Saturday, December 31, 2011

Christmas and Procrastination - Green Tea Shortbread

It's not that I don't have a loving family, wonderful friends, amazing boyfriend and sweet, crazy, perpetually energetic dog.  It's not that we don't have a full celebration despite not really being Christian (we regard Christmas as an excuse to throw lots of color around and give lots of people presents).  It's not that I don't, you know, finally have some free time.  Free time?  What's that?  Oh, it's not very rare, but I've heard myths about it.  It's when you, heaven forbid, don't have work.  Don't have work?  What?  Impossible!

Indeed, truly impossible.  Of course, that's not the reason that I made these cookies two days before Christmas, making extra so I could decorate them.  It's not the reason that a mere 5 remain in the box, still undecorated, on the last day of 2011.  But, you say, it's winter vacation!  You've been on break a whole two weeks!  Heh.  Heh.  Heh.  What have I done with this delightful burst of "free time?"  Let's see, get four hours of paid work done, a half a homework problem, go running twice, see my high school friends a record of three times, bake up a storm yet forget to photograph half of them (I'm a terrible bloger >_<) and oh, read lots and lots and lots of Pioneer Woman.  She's awesome, and hilarious, and I've spent too much time reading her archives since March 2006.  Oops.

My original intention was to bake these cookies, then pipe lines of white icing on them to decorate the trees, then dot the icing with dried cranberries.  Cute, huh?  Yep, that never happened.  Kirbie's original recipe called for leaf cookie cutters, and she rolled them somewhat thicker.  The first time I made these, I used different cookie cutters, but my dad really liked them.  It was also before I started this blog, last summer.  I figured, enough of a reason for a repeat, since I'm pretty fond of them, too.  The dough is surprisingly malleable; it starts out crumbly, then as you knead it gently, forms into a perfectly rollable dough.  The plastic wrap is also a very big help.  Overall, I loved these cookies, green tea-flavored and delicate.  Even my mum, who dislikes green tea in baked goods, enjoyed the texture of these and ate a few.  I usually make half a batch, and the instructions below are for that amount.  

Mmmm, cookies... Balanced on the lid of a steamer :)

Green Tea Shortbread from Kirbie's Cravings (also, she has step-by-step pictures!)
Makes around 36 cookies, depending on the size of your cutter

½ cup (1 stick) butter (I used unsalted, because...that's what my family had)
¼ cup sugar
1 tablespoon matcha (green tea) powder
Tiny pinch of salt 
1 cup + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 large mixing bowl
1 sturdy butter knife (to cut the butter into chunks)
Either 1 wooden spoon or 1 electric mixer (to cream the butter and sugar)
1 rubber spatula
¼ cup dry measure
1 tablespoon measure
1 rolling pin
1 large cutting board/hard flat surface for rolling
Plastic wrap for rolling (2 sheets, size dependent on size of rolling surface)
Cookie cutter/s
Cookie sheets
Parchment paper for cookie sheets (I reused mine for each batch)


1. Place the parchment paper on the cookie sheets.  You can use butter to help the paper stick to the sheet.

2. Cube the butter and toss it into the mixing bowl, followed by the sugar.  Using either the wooden spoon or the mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add the matcha powder and cream again.  Add the flour and salt and mix thoroughly.  It'll be crumbly at first, but you should be able to form a soft ball with the dough.

3. Between two sheets of plastic wrap, roll out the dough.  Placing them as close as possible, cut out cookies and place on prepared cookie sheets.  Refrigerate the cookies for about an hour, although I found no difference between those refrigerated and those simply left to sit for an hour (I ran out of fridge space, which is saying something).

4. Preheat the oven to 325°F and bake the cookies for anywhere from 15 to 20 minutes.  I'd check the sheets at 10 minutes and see from there.  The cookies should be dry to the touch, although some browning is okay.  The cookies just won't be  Enjoy!

It's a small forest of delicious cookies :)  Even the one on the far left.

 Postscript:  I ran downstairs to get the image from my camera.  I'm nibbling on one of the last cookies as I type.  These keep for quite a while, it seems, as it's still delicious.

