it gets messy and sticky when done with bare hands.

The pistachio were processed to chunky pieces and the sesame seeds were lightly pan fried on slow heat for 45 seconds to get them fragrant but not brown. It is easier to lay out all the paper cases before starting to work and roll the chocolate and using a big plate each to contain the crushed pistachio and sesame seeds. To avoid cross mixing between the coating on the truffles, I did the pistachio first. The sesame seeds was easier to work with as they stuck on easily. Both the pistachio and sesame seeds gave the chocolate a better crunch and mellowed down the sweetness of the white chocolate. One truffle is sweet enough to last the palate for a while, unless of course you have a very sweet tooth for chocolates.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Spiral & Checkered Cookies

These cookies are more festive than any ornaments or X'mas decorations in the market!

As anyone who reads this blog or know me personally can sense that I am obsessed with patterns and shapes. But I also like simplicity in one thing and so combining colors and fine lines is always my ultimate goal when I want to create something eye catching and yet edible to the palate.
I got the idea for the red checkered one from Better Homes & Garden's Christmas cookies edition year 2003 and the spiral one from a spiced cookie that is available in my hometown in Malaysia. The colors are just the usual ones I see everywhere in this time of the year.

Making these cookies required more attention and time than the Biscotti. They required accurate measurements, ample time of dough resting and attentive baking time. When I was making the checkered one, I was actually relearning my maths again, in terms of measurement, geometry and alignment. The spiral one was much easier and done in no time.

It all starts with a simple cookie dough. The dough contains 1 cup of butter and I reduced the sugar content as I prefer buttery but not over sweet cookies. With vanilla and egg added in, the dough was soft and slightly sticky. The amount of flour was quite alot compared to all the other cookies I see, about 2 & 1/2 cups with baking powder added and salt. Stirred into the butter mixture and then divided to 2 parts.

From one dough recipe, I divided into 2 parts, colored one with the chosen red and left the other half plain. The dough must be rested to a firm consistency so that cutting is easy and to ensure no mushy cross over between the 2 colors. For the spiral one, I just colored half of the dough green and roll it out to a 1/4 inches thick rectangle and stack it on top of the plain part with egg white brushed on top of both dough before the rolling.

The red and plain dough were first rolled out to a rectangle each measuring 3' x 4' and then stacked together with egg wash. I find the steps in creating the checkered pattern very technical and simply difficult to explain in words. Thanks to YouTube, I found the right way to tell you on how to do it. For those who are interested, please refer to this link. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jp7eL5Jg6bU

I like to take short cuts and I hardly measure nor repeat the steps in resting the dough. Hence, the uneven squares and sizes of the cookies. The first cut was not very encouraging but as I went on for the 3rd and so on slices, the checkered patterns were obvious and I was ecstatic. It is like discovering on how a candy cane was made (well... at least to me who is always food obsessed!) As for the spiral ones, the sizes were more uniform and I only wished I had made the shape rounder rather than oval. The baking part requires more attention as the cookies will be baked for a mere 12 mins with the rotation of the pan once during the baking and the cookies removed once the edges are slightly browned. If they are baked too long, the colors of the cookies will turn dull and not attractive. They must be completely cooled on the rack before packing or storing. Again I used wax paper to individually wrap each till I am ready for the packing. Rather than rush to bake and cool on the last day, doing some wax paper cutting and wrapping randomly was not that tedious anyway.

Chicken Phyllo Tart

It has been some time since I last posted an easy recipe. With the busy season of gifts buying and cookies making, I didn't manage to create anything new for dinner. Sometimes we even fed on the same kind of vegetable for days and I simply make a stew that last for days.

Today we had a playdate at a friend's place and I made these tarts to bring over. Thank you AK for inviting us over and I hope you didn't have a bad time cleaning up your place after we left!! And we will still get invited the next time.

