Friday, November 20, 2009

November Bento Days (3)

Since I am not celebrating Thanksgiving this year, I skipped to the X'mas feel fast forward! Instead of orange, brown and red, all I see these days are red, green and white. Although there will be no white X'mas in Asia, I can still resort to making cookies iced white with sprinkles. As long as the icing doesn't melt in the heat before I get them onto the cookies!

2009 has come and almost gone too fast for my counting and reminiscing. Both my kids are off to school, although not full time but the 3 hours absence of them gives me more time to sip a cup of tea and reconnect with my brain cells and of course to keep a little peace and try to keep my house neat. It is that time of the year again to set goals and list things to do for next year. Funny on how I love to plan everything these days and simply cannot function when I don't set it out in paper & pen. Raising kids have really took away my spontaneity in life and as they grow each year, I wish I can maintain my young at heart self and be more relaxed in doing everything.

For this week's Bentos, I attempted more on the cute characters and figured on how to take the usual bread, rice and even frozen food to the next level! Although I very much wanted to make a complete Bento with X'mas themes, I was always short of time this week and only able to make one character at a time. I found some X'mas themed non-pareils at the craft store and used them to accent the reindeer's nose and ears. They will be very useful in decorating X'mas baked goods for people like me who don't really like tinting my icing creams with food coloring, just a few sprinkles over a white cookie brings out all the festive spirit! For the brown chick, I heated up a piece of frozen chicken nugget in the toaster oven and decorated it with carrot, cheese and seaweed pieces. I find that microwaving nuggets give them a soggy texture and although baking them in the oven takes a bit more time but they do turn out crisp and I learned the trick of putting them in an aluminum liner before inserting them into the box to keep it fresh and crisp till snack time. The snowman was made with 2 rice balls, pinned together from top to bottom with a food pick through a small piece of chicken wiener as the hat. The hands are just heart shaped picks and the buttons are made up of peas, attached to the rice with a dab of mayo. I only dare to use picks with Miss E as she knows how to remove them before eating but it is advisable not to use picks for children who are younger and Prince D definitely cannot really differentiate yet between what is edible and what is not.

We will be leaving early Monday for HK and I am so excited to see all my family and relatives again in Malaysia. The last time I visited my homeland was 2 years ago and I am sure alot has changed but one thing I am very sure, my family and relatives always welcome us with rows and rows of food on the potluck table and I can't wait to document all of them and post it here! After picking up this hobby of cooking, baking and blogging, I really understand the phrase that "food is what brings the family together" and I would like to thank all my uncles, aunties and cousins who always supported this blog of mine and always tuning in to see my culinary adventure! I am going home... see you all soon.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Chestnut Cream Cocoa Cake

If the summer is loaded with fresh beautiful berries, autumn and winter surely belongs to the nuts of all kinds big and small. After using up the pecan in the pantry, I bought some fresh chestnuts to try out. Although I made a chestnut mousse cake earlier this year for Curry's birthday, the fact that I used prepacked and pre cleaned chestnuts meant that I haven't actually experience handling a real chestnut and I was eager to learn! Oh boy, half way in peeling the outer shells of 1 lb of chestnuts I was already cursing myself for being too curious! And after the outer shells were removed by poking and running a small knife around it, there was still the husks. And worst, some of them were rotten and after husking, all was left was a mere 6 oz (175g)!

Initially I was planning to make a chestnut cream cake with the famous Mont Blanc design of chestnut puree sizzled all over in strands on the top of the cake but with that little chestnut left, I was to decide on either the cream part or the fancy design part! With a cocoa genoise cake as the base, I figured that the cream was a better option as the contrast of the light and dark brown colors and the similar layer effect was more pleasing to the eyes than all the busy swirls. I love the blackberries for its dark color and they added an extra sweetness and kind of cut down the richness of chestnut cream in the palate.

