Friday, December 31, 2010

Year End Note

2010 has been a great year for me! Although I didn't progress from a full time stay home mom to a career woman, I have advanced in alot of things this year. My kids grew one year older and got better in their own thinkings and gained more independence from me, leaving me with a sense of pride and proudness. I also became slimmer and smaller in size and will carry on with my determination and hardwork into 2011 to be in the perfect size for myself. Relationship wise, the 'married for life' motto has set in for good and now I think that to have is better than not to have. Everything is part and parcel of life and as long as I embrace it with patience and a cool mind, I think I will be better in 2011.

Cooking, Baking and Blogging this year was even greater than last and surely be continued with joy and fun in 2011.  And I hope to experiment with more ingredients and recipes in the near future with lots of beautiful pictures to show and tell here! Thank you to all the Followers of this blog and those who comes to visit frequently or occasionally. Have a great year ahead, happy cooking and be healthy. :)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

X'mas 2010 Cookies Gift Box

When I was a child, I expected X'mas presents. Only after I had my own kids, I realized the best X'mas gift is actually to give rather than to receive. Long gone are my expectations of beautifully wrapped boxes waiting for me under the X'mas tree on X'mas day but I love it so much to go shopping for gifts and wrapping them all up for my kids and Curry. To me, their smiles and joys when opening the boxes are the greatest gifts and there is simply no substitute of toys, jewels nor anything materialistic that can give me that satisfaction of gratitude and joy.

To my friends, I wrapped up goodies from my own kitchen and I hope they will enjoy the cookies and cake that I packed them. It is really a gift from my heart and despite being quite tiring to make several types of cookie doughs and to plan to store and bake them in time for X'mas, it is a once a year thing that I put in some effort to completing. There are not many I consider close friends but if I do make one I cherish them dearly.

For this year's baking, I planned for 4 types of cookies, fruit and nut X'mas cake and moulded candies. In total, I made almost 200 cookies, 3 fruit & nut X'mas Cakes and about 50 moulded candies. All the cookies dough except the Biscotti were made ahead 2 weeks before and frozen in airtight container. The baking started 1 week before the first few boxes were due and airtight containers kept them fresh and away from my kids. The fruit cakes were made decorated and packed 3 days before due date. Although fruit and nut cakes can be made months earlier, I find the idea of feeding it with brandy to keep it moist till delivery time not very appealing as I had too much to do on the cookies side and most of the time, people don't like the overpowering brandy soaked into the cake itself. The best idea to give away fruit cake and make the recipients actually eat it is to slice them into smaller bites, completely decorated and packed individually. To have a good fruit cake recipe which is moist and not too sweet will also help! In the span of 3 weeks, I completed everything I set out to do and packed a total of 13 cookie boxes to give away. And I just hope all the recipients are happy to sample all that I have made and will bring them some warm and sweet  this cold X'mas.

Almond Linzer Cookies

Earl Grey Tea Cookies

Cranberry Pistachio Biscotti

White & Chocolate Biscotti

Coconut & Cranberry Cookies

Fruit & Nut Cake

Chocolate Moulded Candies

X'mas Bento

I haven't been posting Bento posts for a while now. Not that I have lost interest as I do pack my daughter's lunch four days a week and it takes sometime for me to learn new skills and ways to perk up the mundane lunch boxes that I have been doing.

X'mas is my favorite holiday of the year and there are so many themes that can be made with the Bento concept. And so I promised Miss E some X'mas Bentos for this whole month provided that it is not an everyday thing. And so from the first week of December, I started doing it and kept the pictures to post now.



Candy Cane, X'mas Tree, Sugar Cookie Boy

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

X'mas Fruit Cake

Happy Christmas everyone. To all my family and friends back in Malaysia, it is this time of the year that I wish most to be in the warm and hot environment enjoying the holiday festivities with you lots! And I wish you all a great time gathering and feasting and many happy moments that this X'mas will bring. And to all friends and also family members around the world, peace and good times goes out to all of you and wishing you a beautiful X'mas season. And to all the people who follows and read this blog, I hope you all have a great holiday celebration too while cooking and entertaining.

Two years ago, I made the X'mas Minced Pies, which is very much a tradition of the English X'mas and what I lived with during my years in England. This year, I graduated to the level of making the English fruit cake for this X'mas to give out to friends in their cookie boxes. And also a few slices reserved for myself and the kids. The most usual comments from fruit cakes is that they are too sweet, especially those store bought ones but I do understand the need to preserve them for a longer shelf life till the X'mas season, hence the loads of sugar in them! For this, I tasted the dried fruits out of the container before deciding on the amount of sugar to be added into the recipe. The next is the heaviness of the brandy content, that also required to preserve the moist and shelf life of the cake. I grew up not wanting to eat fruit cakes despite my beloved dad loved it so much during his lifetime and had it every year even when we should be celebrating X'mas the Malaysian way over potlucks of local food rather than having slices of sugary cake. But now, my tastebuds have changed and I actually yearn to eat it over a cup of tea after my X'mas dinner or whenever I fancy. Sign of getting old I guess!