I got these phyllo tart shells from the grocery , sold under the name Athens Mini Phillo Shells. When I first started this blog, I adamantly told my Greek friend that I will try to make phyllo dough one day and he said I am crazy. Still, eager as a bird and strong as a bull then, I told him I will do it. After months gone by, I finally came to my senses that something store bought are meant to be and phyllo is on top of the list! I may be crazy with ideas but I don't have a mad mind!

I had no idea that these tart shells were so small till I took them out of the packet. My goodness, they were perhaps less than 2 inches each and I was wondering how am I supposed to put in any filling into them. At first I was planning to pour the condensed chicken soup together with the chicken meat, peas and corn into it but I ended up spooning the ingredients individually into 15 shells. Making them were not difficult, any types of fillings will do and I am surprised they were so crisp and tasted fresh after a mere 10 minutes baking in the oven at 350F. Like they said, good things comes in small packages and pop one of these in your mouth, you will enjoy munching it away. The cream of chicken soup did not melt during the baking, it stayed the same creamy consistency but warmed and complementing the steamed chicken pieces that I filled into the cavity of the shell and topped with peas and corn. I grated some Gouda cheese with a lemon rind grater to get the long strands and sprinkled on top of the cream of chicken soup. Sprinkled with some thyme , the tarts looked complete. The fun is eating it when it is still super crispy.

Ingredients :
15 Phyllo tart shells (pre made)
1/2 cup of frozen peas
1/2 cup of frozen corn bits
6 tbsp of cream of chicken soup (Campbell)
fresh thyme
1/2 cup of grated Gouda or Cheddar cheese
2 chicken drumstick (steamed for 15 mins and cut to pieces)

1. Preheat the oven to 350F.
2. Place all the tart shells in paper liners.
3. Fill the tarts in this order : chicken pieces, peas & corn, small dollop of the cream of chicken soup, grated cheese and thyme.
4. Bake for 10 mins. Remove and serve warm.

Serves: 4 persons (as finger food)

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Cranberry & Pistachio Biscotti

Biscotti is my favorite cookie. I find it very easy to make, simply whip up everything and the fact that it needs no precision cutting nor kneading makes the effort a cinch. I admit that everytime I go to a cafe I only look to the big jar of biscottis, standing tall next to the cashier or on top of the counter of all the other cookies displayed in the case.

I didn't grow up with soft cookies but crunchy ones, hence biscotti is always my preferred choice. Biscotti dough is also very versatile with endless possibilities of added ingredients like nuts, dried fruits, coffee and chocolate flavored or simply plain. For this X'mas season, the color red and green are the festive ones and I chose cranberry and pistachio.

I adapted this recipe from Food Network library and true enough to its statement, it is very easy to make. The only time consuming part is the shelling of the pistachio and chopping them. Dried cranberries are plenty in the market and I like its sweet tart combination which complements the crunch of the pistachio and the subtle sweetness of the Biscotti itself.

All ingredients must be at room temperature, especially the butter. I soften mine in the microwave for 15 seconds and it slightly melted but didn't affect the end product. I beat the eggs before adding to the butter and sugar mixture as I find this blends all ingredients better. And I let the mixture mixed longer for 5 mins on medium speed to obtain a lighter consistency. Baking powder is the main ingredient that makes the dough airy and for a recipe that yields 24 cookies required a heap 1 & 1/2 teaspoon added to the flour. The dried cranberries and pistachio were first tossed and mixed together in a bowl with 1 tbsp of flour. As the cranberries still retain some moisture from its packaging and tend to stick to each other, adding and tossing them in flour tends to get them to stay separate and ensure a more even distribution of the berries and the nut when they are mixed into the dough batter.

1/3 part of the flour was added to the butter mixture first and then the berries and nuts were slowly added by scattering around the bowl while the mixer is still mixing. This is to ensure that all parts of the dough has a filling of the fruit & nut. The remaining flour is then stirred into the mixture which forms a chunky rough and dry dough. I always eyeball things and I didn't bother to use a ruler to measure the logs that I formed. Afterall, homemade cookies are supposed to look rugged and with Biscotti, I figured that I won't go that wrong!!!