Although I dislike working with chocolate in my baking, cocoa powder is not a problem. As with chocolate, only the best quality cocoa powder will do in producing a good cake. Basically this genoise cake is built up from the air incorporated into the batter from the beating of eggs and no other types of leavener or liquid was used. The key to a successful genoise cake is to properly beat the eggs with the sugar in a bowl over simmering water or bain marie which dissolves the sugar and warming the eggs helps to trap more air during the beating and double up its volume which builds the structure of the cake. I adapted this recipe from my favorite cake making book, The Simple Art of Perfect Baking by Flo Braker. This was my first serious cake recipe book and although there are no bright colorful photos in my old edition cookbook, the black and white illustrations of the cakes and the easy to read and understand recipes and notes were appealing to me and so far, I have never failed in anything when using this book. Sometimes the best recipes are in these types of cookbooks which explains and shows the basics of a few cakes baked from the same method and introduces multiple ways to dress up the basic cakes rather than the numerous cookbooks that are circulating in the market these days which can be overwhelming with too many photos and similarities with other publications.

I boiled the cleaned chestnuts in milk and sugar for almost 20 mins to soften it and till the milk evaporated and because of the high starch content of the nuts, once pureed, it produces a paste like texture instantly and I stirred in the dissolved gelatin before adding the whole mixture to the whipped cream. I left the chestnut cream layer set over the cocoa cake layer in the fridge overnight before cutting them into slices and garnishing them with the blackberries. I used frozen blackberries and cooked them with a bit of sugar for 10 mins to make them softer and sweeter. Sprinkled with more cocoa powder, this cake makes a perfect start to a festive eating season, rich in taste and indulgent.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Bento Days November (2)

One more week of Bento next week and I am off duty doing it till next year! But hey, I am eager to go shopping for Bento tools in Asia though, and will come back with loads of new things! I am a manic Bento mom you know!!!!

Big thank you to Crazymommy for the fruits picks. Looks like my Bento tools container is filling up very quickly and soon I might need a cupboard space to store everything!

This week I tried the sandwich rolls and I find only the store bought white bread is soft enough to be rolled thin with a rolling pin. My first attempt with the ham and cheese didn't turn out very well and I tried again with the egg salad. I rolled them tightly and wrapped the bread roll in a cling film and left it overnight in the fridge. It came out better in shape.

I introduced persimmon to Miss E and she liked it for its crunchiness. I find that the persimmons we get here never seem to soften even after sitting at the countertop for a week. But they are sweet though. Cubed pineapple is a good alternative to oranges and they fit snuggly in a side container. One of the easiest dish to cook for kids is chicken in cream of mushroom. Stir fry the chicken meat for 5 mins and pour over the cream of mushroom and let it simmer for a further 15 mins. Add in peas and you get a yummy creamy lunch.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Pumpkin Sweet Rolls

I just couldn't let this Autumn pass without making something out of the pumpkin. There was no chance of a pumpkin pie, no matter how small as I will be the only one eating it and a pumpkin bread cake doesn't seem so appealing either! The next best thing would be something breadlike, tastes sweet and with other ingredients added. I took the idea of the cinnamon roll and made these rolls in an angel pan, with high anticipation that they will turn out a stripe and swirl pattern with 2 color toned bread dough but resulted very pale and subtle instead! With some more pecans and dried cranberries left, I just mixed them up with light brown sugar and rolled them up tight with 2 layers of different colored bread dough. The addition of the pumpkin puree to the bread dough makes it very wet and although I used 2 eggs in this recipe, I think 1 should be enough taking into account the liquid in the pumpkin puree.

It has been a long time since I made bread or buns and I kind of forgotten on how the dough texture should feel in the hands. A good bread dough should always feel heavy, elastic and not dry and the resting and rising period is very important to ensure a good texture of the bread. These buns are more dense due to the added pumpkin and the outer layer is crusty. As I didn't soak them in heavy amount of Maple syrup, they don't look gooey but it is better that way so that my kids don't get all sticky with their fingers. My effort to create the plain and pumpkin swirls failed but the 2 tones are visible as soon as you tear open one. Like all sweet rolls, this pumpkin one is best when served straight out of the oven or warm. After overnight, the bread kind of stale and a quick warm up in the oven will bring them back to its original state. And drizzle the maple syrup as soon as possible when it is still hot!