Friday, December 23, 2011


It's been so long since my last post...  I've technically been on break for more than a whole week already!  Time just seems to fly by.  I guess it started right after Thanksgiving break, though, when I was hit with thermodynamics homework due the Monday after, a Biomechanics midterm that same Monday (which was moved to Wednesday anyway... >_<), Contemporary Biotechnology homework due Tuesday, a project and presentation due the next Tuesday, a 10-page paper based on research in published literature and a 15-page paper based on my own research, all topped off with 4 finals in 3 days!  And I have so many things to share, a birthday cake, scones, a pink velvet-cheesecake confection, green tea shortbread, persimmon bread, peppermint chocolate crinkles and first attempt at petit fours among them.  Where to start...?  None of the above, just to be contrary.  I'll start with my very first restaurant review post.  It seems fitting, since my last night in New York was spent there with my boyfriend and some very good friends of ours. 

I was actually introduced to this restaurant through my friend, who works there.  Her family immigrated from Thailand a few years ago and her parents started the restaurant.  It is small and welcoming, decorated with several Thai elements including paintings, lamps, statues and a flat screen television that displays beautiful scenery.  There's a bar, but I've never seen it in use.  However, most of my friends are still below the drinking age in the U.S. (as am I!), so perhaps the point is moot.  The service is quick, water glasses kept filled and the food brought out as it is made.  The only drawback to this restaurant is the dim lighting.  Most of the light streams in through the large windows, filtered by curtains.  This is about comfortable reading quality in the daytime, but fades to a low, romantic-but-inadequate-for-my-camera level at night.  I will apologize for the quality of my photos now.  If you'll remember, my camera screen was broken a few months ago by yours very clumsy truly, and I've only managed to use the macro setting ("food" label on camera button).  These pictures were actually taken about a week and a half after the accident, with a different camera that I struggled to learn to use, kindly lent to me by my boyfriend's family.

Thai Iced Tea, a delightful starter and accompaniment.
The food is really wonderful, authentic Thai. You can start with some Thai iced tea, a refreshing blend of strong tea and rich sweetened condensed milk that will later soothe your palate if you choose a spicy dish.  Next are appetizers, spring rolls or richer fare like fried tofu, chicken wings and calamari.  Once you find your way to the main dishes, you'll find that the vegetables are fresh and lightly cooked, noodles well-cooked and the whole delicious pile gently seasoned and spiced.  I personally don't eat land animals, but all the people at our table enjoyed their dishes, meat, vegetables and all.  My favorite dish happens to be the Drunken Noodles, with vegetables and tofu.  Many main dishes come as a choice of vegetables and tofu, beef, chicken, shrimp or seafood.  That night I happened to try the Pad Woonsen; it was just as good, but I prefer my flat rice noodles in the slightly spicy Drunken Noodles :)  Unfortunately, my pictures of our dishes were entirely unusable, low light and all.

Also, their fried ice cream is stellar.  Having freshly fried your ball of ice cream and  batter in searing hot oil for barely 60 seconds, your server emerges from the kitchen carrying the ice cream and a small metal dish of fiery liquor.  She lightly drizzles strawberry sauce over the golden-brown orb, pours the flames over your ice cream and places it in front of you.  After a few seconds, it burns out and you are left with a wonderfully crisp shell, still slightly chewy inside, encasing your still-frozen vanilla, mango, green tea or red bean ice cream.  Their flavors vary from day to day, but always remains delicious.  

My friend, carrying a purple flame and fried ice cream!

The website is here, and you can find a menu online.  It's a very simple website, but contains all the basic information.  Prices are reasonable and the portions generous; we usually end up with enough left over for lunch the next day.

Phayathai Restaurant 
735 Hawkins Ave.
Lake Ronkonkoma, NY 11779


Note:  I have no disclaimer.  My friends and I have always paid for our meals, although occasionally we receive drinks, dessert or appetizers on the house.  I think this is due to their eternal niceness and the famous "friend discount," what my roommate called when I sold her a textbook a good deal below market price.  This doesn't take away from the fact that the food is really just plain good. 