Each recipe will yield 2 logs and both must be placed apart at least 5 inches on the lined baking sheet as they spread during baking. I whipped up 2 batches of the recipe as I always get better and same texture of the baked Biscotti, rather than increasing the ingredients in one batch and a larger amount of this cookie batter will not be easy to work with. Baked for 40 mins till slightly brown and cooled thoroughly before cutting into slices. 1/2 inches slices will be perfect for the gift box and to ensure that they don't crumble during gift wrapping. I didn't exactly bake them twice but left them in the warm oven with the knob turned off. The point is to dry them up completely and this will yield the crisp and crunchiness of the Biscotti. They must be completely cooled before wrapping and I used wax paper to wrap up 4 to 5 slices in one packet and storing them in an air tight jar. This is to ensure that they always stay dry till the time I need to pack them into the cookie tins and if the cookies ever soften before the packing, they just need to be re-baked for a short moment to return their crispness. That is the good thing about Biscotti, they can be resurrected and stay good forever!!!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Ginger Molasses Cookies

This year, I started baking cookies for the holidays. I have never attempted home gifts and neither have I attempted so many cookies in one day.

Today I made a total of 120 ginger Molasses cookies for a cookie swap this coming Sunday. The hostess is a very recent friend I got to know when I first sent Missy E to her school. We hit out on the right note and have been sharing tales of classrooms and our kids and thanks to her, I am learning to be the real American mom. And with this cookie swap that she is hosting, I am put to the test and experience on how Martha Stewart does things! Mind you, we both are fans of the Domestic guru!

This is the exact cookie that I made for my Gingerbread People cookies in my other blog. The only thing is that I reduced the amount of sugar and prepared the dough a week ago and let it sit in the freezer wrapped with freezer paper. I prepared the recipe in 3 batches as I am very skeptical on trying to increase the ingredients, fearing that the wrong measurements will not yield any cookies eventually.

The cookie dough turned very sticky and mushy when they were ready for rolling. I am unsure of why is this and can only continue to sprinkle flour and knead the dough till the consistency is firmer for rolling and cutting. For the dough, I omitted the ginger totally as some people don't really like the gingery aroma but I added more nutmeg instead. The molasses is the main flavor of this cookie and the addition of salt to the flour brought out the sweetness of the brown sugar.

As I had only 3 baking pans, I made 12 cookies in each pan as to keep tab on the numbers that I have made. The cookies were baked in a preheated oven of 325F for 12 to 15 mins, with 1 rotation of the pan every 10 mins to get even baking. It really made a difference and the cookies must still be soft in the middle and firm by the sides when they are to be taken out. When cooled completely, the cookies firmed up with a sandy appearance, a little crunch on the outside and slightly grainy in the inside. I am pleased that the cookies are not too sweet and I don't feel overwhelmed with sugar after eating one.

Packaging the cookies into 7 bags of a dozen each took me almost an hour. I used cuttings of brown paper bag to line each cookie and stacked them together into the usual baggies that we all have in the kitchen. Attached a laminated copy of the recipe and they are ready to go. Cookies must be made nearing the time of eating to get the real fresh homemade taste and hence same with those that are made for gifts. It is a hectic X'mas for me this year but I also enjoy the baking and giving. It really means more coming from your own kitchen!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

December Bento Days (2)

I asked Curry what he wanted for X'mas. He said 'Nothing'! Does that mean I don't get a wish list too? Will I be fumed with jealousy when the kids ravage the wrapping papers and play with their new toys? But to tell the truth, I have no idea what I want for X'mas. My needs and wants for material stuffs comes once in a blue moon and can suddenly pop up without any occasions. Maybe it is true that X'mas is all about kids only and we the parents can only enjoy their excitement as an onlooker and their joy is our gift.