I used this Recipe from BBC Good Food and I recommend it to everyone! The cake turned out perfectly moist and rightly sweet. The only thing that I amended was the baking time as I made half of the batter into 6 cupcakes while the rest in a loaf pan. I find it strange that the cupcake ones were baked faster at 45 mins but the loaf one took and extra 45 mins to complete cooking. I didn't even bother to line the loaf pan with parchment paper as I am always clueless when comes to measuring and cutting those liners. But I greased the pan with butter! Remembering my Thanksgiving turkey and the presence of butter around it during the roasting which made it succulent and tender, I adapted the same technique! By greasing the pan, the outside of the cake baked nicely and didn't dry out. Whatever pan you decide, just check the cake at least 15 mins prior to the ending of the given time of baking. When the skewer inserted and comes out clean, it is done and should be removed from the oven immediately to cool. And once down to room temperature, the cake must be wrapped in aluminum foil to keep the moisture in. I particularly like this recipe as it was fast to make and can actually be made 1 week before serving and the nearer to X'mas it is made, the less dousing of brandy is required to keep it moist.

For the decoration I used almond paste, rolled fondant and sugar deco of the Holly berries! I was so happy to have seen and found these lovely deco and grabbed them instantly a month ago from the craft store. That is why I love this season so much, every single thing in the craft stores simply yells at you to get into the mood and be creative for the holidays. The almond paste preserved the freshness of the cake and adds additional lovely aroma to the cake and without it, I don't think the cake will taste complete. I don't particularly like rolled fondant but for this cake, it was the only best choice to obtain a smooth surface and I tried my best to roll it out thinly and attached it to the almond paste layer with a thin layer of apricot jam. The cutting must be at least about 1 inch as the cake is very moist. I figured that not everyone can eat a whole loaf of fruit cake when there are so many cookies around, so I cut them into slices and packed them into little plastic bags and popped 2 or 3 packets into each cookies box.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Cocoa Sesame Thins

It is that time of the year again when my house will be filled with the amazing smell of fresh baked cookies. Merry X'mas everyone and it is this time of the year when I feel most generous with my friends. Every year, I try my best to incorporate different flavors and ingredients to the cookies and despite the stress of time and sometimes the inability to bake during the day because of motherly duties, I really enjoy the planning, baking and gift packing of these little gems as tokens of my appreciation for my friends' yearly support of friendship and giving them something that I made with my thoughts. Thanksgiving is usually thought of the time to give thanks but to me X'mas is equally important in showing appreciation as it also brings Hope, Warm and the generous teaching of giving. It just feels somehow a very magical time of the year!

I love sesame seeds and use them mostly for my bread makings and Bento lunches decoration. I love the Black sesame seed for its more robust nutty aroma while the white one is beautiful for perking up any ordinary looking baked bread or even sprinkled on plain colored desserts. I always toast the sesame seeds prior to using them. Initially I baked a batch of this cookie with only the white sesame seeds but I thought the color did not do much in perking up the cocoa thins. And for this batch, I mixed black and white sesame seeds together and toasted them. And it is obvious from these pictures that the combination of both makes the cookies more lovely and presentable as gifts.

The cookie dough needs to be rolled out very thinly and having extra flour on hand for dusting the rolling pin and surface helps alot. A square cookie cutter is a must to get the standard sizes for all the cookies which eventually will make it easier for the packing process.

X'mas Candies 2010

X'mas is on the way as I write here.  To me, X'mas represents peace and my thankful moment that I made through the whole year without much complaints and in good spirits. Coincidentally it falls at the end of the year when I take the moment to look back to what I have done and not done and also make some time to set goals and new resolutions for the coming new Year.

For the year 2010, I have achieved a personal goal of which I had never finished nor attempted seriously till January 2010. I lost a total of 24lbs and during these 12 months, I have never been so determined and hot headed to lose it all and  transformed myself to a new person with new perspective in life and in whatever I set my mind to do. Nowadays I look at myself differently, friends and relatives look to my hardwork as a motivation and to be able to carry a lighter weight of myself with a healthier diet and clean bill of health makes me a confident and stronger person in mind and body. And being able to continue with my baking and cooking despite the smaller appetite and strict calories counting regiment makes me believe in the saying that I can have my cake and eat it too! Literally..... it can be done! 

For this year, I am making cookies boxes again for all my dearest friends and anyone I fancy! I always believe that the greatest gifts takes a bit of thinking, alot of preparation and some doing of myself. And for my favorite holiday season of X'mas, I will only give my best and I believe I have gotten better since my last cookies gifts in 2008! This year I opted molded candies for the sweet part of the boxes and I got hold of these beautiful candy molds in April to make sure I make them this month. And true, they were worth my investment as anything that pops out of them came out beautiful! And they are so easy to make with available candy wafers from the craft stores with just a microwave melting click and pouring into the molds.

The snowflakes took a little bit more effort as 2 colors were involved by first brushing the snowflake patterns inside the molds with melted yellow candy wafer and letting them dry first before adding and pouring over the dark cocoa part to set completely. For the red poinsettia, I attached white non pareils with icing made out of powdered sugar and water to give the flower a dimension. Personally, I think the yellowish white one turned out better looking! For packaging, I packed each of them in little plastic baggies individually, sealed with a season themed sticker to keep them tucked and intact when they are packed together with the cookies in the boxes later. These candies are worth making and they can be made way ahead early before the cookies and with their pretty patterns and colors, they just brighten up any cookies box.