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Redemption - Red Wine Chocolate Cake

Sometimes you can't help but love something, although it gives you grief.  Like a mischievous child or a juvenile delinquent with a heart of gold, I harbor a soft spot for bad boys who are secretly good.  I hold the belief that people are essentially good, and that everyone makes mistakes.  Partly because, well, goodness knows I've made more than my fair share, but it all works out in the end.

Take this cake, for example.  The first time I made it, I thought it'd turn out a disaster.  I cheerfully made the batter with some friends, talking too much about how to measure flour and why you soften butter, why measuring cups come in both liquid and dry forms and why you grease a pan then flour it, and popped it into the oven, leaving it alone for about an hour.  Halfway through, someone turned off the oven.  I immediately turned it back on and baked it another 20 minutes.

I also flipped out.

When I finally controlled my irrational fit of furious anger at the idiocy and unfairness of the world 20 minutes later, I pried myself out of that sticky puddle of self-pity and ran upstairs for another toothpick.  Paranoid, I also needlessly set the timer and left the oven light on, just to clarify.  When I came back downstairs and tested the cake, it was perfectly done.  Springy to the touch, toothpick was clean with the tiniest little moist crumbs clinging to the sides.

I brought the cake upstairs, my black mood beginning to lighten.  The cake looked like a solid brick, having fallen while the oven was off, but the aroma was promising.  I borrowed a knife and cutting board, prayed and began to gently slice.  When I broke through the tough crust, I felt my anger melt and my despair fade.  The crust tasted crisp and pleasantly chewy, like the edges of good brownies.  Surprisingly soft and tender within, the cake was moist with a firm chocolate aroma, then subtle, mysterious flavor backed by a hint of rich butter.  The cake quickly won me over, and managed to woo everyone else as well.

I was still too depressed to take photos, but a repeat performance was immediately requested.  My friend even gave me red wine from her family's restaurant (soon to be posted!) to make another cake.  These pictures are from that cake.

My favorite part's the top crust :)

Red Wine Chocolate Cake from 17 and Baking, who adapted it from Smitten Kitchen, who got the recipe from At Home with Magnolia (Wow!)
Makes 1 9" x 5" loaf

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened 
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
½ cup sugar
1 large egg, room temperature
¾ cup red wine
¼ cup plain yogurt (I made my own with milk and enough lemon juice to make it curdle)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup cocoa powder (Dutch or natural, see note)
¼ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt

1 large mixing bowl
1 wooden spoon (or electric mixer, very handy here)
1 rubber spatula
2-cup liquid measure
¼ cup dry measure
½ cup dry measure
1 cup dry measure (optional)
1 9" x 5" loaf pan 
Butter and flour to coat the pan


1. Butter and flour the 9" x 5" loaf pan.  Preheat the oven to 325°F.

2. Cream the butter, then add sugars and cream until light and fluffy.  Add the egg and cream until lighter and fluffier.  This will take about 5 minutes with a good mixer and rather longer by hand.  Consider it your workout and this cake your reward.

3. Mix in the wine, yogurt and vanilla, ignoring the "curdled mess" look.  Gently fold in the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt.  Use a sifter or strainer if you have one.

4. Spread the thick batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.  Bake at 325°F for 60-70 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the top comes out clean.  Cool in the pan for 10-15 minutes, then slice and enjoy!  If you have a cooling rack, this is a good time.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Try New Things - Pumpkin Gnocchi

Recently, I've noticed that I can overdose on sweets.  My mum used to berate me all the time for eating too much sugar, but now I prefer a smaller, high-quality dose instead.  For the past week months, I've basically baked non-stop to the point of actually running out of things like vegetable oil and all-purpose flour.  I'm halfway through my latest 10-lb. bag, and this is my second in three months!  Perhaps that doesn't seem like a lot for more experienced bakers, but I'm also a full-time engineering student involved in 3 clubs and research.  Urk.  This sweets thing is getting out of hand.  It's time for some sustenance food, the kind that can get you through your next 20 research papers without reaching for another slice of pie. 