Recipe :

Bread Dough
3-1/4 cups All Purpose Flour
1 tbsp yeast
2/3 cup warm milk
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
10 oz pumpkin (yields 3/4 cup puree)
Extra 1 cup all purpose flour
1 egg
4 oz (1/2 cup or 1 stick butter), cold and malleable

Method :
1)Dissolve the yeast in the warm milk and let it stand at room temperature.
2)Sift the flour, salt and cinnamon together.
3)Rub in the butter till coarse crumbs or use the paddle attachment in the mixer and mix for 1 minute on medium speed.
4)Beat the egg lightly and mix into the flour mixture using a spatula or the mixer. Don't overmix at this stage.
5)The dough will appear in a rough mass. Divide into 2 equal amounts and remove half to a floured countertop and knead with your hands, sprinkling flour as you go till the dough becomes smooth and elastic. Knead for 2 minutes, shape into a ball and place in a clean bowl, cover with cling film and let the dough rest and rise for 1 hour and 30 mins.
6)Turn on the paddle beater for the remaining dough. Slowly add in the pumpkin puree in 3 batches, mixing and incorporating well. Do not over mix.
7)Starting with 1/4 cup, slowly fold in the extra flour till the batter comes together to form a dough. The dough will be sticky and heavy.
8)Transfer the dough to a floured surface and knead with hands for 3 to 5 mins, adding flour as you go till you get a heavy and elastic dough. Sprinkle flour on the bottom and sides of a clean bowl and shape the dough into a ball and let it rest and rise inside the bowl, covered with cling film for 1 hour & 30 mins.

Sweet Fillings :
1 cup Pecan, toasted and processed to small bits
1/2 cup dried cranberry
4 tbsp light brown sugar

Method: Mix all ingredients together and leave aside till the dough is ready.

To Assemble :
1)Roll out the 2 dough separately to a large rectangle.
2)Layer the pumpkin dough on top of the plain dough.
3)Sprinkle the filling onto the dough to cover the whole surface.
4)Starting from the edge nearer to you, slowly roll up the dough all the way and tuck the seam underneath.
5)Using a knife, mark about 2 inches line apart on the roll and cut to equal size pieces, which should yield 10 to 12 pieces.
6)If you like crusty crust, flour the angel pan or large rectangle pan or round pan and tap out excess. If not, grease the pan with butter only. Place the cut out rolls, with the cut side down into the pan and arrange them sitting next to each other. Cover with cling film and let them rest and rise for another 30 mins.
7)Preheat the oven to 350F, bake the rolls on the bottom rack for 35 mins. Remove from the oven and drizzle with maple syrup when they are still warm.
Makes : 10 to 12 rolls/buns

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Pecan & Dried Fruits Tartlets

In less than 3 weeks time I will be flying off back to Malaysia and I am excited and stressed at the same time. I don't remember flying was so dreadful when I was younger but now, I simply feel claustrophobic even before I board the plane. I just hope my 2 kids behave and co-operate with me and each other during the whole period of 16 hours coop up in a small space with other strangers and the minutes and hours just tick tock away as I blink my eyes and they sleep at their normal bed time! I am just thankful that I don't have to carry a loadful of diapers and milk bottles anymore this time round.

I love the season of Thanksgiving and X'mas in New England. As I browse through catalogs of boxed and food gifts and the home stores with multiple choices of festive goodies that simply gets my cooking and baking spirit soaring, I feel sad that I will miss out on buying and giving out homemade cookies and baked goods as I did last year. I haven't been back to Malaysia for 2 years and everytime I go back, I cannot recognize much anymore of the hometown that I grew up in due to the rampant expansion of roads, malls and buildings mushrooming everywhere and everyone else is always in a rush to somewhere between places and friendly faces are getting less and less in a once very laid back and easy place.

To get my festive mood going, I made something which is more representable of the season's palate. Tartlets with a hint of nutmeg filled with the wonderful Pecan, dried figs and cranberry, drenched and baked in maple syrup. It took me a while to start serious baking again and I was unable to give up the summer flavors of fresh berries and mousse type cakes and without them, I was so lost for ideas! Actually, I intended to bring the packs of pecan and dried figs for my relatives back in Malaysia but funny, they looked so tempting and hence that was how these tartlets came to be!

Pecan is a very rich tasting nut and quite similar to walnut in chunkiness. Besides fresh fruits, I love nuts too and none but all types are my favorite! The maple syrup binds all the nuts and fruits together and gives out a slight burnt aroma which is nutty and sweet to the palate. Nothing is light about the ingredients but that is the taste of the end of the year holiday season, rich, thick and fulfilling. Maybe they don't look so colorful as my other summer cakes and tarts, tastewise they are better during these cold months!