I think there is something wrong with my camera these days or perhaps the days have gotten so dull that the photos never come out perfect anymore. And I think my Bento making has dropped in standard too! And when my Aunt commented that I need improvement in Bento, that says everything! December is just not the month for Bentos, no inspiration and using left over dinners, cold mornings and shaky hands, other activities of baking during the day... all these I blame on for the degradation of my Bentos!!!! Fear not, there are so many resolutions I am going to make for the New Year and better Bentos is on the list.

I packed noodle with beef & potato stew for Curry's lunch today. The gravy from the beef stew was mixed into the noodle before packing to keep the noodle moist. As I didn't plan properly, I skipped the greens and set out to play with my X'mas cookie cutters instead. I cut thick slices of cucumber and punch X'mas trees and Candy canes. Cut up some flower shaped carrot too.... too much cookies baking these days makes me crafty now! And I only realised afterwards that I have ran out of ranch dressing! I hate peeling the skin off the kiwi fruit and I just included a spoon for scooping half sections of it.

Friday, December 5, 2008

X'mas Cookies

So soon? Yes! Merry X'mas... Ho Ho Ho!

In America, celebrations starts from Halloween all the way to New Year! And like Santa, things can get very busy nearing X'mas and I thought I might as well make these early so that I don't miss out on all the fun of cookies making season!

Talking about Santa, it took me a month to search this cookie cutter all over town and I was elated to have found it ! Sure, I could have substituted with the gingerbread man cookie cutter but thinking that I have to use more time and colors to decorate up the suit besides the face, I was determined to find a face only cookie and do minimum work. Moreover, I have nothing to brag about my decorating skills , so better not try something too adventurous and stick to simple work.

For this batch of cookies, I used store bought cookie dough mixture. As they were made for Missy E's classroom buddies who will chow down everything with no gourmet comments, I saved myself some time of making from scratch. Personally, I don't really like store bought cookie dough as they are too sweet for my tooth and with the icing on it, it feels like I am drowning in sugar. But you only get to be a 4 year old once and I am sure Missy E and her friends will be merrier with more sugar!

The cookies were first baked and then iced with the background colors of white and red. After drying out for 1 day, I proceeded with the finishing touches and I was too lazy to mix up more colors, I used the same colors on the X'mas tree too! The candy cane was a last drop of cookie dough saviour. I still have problem with the consistency of the icing and the hand control on the piping bag. Perhaps I was in a rush to finish up before Prince D gets up from his nap or getting bugged by Missy E, the X'mas tree colored dots were not very uniform!

Anyways, I have done it and I hope the kids love it. I still have different cookies to make for the next 3 weeks and hopefully I don't eat them all up before they leave my kitchen to go into gift boxes!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

December Bento Days (1)

The last month of the year. The month when calories don't matter and eating is a sport. December with its many religious celebrations and end of the year bonuses is aptly scheduled for us to binge and gorge everything on the table, in the fridge and in the groceries with free flow of samples of candies, wine and nibbles to entice us. Even I myself think eating candies and cookies everyday this month is a daily meal! Like everyone else, I am making depressing cold January my resolution diet month and let December be merry as it is.

Last week's terrorist attack on Mumbai, India reminds us that we are far from absolute peace on earth and we should all resolute to do more good to ourselves and others, at least the practice of solidarity, compromise and respect for one another will exist regardless of acts of evil that casts a shadow everywhere.

For today's Bento, I made beef dumplings or 'Siu Mai', wrapped in napa cabbage leaves. With minced beef and seasoned lightly with pepper and salt, the fillings are wrapped in leaves and arranged neatly in a small bowl for steaming. The steaming process draws out juice from the meat and I included it into the Bento box to ensure the dumplings are moist come lunch time. For the rice, I mixed it with nori wrapper pieces and hard boiled egg, premixed with some mayonaise. Shaped into logs and gathered up with nori strips. I stir fried some enoki mushroom with carrot, celery and cabbage and garnished with goji berries. Tangerine is plenty in the market these days and its combination of sweet and tart is very good for cleansing the palate after a heavy meal. I included two chocolate candy to sweeten the day.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Persimmon & Cranberry Tart

This year's Thanksgiving celebration was made simple and I insisted on it. As our extended family members are not here and all friends had their own programs, Curry and I didn't have to rush anything. We even opted for duck instead of turkey or goose as it requires less stuffings and something new to experiment with and no guests to feed! No fancy table settings and dressing up, the kids simply enjoyed the freedom of endless cartoons and snacks grazing up to dinner time.