Healthy vegetables.  Look, a mise en place!  I learned something from Jen of use real butter :)

My last project was a pumpkin bread, which left me with a half a can of Trader Joe's organic pumpkin.  Although I tossed around ideas for another loaf, I happened to be checking some food blogs when Pumpkin Gnocchi from the blog Happyolks came up.  I mentioned this to my boyfriend through Skype, and he positively lit up.  For a moment I felt some apprehension, having eaten gnocchi perhaps twice before in my life.  I had certainly never made it, and my boyfriend is part Italian!  What if it turned out a rock-hard, soggy mess?  But everything involves a risk.  Sometimes the risks are small, sometimes not so small.  This risk, I'm glad I took.

I cooked these as instructed, then served them in a instant (I'm a poor college student, kindly forgive my transgressions) miso-packet broth with stir-fried vegetables and a poached egg.  I think I overkneaded the dough, but I also made the mistake of carrying them down to the kitchen in a bowl.  As a result, all the gnocchi that I had carefully rolled and cut blended back into one amorphous blob and I had to form them again.  This may have worked out to my benefit, as I rather prefer chewy foods and these cooked up perfectly chewy and soft, with a mild pumpkin flavor.  My boyfriend thought they could use more pumpkin flavor, which I considered augmenting with cinnamon.  I lost patience with the gnocchi after forming it the second time and just chucked it into the pot without the scoring, but I think they're much cuter with those grooves.

Pumpkin Gnocchi slightly tweaked from Happyolks
Makes roughly 4 cups of cooked gnocchi

2 cups all-purpose flour (originally white whole wheat) 
1 cup cooked pureed pumpkin (I used half of a 15-oz. can)
1 egg
¼ teaspoon salt

Any vegetables or soup you'd like to add (I bought my vegetables from the salad section of one of our school's food courts)
2 or 3 eggs

1 large mixing bowl
1 rubber spatula
¼ cup dry measure
¼ teaspoon measure 
Flat surface for rolling out dough
Sharp knife and cutting board (can double as flat surface) for cutting gnocchi
Flour for reducing stickiness of dough
1 fork for scoring the dough (if you are more patient than I)
1 pot for boiling gnocchi


1. Mix together the egg, pumpkin and salt until combined.  Add the flour a ½ cup at a time and fold until a soft dough forms, adding more flour if necessary. 

2. Roll out pieces of the dough to form ropes about ½ inch in diameter, then cut to form gnocchi.  If you have the time, press with a fork to form adorable, traditional gnocchi.  Otherwise, just cook as they are.  They look kind of like fried tofu (which make me happy), and are just as delicious in a different way.

3. Bring water in the pot to a rolling boil, then drop in a few gnocchi at a time and stir occasionally.  When the gnocchi float to the surface, remove them from the pot, set aside and replace with more gnocchi.

4. Once all the gnocchi are cooked, rinse out the pot and boil some fresh water or broth.  If you live in an actual house, there's a decent chance you have some homemade or canned soup stock around.  That's perfect.  I live in a dorm and used some instant miso soup packets.

5. Dump the gnocchi back into the soup and cook for a minute, to heat it back up.  Add in any vegetables or meat that your heart desires, and crack in 2 or 3 eggs to poach.  Once the eggs are cooked but the yolks are still runny (personal preference), serve!  Enjoy :)

Gnocchi, miso broth, carrots, mushrooms, broccoli, onions, a touch of garlic and an egg.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Regrets and Sweet Requests - Pumpkin Bread

I meant to post this yesterday, but my ankle is sprained.  Given that I can make batter anywhere but the oven is two flights of stairs away, I decided I must demonstrate common sense* some time.  I'm supposed to be an adult, you know.  

Anyway, the post I meant to publish.

I miss my camera.  I broke the screen two months ago and have been borrowing my boyfriend's family's camera since, but it just doesn't inspire me like my old companion.  Maybe it's just that I won't ever think of this camera as mine, maybe it's because it sometimes refuses to focus.  I have been trying to take pictures blind with my camera, but the only turn out once in a while.  Maybe it's really just my fault for being such a lazy blogger and failing to document the past few things I've made.  And with such a photogenic subject, too.  