Tart Shells :
1-1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup almond meal
1/4 cup confectioner sugar
1/2 tsp nutmeg powder
4 oz (1 stick) cold and malleable butter
1 egg

1)Sift the flour, almond meal, confectioner sugar and nutmeg powder into a large bowl.
2)Cut the butter into smaller pieces and drop them into the flour mixture or use a food processor. Coat the flour with the butter pieces and crumble till resembles coarse crumbs. Do not over process.
3)Beat the egg lightly and pour into the flour and butter mixture. Process and mix till the mixture comes together as a dough. Remove and flatten to a disk and place in plastic bag and let it rest in the fridge for 30 mins.
4)Grease 5 of 4 inch tartlet pans with butter and leave aside. Prepare parchment paper and baking beans.
5)Preheat oven to 375F. Place rack at bottom of the oven. Roll out the dough between 2 pieces of wax paper to 1/2 inch thick and cut with a large bowl, larger than the whole of the tartlet pans. Transfer the cut out dough to the pans and tuck in the sides first with your fingers to fit. Trim edges. Continue with the rest of the dough and pans.
6)Place parchment paper and baking beans onto the dough in the pans. Bake for 15 to 17 minutes, remove paper and baking beans and continue to bake for another 10 mins. Once done, remove the tart shells from the oven and lower the oven to 350F.

Filling :
1 cup Pecan halves, toasted for 7 mins
1/4 cup dried cranberry
1/4 cup dried figs (about 6 figs, each quartered)
2 tbsp light brown sugar
1 tbsp all purpose flour
2 tbsp butter, melted
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 cup maple syrup

1)Mix the nuts and dried fruits together in a large bowl. Sprinkle in the brown sugar and flour and stir to mix.
2)Mix in the melted butter and beaten eggs and stir to mix and stir to distribute out the nuts and fruits.
3)Lastly pour in the maple syrup and coat the filling.
4)Using a spoon, divide and distribute the filling between each tart shell, making sure that each has all the ingredients. Spoon the liquid from the maple syrup into the tart shells too. Fill to the top.
5)At a 350F oven, bake the tartlets for 40 mins, rotating the pan the last 15 mins to get an even baking. Remove, and let them cool on the rack.
6)Serve warm or at room temperature with ice cream or whipped cream.

Makes: 5 tartlets (measuring 4 inch each) or a 10 inch tart for 6 servings

Friday, November 6, 2009

Kindergarten Bento Days (November Week 1)

Perhaps my camera is not working right anymore or the sun rises more later in the day, I was a bit lazy in blogging about the Bentos that I made in the last 3 weeks! And I totally lost track on what week it is now that Miss E has been in kindergarten! When my inner drive to do it is lost, I just have to click on other Bento sites to get me going again. Making Bento has given me a different perspective in food preparation and presentation and giving up on it is really a pity when my kids do enjoy the cute rice balls and colorful ingredients. I may not be able to bake everyday but I should be making Bento for my kids as it is good for me, physically I become an early riser and go to bed at normal time, mentally I feel good that I have tried my best to give my kids good choices in food while my kids eat healthy and hopefully appreciate my efforts too. Prince D will have the opportunity to attend longer hours at his pre school next year and I am looking forward to pack him some nice lunch bento.

I have taken a liking to the kiwi fruit as it is sweet at this time of the year and very reasonably priced. Although the pomegranate is in season now, I find it a bit messy with its staining red juice and perhaps not a wise choice for a kindergarten Bento box. For the flower patterns on the crackers and rice balls, I attached them with a bit of mayonaise and they did transported well without falling apart till snack time. I find mini cookie cutters very useful in the quick preparation of the decorating part in Bento boxes and little touches like black poppy seeds, sesame seeds and seaweed nori strips makes a plain rice ball more interesting.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Chicken Pot Pie

What better comfort food than an individual ramekin chicken pot pie, piping hot and tucked into your palms on a cold autumn day. With a substantial filling consisting chicken meat, peas, potato, herbs and cream and a light buttery crust to cut and dip into the hot creamy filling, it warms you up instantly at the first bite.

For this pie, I made up a buttery dough for the crust and I find that working with vegetable shortening and butter requires different amount of water in the making of the dough. And I find that a butter based crust is much more easier to roll and doesn't break apart easily when being moved. Although vegetable shortening yields a more flakier crust, this butter crust has more taste to it and infact very light and airy.