Persimmon is a fruit originated from China and I first tasted it when I was very young and they are in abundance around Chinese New Year time. I love its firmness and yet juicy and sometimes crunchy when eaten with the skin. I would relate its texture to firm peaches and the sweetness akin to mango with the juice content of a plum. These days, persimmon is produced in warmer climate spots in the West coast and my preferred type is the Fuyu, which is absolutely good when ripen thoroughly.

As I had no luck of persuading Curry to try Pumpkin pie, I opted to make this tart. Still with the festive spirit and colors, orange and red and rich with fattening calories! I had no idea on how it will turn out as the persimmons have been sitting on my countertop for a week already and still firm and haven't reach the extreme ripe texture that I wanted. Well, as I said, no guests this year and I put on the experimental tool and pursued something new.

For the tart case, I used the Pate Sucre/Sweet pastry recipe and with the addition of egg, the crust turned out more stable and cookie like which is very suitable for a custard content like this tart. Resting the dough for a certain amount of time really firms it up and it must be thawed a bit before rolling out to line the tart pan. After the lining of the pan, the dough is let to rest again in the fridge. It was then blind baked , lined with parchment paper and beans to prevent the pastry case puffing out of shape during the baking before the custard and fruits are put inside.

For the custard part, I used 5 eggs with almond flour, added some lemon juice and a few tablespoons of heavy cream. The persimmons were then cut and sliced horizontally and lined in a circular motion inside the part baked tart shell. Dried cranberries were scattered all over and lastly, the custard is spooned over the fruits. Baked for 25 minutes till the custard is set and let cool to room temperature. Fresh cranberries looks festive and although they are too tart to eat on their own, garnishing with them brightens up any desserts and popping one in your mouth can be fun too with the sweet tart! I find this tart better to eat after letting it rest at room temperature for at least 2 hours and the crust remains dense and cookie texture like throughout. The persimmon did softened but not to the mushy stage while the dried cranberries gives it a sweet and tart bite. Having a slice of this tart with vanilla ice cream is very enjoyable and for a more sophisticated dinner, try whipped cream and a strong pot of coffee.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Thanksgiving Cookies

'Mom! I am thankful for my brother, you and my papa' . How can that not melt my heart? Missy E learns alot of things at school and sometimes she asks funny questions or imitate sayings that I don't want to hear in my house, but overall I am thankful she is talking and learning too. And for the whole month, she has been talking about nothing else except turkey, potatoes, cookies and thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving is an American tradition where all families celebrate together and say thanks for having each other and a good year. Although the economy and financial condition these days do hamper the spirits of holiday celebrations, I don't see people slowing down in the throngs of queues at the stores cashiers picking up carts of groceries and gifts for visiting guests. One thing I learned is that Americans are very generous people. They donate and give and also share, no matter what the economy dictates during these Thanksgiving and X'mas seasons. Although they may buy smaller gifts this year but they still carry their shopping lists and ticking it off like Santa! I was behind a lady last Sunday while she was paying for her things and I glimpsed through her list..... goodness..... in my whole life, I don't think I ever buy that many gifts for anyone, let alone she has to get things for perhaps 30 people! Good for her and I am sure she brings joy to the people who is in her list.