Taken the second time I made the bread.  I took this picture nearly blind since the screen is broken on my camera, and was stunned to see this.  It's one of the best pictures I've ever taken (is that good or bad...?)
This pumpkin bread was really a result of my boyfriend at the grocery store.  While I looked on the lowest shelf for flour, he grinned excitedly and pointed to a colorful box at eye level.  The resulting conversation went something like this:  Can you make that?  *raised eyebrow*  Well... can you make it, but not out of a box?  Yes, sweetie, yes I can.  

A few weeks later, he kindly drove me to Trader Joe's and set me loose.  I gathered up cocoa powder, apples for the tart, pumpkin pie spice and most exciting of all, 2 cans of organic pumpkin.  May I also take the opportunity now to mention that he bought me a pound and a half of organic brown sugar?  That stuff is rich and crunchy, with large crystals, a heady aroma and a heavenly flavor.  I put some in the pumpkin bread, but sadly I think a lot of the flavor was lost.  I'll have to save it for a shortbread or something.  Mmmm, shortbread...  Now where was I?  Ah, yes, organic pumpkin.  I rarely have the opportunity to eat and bake with organic anything, considering my diet consists mainly of school food.  Here it is, in all its glory:

Mmmm, pumpkin.  Beautifully orange, subtly scented and mildly flavored.
Behind it is the apple pie, all wrapped up and ready to go.

Interestingly, a loaf only requires half a can of pumpkin.  I only have one loaf pan and I was running out of oil besides, so I cut the recipe in half the first time.  I also reduced the sugar a tad, but should have upped the spices.  Boyfriend said there wasn't enough cinnamon.  Next time!  Otherwise, I love this pumpkin bread.  Soft, fluffy, fine crumb and full of pumpkin flavor.  The crust is just a tad crisp and flakes when cut, but it's delicious.  The recipe is a cross between Kirbie's Favorite Pumpkin Bread and Ultimate Pumpkin Bread from the Streaming Gourmet. 

Pumpkin Bread from Kirbie's Cravings and Streaming Gourmet
Makes 1 9" x 5" loaf

1 cup pumpkin purée (½ 15-oz. can pure pumpkin)
2 eggs
¼ cup oil
¼ cup (½ stick) butter
1 cup sugar
⅓ cup water/milk (see note)
1¾ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon salt
1½ teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 large mixing bowl
1 wooden spoon (or electric mixer)
1 rubber spatula
2-cup liquid measure
¼ cup dry measure
1 cup dry measure
¼ teaspoon measure
1 teaspoon measure


1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Butter a loaf pan, then line with parchment paper, leaving some paper hanging over the sides for easy removal.  Up to you whether you want to butter the top of the paper as well.

2. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, then mix in the oil.  Add the eggs one at a time and beat until completely mixed and fluffy.

3. Mix in the pumpkin and water*, then fold in the flour, baking soda, salt, pumpkin pie spice and cinnamon.  Scrape down the sides, and don't forget the bottom of the bowl!  With thick batters like this one, sometimes the bottom gets left out.

4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 50-60 minutes, until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.  Allow to cool for 20 minutes on a cooling rack, then slice and enjoy!   

Taking pictures of the insides is harder than I thought...

Note:  Instead of water, I used a ⅓ cup of my leftover liquid from the apple pie.  I think it added extra sweetness, but didn't make much difference in terms of spice.  I'd use milk next time.

*In the morning, though, hunger overruled common sense and I hobbled downstairs with a double batch of pumpkin bread batter, a loaf pan and a cupcake pan.  The muffins were disappointing straight out of the oven, but given time to cool, they develop the same glorious flavor and texture I love about pumpkin bread.  They'd be great saved for breakfast, particularly since pumpkin bread tends to deepen in flavor the next day.  Oh, and the full recipe (1 full 15-oz. can of pumpkin) makes 24 muffins or 1 loaf and 12 muffins.  The muffins take about 25 minutes to bake. 