I added baking powder to the flour so that the crust will puff up during the baking. Cream of mushroom is my favorite canned food to use and no matter what you cook with it, the end result is always good. For a better presentation, I sprinkled some white sesame seeds on the crust and it lends a subtle nutty flavor to the pie. The potato need not be boiled prior to adding it into the cream of mushroom mixture so that it will still retain its shape and not mushy after the baking.

Recipe :

250g all Purpose Flour
1 tsp Baking Powder
125g cold & malleable butter
5 to 6 tbsp cold water
1 egg, beaten

1)Sift the flour and baking powder together.
2)Dice the butter and drop into the flour mixture. Use food processor to pulse and combine the mixture. If using hand, rub the butter pieces into the flour till resembles coarse crumbs. Do not overmix.
3)Starting with 3 tbsp of the cold water, add in gradually to the butter and flour mixture till it comes together into a dough. The dough must not be too wet. Place in a plastic bag and flatten it and let it rest for 30 mins in the fridge.
4)Meanwhile, prepare and cook the filling.

4 chicken drumsticks, remove bones and dice the meat
1 cup of chopped ham chunks
1 medium size potato, cleaned and diced
2/3 cup peas
1 shallot, sliced and diced
4 pips of garlic, minced
1-3/4 cup Cream of Mushroom
1 tbsp dried oregano (or any herbs of your choice)
1 tbsp cooking oil
2 tbsp cornflour

1)Marinate the chicken pieces with salt, pepper, 1 tbsp cooking oil and the cornflour. Let it marinate in the fridge for 1 hour.
2)Heat a large skillet with 3 tbsp cooking oil. Fry the shallots and garlic. Add in the chicken and potato pieces and stir to mix. Add in 1/2 cup of water and cover and let simmer for 5 mins. Remove lid and add in chopped ham. Stir to mix and cover and let it cook for another 5 mins.
3)Pour in the cream of mushroom and add 1/4 cup of water to dilute the sauce. Cover and let simmer for 10 mins.
4)Lastly season with salt, oregano and add in the peas. Cover and cook for another 3 mins. Turn off heat. Let the filling cool slightly.
5)Prepare 6 ramekins, measuring 4 inch in width and 2 inch in height.

To assemble :
1)Preheat the oven to 375F. Take out dough from the fridge, let it rest at countertop for 10 mins.
2)Dust countertop with a little flour and roll out the dough to 1/2 inch thickness. Using the largest round cookie cutter (3.5 inches), cut 6 rounds from the dough.
3)Scoop equal spoonfuls of the filling and divide into the 6 ramekins (roughly around 4 tbsp each).
4)Place the cut out round dough on top of each filling. Brush with egg wash and sprinkle each pie with sesame seeds.
5)Bake for 40 mins. Half time into the baking, brush the crust again with egg wash.
6)Remove and serve hot or warm.

Makes: 6 individual pot pies

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Mid Life Dilemma

It has been sometime since I last wrote anything about my thoughts. Although I am known to my friends that I am a very private person, sometimes I do long to scream out to the world on what is in my mind and to get all the steam off my chest!

The whole month of October was a lazy and kind of lost month for me. Once in a while the blues of a stay home mom gets to me and this month, the effect has been a bit overwhelming. The thoughts of my kids growing up too fast before my eyes and that I will be left with nothing much to fuss about them in 2 or 3 years time gives me the alarming nerves of what I am going to do with my life then! I seriously think a woman's life is made harder than a man. From the tender young age to the teenage stage, all we ever worry about are weight issues, monthly side track stomach upsets and leaks that is rightfully called "our part of growing up", excessive protection and sometimes over worried parents of our flourishing bosoms and sexuality curiosities and not forgetting the need to belong to a sisterhood group which sometimes really brings more harm than good! Come to the twenties, we are expected to throw ourselves into the mad world of careers chasing and outperforming the men in whatever field we choose to immerse ourselves in. Fast reaching the 30s, our own parents starts to worry if we are still not dating nor flinging ourselves out for the taking! And once married, the need to procreate and produce! Sigh..... and so on!
And now, I am at that stage of the dwindling need to stay with the offsprings for hours and days, and it seems that all I can feel is that they are getting more independent while I feel myself depending on them for support and purpose in life. It is like I am suddenly thrown into a dilemma ball again, and have to decide whether to roll into the ditch or aim at a new target of which I have not a single idea on what to aim! I love to be optimistic about everything but being a human and moreover a woman, negative thoughts flow and agitate my thinking at times. I don't see myself going back to a career lifestyle like the one I had before my marriage but I do feel that I don't have a lot of options open to me! Perhaps what I really need now is a career counselor and a light in the tunnel that will suddenly shine at me and show me the path. Moreover, I really need an opportunity that is out there that really suits my interests and skills and which I would like to believe is waiting for me to grab hold to and lead me to my future. Wishful thinking doesn't hurt, although not practical, it gives me some hope :) .