It was rainy today and we had to stay indoors. Since it is not time to do anything for the Thanksgiving dinner, I used up the gingerbread dough from last week and played with some color in the icing this time. I did the rolling out of the dough, Missy E cut out the shapes and I baked and iced them while Prince D trying to sneak in at every corner to see what is happening. Keeping with the simplicity of less icing and colors, I worked with 1 color piping bag at a time and iced all 3 cookies at the same time when using the same color. I saved alot of energy changing piping bags and cookie decorating can be very tedious when I try too hard to follow the book. This time round I added a little more water to the icing mixture and it was easier to pipe. Previously, the requirement of alot of piping bags filled with different colors and different tips put me off the idea of ever doing cake and cookie decorating. But now I just stick to 4 colors the most and 3 basic round tips will get me through. As long as you can see what the cookie is shaped out as, I am already pleased.

I am thankful for everything that I have. Good health, good kids (although rowdy), ok spouse, friends old and near, families near and far and everyone whom I know or not know but reads this blog. Everything has been good for me this year and I am very thankful. Happy Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Gingerbread Cookies

There are things that I can do well and something that I can never get right. Decorating cookies is in between. Over the years, the art of decorating cookies has exploded to massive scales and everyone seems to know how to whip up icing and slap it onto a plain sugar cookie. I was totally clueless till I came to America where cookie cutters of all forms and sizes are everywhere and bookstores shelves are stocked up with every cookies book imaginable. Everytime I pick up a magazine or book and see those beautiful colors piped onto the cookie, my jaw drops and a hush sigh is let out. I really admire those people who can do all the icing decoration with multiple colors and patterns and also deliver a full tray of it! How do they do it?

I did attend some of the Wilton decorating classes long time ago and before I had kids. After the classes, my interest wavered partly due to the fact that there was no one eating my cake or cookies and I was lazy! Decorating cookies is a feat to me and I am like Prince D with a color pen....... getting all messy with my hands and still cannot draw anything! However said, having kids do change a person, especially a woman and everyone knows, kids love cookies and with the X'mas season around, how can I not do anything like the other moms and make my kids miss out on all the fun of eating a decorated cookie?

One day Missy E came home from school with an assignment. She had to bring in everything she can find that spells with the alphabet 'G'. The idea of Gingerbread man came instantly to my mind and my mood in cookie making was suddenly revived! Throughout the process, I was imagining how happy she and her friends will be to have these cookies for snack time. Despite knowing that my piping skills is zero to nothing, I gathered up my guts and whip up the icing. Making the cookie was the easy part. The usual mixing of sugar, brown sugar, molasses, butter and vegetable shortening was done with the mixer and the flour was slowly folded in. Nothing complex. It was the mixing of the icing sugar with meringue powder and water that kept my attention locked in. I don't really fancy handling icing cream as I find it messy just like melted chocolate and the consistency of it can change drastically with an extra drop of water! I managed to decorate 18 gingerbread people before my palm starts aching. Although the results were amateurish, I am glad that I did it and thanks to Missy E and Prince D, my piping and decorating tools will not see the doomsday!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

November Bento Days (4)

Today was Missy E's turn for a Bento box. It was one of those special stay back for lunch school days and I get to use all the cute stuffs of the Bento world! I finally got my Bento gadgets and accessories and started to experiment with them. I find the character rice moulds a bit difficult to use as they are small and I had to work fast when the rice is still hot. For the garnish on the face, I just cut up some nori sheets and dried cranberries which was done the night before to save alot of time! I always wonder how the other Bento mums can spend so much time in doing those Character based Bento ('Kyaraben') as I really find it time consuming and patience testing. Kudos to them and 'Ganbatte' to me ('work hard')!

I stir fried some chicken marinated in soy sauce and pepper with a little orange juice. Kids love sweet and sour stuffs and Missy E will eat up anything. To fill up the Bento, I blanched some broccoli florets and I am amazed by Missy E who finished up everything within her 15 mins lunch break in school today. For her top tier box, I cut up some baby tomatoes and put in some grapes. I thought mini quail eggs would add in the fun and cut up two and arranged them neatly with a side of mayonaise for dipping. With a juice box, Missy E was happy for a day and taught her teachers on the art of chopsticks. How cute was that!