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Labor of Love - Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

For every holiday or any day remotely resembling a holiday, I try to find an excuse to make cake or a special dessert.  Today my boyfriend and I celebrated our second anniversary, which made a tiny cake a good bet.  Also, I love things in miniature, and to be practical, they're more likely to be structurally sound.  Over the summer, his family went to Disney World and he brought back for me a Mickey Mouse sandwich cutter (have you heard of these?  I thought it was for cookies) and an adorable Perry the Platypus plush, from the show Phineas and Ferb.  The cutter was the perfect size for a tiny cake :)

This is about a quarter of the cake that I used, a half of a horizontal layer.

Since he likes carrot cake, I decided to try and make one, with cinnamon cream cheese frosting.  I borrowed a recipe from 17 and Baking, with a couple of changes.  The original cake was called Ginger Carrot cake, but I lacked ginger.  Also, I'm not so sure that boyfriend is fond of ginger.  In any case, he likes cinnamon, so that's what I put in both the cake and the frosting.  I also cut the recipe in half, and not wanting to have an egg left over (the recipe calls for 3 eggs), I skipped the buttermilk and tossed in two eggs.  The resulting cake is soft, sweet and spicy, but doesn't taste a lot like carrots.  Actually, I'm not sure it's supposed to.  I've seen several recipes for carrot cake that call for flaked coconut and crushed pineapple, but I didn't like the idea of competing flavors.  Perhaps typical carrot cake contains more than just carrot?  

Started with this....

One poor carrot reduced to shreds...

The whole pile of carnage, an hour and 2 callouses later.  I don't feel sorry for the carrots anymore.

The assembly of the cake was interesting.  I baked the cake in a loaf pan, which worked out just about perfectly for the Mickey Mouse cutter.  I trimmed the edges of the cake, then cut it in half.  I split the cake into two layers horizontally, then cut out each layer of the cake with the cutter.  I frosted between each layer and frosted to cover the cake.  My boyfriend did say that the cream cheese overpowered the cake, so next time I'd only leave the frosting between the layers for support.  I also increased the amount of cinnamon in the frosting, since it was a little lost in all the cream cheese.  Overall, a yummy, but plain, cake to enjoy :)

Ooh, snacks for later!

Carrot Cake adapted from 17 and Baking, adapted from Martha Stewart Living
Makes 1 9" x 5" loaf or 1 8" or 9" round cake

½ lb. carrots, peeled and grated (I used baby carrots from the school food court.  Sigh.)
2 large eggs (room temperature) 
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup sugar
¾ cup vegetable oil
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 large mixing bowl
1 rubber spatula
½ teaspoon measure
1 teaspoon measure
½ cup dry measure
1 cup dry measure
2-cup liquid measure
1 9" x 5" loaf pan or 8" or 9" round pan
Parchment paper to line pan or butter and flour to grease


1. Preheat the oven to 300°F.  Butter and flour or line with parchment your baking pan.

2. Mix together the carrots, eggs, vanilla extract, sugar and oil.  Fold in about half the flour, then the baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon.  Fold in the rest of the flour, mixing only until there are no streaks of flour.

3. Pour into your prepared pan, and bake at 300°F for 60 minutes if using a round pan and about 75 minutes if in a loaf pan.  Cake is done when toothpick comes out clean.  It's also interesting to note that when the cake isn't done, there's no resistance when you put in the toothpick.  When it is done, there's a dense sort of texture resisting the entrance of the toothpick.  Yup, been baking consistently for about 4 or 5 years now, and just noticed this :)

Cream Cheese Frosting straight from the flames of It's on Fire
Makes about ½ cup or so (sorry, I didn't measure this)

4 oz. (half a block) cream cheese, room temperature
2 tablespoons salted butter, room temperature (add a tiny pinch of salt if using unsalted)
2 tablespoons sugar
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 small mixing bowl
1 wooden spoon
1 rubber spatula
Alternatively, use a stand mixer and a rubber spatula (less arm fatigue for you!)


Beat together the cream cheese and butter until smooth.  Add the sugar to taste, beating until smooth each time.  Add the vanilla and cinnamon, also to taste.

Assemble and serve.  Enjoy! 

Four tilting layers of delicious cinnamon and cream cheese!  Carrot is shy in this cake.

Share with a loved one <3