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Apple & Pear Crumble

For a while I thought I have lost my interests in the kitchen. For the past 2 weeks, the whole household was upside down with kids and adults alike coughing sick, appetite zero to none, miserable cold and wet weather and nothing seems to be driving the passion of picking up the whip and butter to create. My interests once in a while do go through a short span of abandonment and sometimes takes a long time to revive it. Currently I am still getting rid of the lingering dry cough but with my nose cleared and unblocked, my palate is teaming up with my smell sense again in sniffing out the next best thing to bake!

Autumn does have its colors and senses but I feel that it doesn't really give me a lot of options in baking. Pies and bread type cakes are the norm but after a while, they do appear mundane. However said, a good baker must know how to use what is available in season and make the best of the ingredients available and so, the only thing that I can think of for now is a fruit crumble. With the fruit filling baked to soft and mush texture, topped with a crunch and sweet top that begs to be eaten warm with a dollop of ice cream or a bowlful of custard, this dessert is always welcome on a cool rainy autumn day.

Recipe :

Crumble top :
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold butter, diced
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup granola
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg powder
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup dark brown sugar

Filling :

3 apples

3 pears

Juice from 1/2 of fresh lime

1/3 cup dried cranberries

1/3 cup sugar

2 tbsp all purpose flour

Crumble Top:
1)Preheat oven to 375F. Sift the flour, sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg together. Stir and mix in the dark brown sugar.
2)Add in the diced cold butter pieces and mix roughly to obtain lumps and pea sized mixture. Set aside.

1)Peel the skins of the apples and pears. Remove cores and cut into thin slices and wedges.
2)Squeeze the lime juice over the fruits and coat. Mix in the sugar and all purpose flour and coat evenly.
3)Spoon fillings to ramekins, filling 3/4 full. Sprinkle with dried cranberries.
4)Spoon 2tbsp of the crumble top mixture onto each ramekin.
5)Put all ramekins on a larger baking tray and bake for 40 mins till brown.
6)Remove from oven once cooked and let cool.
7)Serve with ice cream.

Makes : 8 ramekin size

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Squash Cream Cheese Autumn Cookies

When the fall season starts, the cookies baking season gets started too! It is obvious that cookies serves the best purpose as small gifts or simply an indulgence in one's home. All sorts of cookie cutters are available now in line with the upcoming festivities of Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hannukkah and New Year. One will have any reason to bake a batch of cookies this time of the year.

With no more scent of summer roses permeating the air, the best smell of autumn is spices. Cinnamon and nutmeg are the popular choices and I would love to incorporate cumin and fenugreek seeds one day. I made these cookies thinking of the fall flavors with squash added to the cream cheese filling and nutmeg and cinnamon made up the cookie dough. These cookies are crunchy and cut thinly. With its high content of butter and sugar, these cookies stays crunchy up to a week without the filling and surely can be made way ahead of time.

I seldom use canned pumpkin and when I tried to look for it, they were all sold out. Instead of getting a whole pumpkin, I opted for cut squash slices at the grocery which saves me alot of time in cutting and cleaning. Perhaps the color is not as bright as the pumpkin flesh, but the taste of the squash is equally as good as the sugar pumpkins. The squash pieces were firstly steamed for 20 mins till they are soft and then pureed in the blender and let cool before adding to the cream cheese and sugar mixture. As the cookies are sweet enough, I added only 1 tbsp of sugar to the cream cheese. Additional sugar can surely be added if the sweet tooth desires.

Recipe :

1-1/3 cup All Purpose Flour
1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup milk
1/2 tsp Cinnamon powder
1/4 tsp Nutmeg powder

Method :
1) Sift the flour with the cinnamon and nutmeg powder. Set aside.
2)Cream the butter and sugar till well mixed. Beat in the milk.
3)Fold in the flour mixture and knead into a dough. The dough should feel slightly wet and heavy and if still dry, continue to add milk 1 tbsp at a time till the right consistency is achieved.
4)Place the dough in a plastic bag and let it rest in the fridge for 1 hour.
5)Remove the dough from the fridge. The dough is ready to be rolled and cut when it is malleable and still cold. Dust the surface lightly with all purpose flour and roll half of the dough out thinly (similar to the thickness of ham slices).
6)Preheat the oven to 350F. Using a 2 inch size fluted cookie cutter, cut out about 15 to 17 pieces. Place this group of cookies in one tray.
7)Roll out the other half of the dough into the same thickness and using the same fluted cookie cutter, cut out 15 to 17 cookies. Take a smaller cookie cutter of your choice of design or use linzer cookie cutters, punch out the middle of each cookie from this group. Place the cookies on another baking tray. Use up the cut outs to make up the numbers of cookies.
8)Bake the cookies at the middle rack of the oven for 15 to 17 mins, rotating the pans once after half time of the baking. The cookies are done once it starts to brown slightly and browns faster on the bottom than the top. Remove from oven immediately.
9)The cookies may still look soft but it is done and hardens after the cooling period. Remove immediately to the cookie rack to cool. If not used immediately, place in an airtight container.

Cream Cheese Squash Filling :

8 oz squash
4 oz low fat cream cheese
1 tbsp sugar

Method :
1) Set up a steamer and cut the squash slices into smaller chunks. Steam for 20 mins till the squash is very soft.
2)Drain the water and place the squash into the blender and puree it.
3)Beat the cream cheese with the sugar till thoroughly mixed.
4)Slowly add in the squash puree using a tablespoon and stir to combine. I used about 6 tbsp of the puree.
5)Using a butter knife, spread the squash cream cheese lightly onto one whole cookie, with more in the middle part. Using a cookie that has a cut out, place it on top of the filling to complete the cookie.
6)Serve or store in fridge for 3 days.

Makes : 15 to 18 cookies (2 inch sizes)

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

October Bento Days (1)

The leaves outside are slowly turning colors and the autumn wind gives a chill to my spine. The occasional rain makes everything set for a damp and cold day which makes one feel that all you need is a cup of tea with cozy slippers and lots of lazing around. I believe these autumn days can make me very lazy and my instinct tells me that I should do something that takes up alot of my attention and time!

I haven't made a Bento box for Prince D for sometime now and I pity him always looking at his sister's school snack box while he gets to eat only the scraps and pieces from the left over ingredients that I used for Miss E's snack box. He is a very special boy and although he hasn't learned alot in school nor in life compared to his sister, emotionally he understands on what is he missing out and can feel that he is not getting more attention than his sister at times. Kids minds are very interesting to me, sometimes I think I know them very well, and yet I cannot say so. It is just a growing phase in every one of them and before I can grip a hold on their current thinking, they are already showing a different phase and planning things up their sleeves the next minute! Every day they grow, I learn something new.

The baby tomatoes that we are growing in our small patch is growing well and I love it when tomatoes come with their vine leaves. It just adds another dimension and perks up the lunch boxes contents. Brown Enoki mushrooms is a very good ingredient to introduce to kids as they are slightly chewy and tastes earthy. I succumbed to the temptation of buying frozen chicken nuggets which I just heated it up in the microwave for more than 1 minute. One thing good about my kids is that they eat broccoli and love peas. It is obvious that I always include a green and a red in their Bento boxes to tempt their eyes and palates.

Perhaps I made them waited too long, which was 30 mins past their usual lunch time, both Prince D and Miss E finished everything within 15 mins. I was curious on how fast does Miss E actually eat and she was already on her last broccoli when Prince D nibbled on the peas & corn! I heard from my friend Crazymommy that kids at her age don't normally eat much during snack time and for the whole month since she started school, I always wondered if she was the last one to finish up her snacks and took extra time from the 10 mins alloted for snack time. Without problem, she can finish her snack box contents every day and she always says that she is the fastest to finish up in her class! Well, the teachers are not complaining and I am comfortable with packing varieties of snacks for her school Snack box everyday.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Grape Jelly Cupcake

It is almost mid week and with my son starting to attend an hour more at his pre-school, I am beginning to feel more at ease. As with any moms who are seeing their kids going to school, I have been getting the same questions lately on what am I planning to do with all those free time! My answer is to tidy up my house, sip my morning coffee and eat my toasts in peace and hopefully to watch an hour of those morning talk shows with hosts that were born to rise and shine every morning of the day! Perhaps the ideas sound silly but these things are those that I haven't been able to do nor complete doing when my kids are around me. Peace and Quiet in my humble home is just Priceless these days.

To rekindle with my inner peace, I started baking again and of course, I wanted something very simple, good and quick to make. No frills and nothing complicated, these cupcakes were a cinch to whip up and bake. With the cool autumn days, I yearn for baked goods that smells buttery but just the right portion and size that I can grab with my instant coffee, kept piping hot in my insulated cup during the morning hours. There was a jar of grape jelly in the fridge that doesn't seem to be able to take the favorite spot of the marmalade jar next to it and I thought of the jelly doughnuts sold at Dunkin Donuts. I got the idea and used a teaspoon of the grape jelly to fill each of the 12 cupcakes and baked them to perfectly golden with the jelly retaining its liquidy lumpy form and yields an additional sweetness to the cupcakes. The amount of filling is a personal choice and I made mine with less as I didn't want the kids to get all sticky with the jelly on their hands. But of course, for a treat, the more jelly filling the better!

Ingredients :

2 cups All purpose Flour
2-1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
8oz butter, room temperature
6oz sugar
2 eggs & 1 egg yolk
1/2 cup milk
Grape Jelly


1) Preheat oven to 375F. Line 12 muffin tins with paper cups.

2)Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together.

3)In a mixer, beat the butter and sugar till creamy. Beat in the eggs and yolk for 1 minute and add in the beat and mix for another 30 seconds.

4)Fold in the flour mixture till evenly combined.

5)Scoop the batter to fill up to 1/2 full of the paper cups. Place 1 teaspoon of the grape jelly in the middle and spoon more batter to cover. Continue with the rest.

6)Bake for 25 to 28 mins till golden brown. Remove from heat immediately and let the cupcakes cool on racks for 15 mins before serving.

Makes: 12 regular size cupcakes

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Kindergarten Bento Days (Week 4)

September flew by so quickly and I hardly had time to do much except Bento for Miss E. A new supply of Bento tools came in early this week and I was over the roof with excitement! In the midst of making all these kids Bento, I kind of lost the urge to fix Curry's Bento box as I used to last time. Perhaps it is the first month of school and I am still trying to juggle and balance the time and all the activities during the whole week and hardly any more energy left to prepare an adult sized Bento. Perhaps October will be better with the cooler weather, a more settled mind and more organized in the daily routines.

Prince D seems to be behaving better this week in terms of attending school. Although still loaded with a grumpy face and defiant glare everytime he steps through the school's door, I am confident that he will emerge with a happier personality after a whole year with his wonderful and patient teachers.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Kindergarten Snack Box (Week 3)

The third week of school was good for Miss E. Her reading and maths abilities were tested and the feedback from her teacher was good. Although I don't say it often, I am really blessed to have a daughter like her, she may be sulking at times when she gets reprimanded for bullying her brother but overall in the outside world, she is pretty much very independent and able to adapt to different surroundings easily. She has learned all the names of her classmates and I myself had to ask her to tell me her other teachers' names before I run into one at recess with a blank face . Perhaps I am getting old, I am really bad with names but can only recognize faces these days! Or perhaps, too much early morning Bento to make and by noon, my mind and body kind of disintergrated into different directions and never absorbing but only flickering the remaining energy left!

Ironically, Prince D's week was terrible! He really let those tears flowed out like streams and I am second guessing on whether he is really suitable to go to preschool now. All of sudden, I felt the pangs of separation anxieties and the feeling is mutual. Raising boys is so much more difficult and sometimes I am really clueless. Perhaps it is myself who thinks too much and being the complex one rather than the boy who just speaks or rather in this case, cried out his thoughts! He is aptly named Mommy's Boy. Good luck next week.