Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas Dinner 2009...

My son, who lives in Kansas City, MO hadn't been home in two years. Last year driving in an ice storm in Iowa, hit black ice and rolled his Jeep- totaling it. He took the train this year, and arrived on time! Good to see him-finally!
Christmas Eve, we went to my sister-in-laws... a buffet style meal, with me bringing some excellent Kielbasa(Polish sausage), kraut, and some mini eclairs(store-bought!). Icy roads, but had to be at train station by 10:30PM!
For Christmas Day, the meal was a make ahead hash brown potato casserole- with a few twists...Turkey gravy, sour cream, sharp shredded cheddar cheese, cooked and crumbled bacon, and chopped onion made up the binder/sauce for the potatoes. When baked on Christmas, the flavor and texture was just right!
The star of the show, was a 6.8lb. choice beef tenderloin, trimmed, tied, to a uniform shape. Seasoned with Kosher salt, coarse ground black pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, and a touch of marjoram- it was ready for my leap of faith addition..Bacon fat, completely covering top and bottom! Placed on a rack, roasted at 500F on each side for 12 minutes, the oven turned down to 300F for 25 minutes..Covered and let set before carving- about 10 minutes, it was the best any of us had ever enjoyed!
Dessert was an apple crisp, made from fresh Granny Smith apples- not mushy, with a sweet/tart flavor.. Those were the highlights of the meal, you all know what pickles, rolls, etc. look like!
Hope you had a great day!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Mini-Meme, A Holiday Theme!

Let's face it. There are events coming up this Holiday season that you look forward to, and others you are dreading! As I grow older, I see the hassle of gift giving for adults just that- a hassle... Kids getting gifts is fun! I look forward to giving the gift of good cooked food, and home made treats far more than a new pair of wool socks.
The two questions today are:
1. What do you absolutely look forward to this Holiday season?
2. What is the part you could do without?
Me first!
1.- Getting together with friends and family, to share good eats- and enjoy each others company!
2.- The traveling, schlepping presents, crock pots, picking up people, etc... the mechanics of making a party happen can wear you out before the party starts!
Be honest in your answers- these Mini's go pretty fast, so have fun with it!

Beijing by Foot

It was love at first sight when I first set foot on Shicha Hai (什刹海) early autumn this year. I did the touristy thing...a rickshaw hutong tour. I didn't particular enjoy the ride as I prefer to take my time walking along the banks of the lakes. So, I made a promise to myself that I would revisit this scenic spot again, by foot.

Located in the north of central Beijing city, the Shicha Hai area is made up of 3 man-made lakes - Qian Hai (前海, Front Lake), Hou Hai (后海, Back Lake) and Xi Hai (西海, West Lake). During the imperial eras, these lakes were part of a system used to transport grain by barge from the Grand Canal to the Forbidden City. In recent years it has become famous for its nightlife as many popular restaurants, bars, and cafes now lined the shores of Hou Hai.

After a late lunch at the QuanJuDe (famous for it's Peking roast duck), we took a slow stroll from Qian Hai, before heading north to Hou Hai and back to our starting point at Qian Hai.

Picturesque Qian Hai (前海) in winter...I am no good with words, all I could say is, this place has transformed from a gorgeous young lady in autumn to an elegant ice beauty in winter. (这里的风景有如从一位娥娜多姿的少女演变成一位优雅的冰山美人, 个有个的美!)

Sugar blower at Qian Hai, blowing animal figurines with caramel sugar. It took him less than 2 minutes to blow a tiger and about 1 minute for a snake figurine. We were very impressed with this traditional handcraft. I first saw this art from a travel documentary, it is never the same when you see it with your own eyes. I bought two Chinese zodiac signs from this sugar blower, later that day I noticed others are selling at half the price I paid.

Someone has left a fresh stalk of rose on the frozen lake...I wonder why?

Seeing double? The reflection on the lake was more vivid than the real scenery.

Hou Hai in the afternoon...

endless row of willow trees along the shore...

My kids were very amused when they saw this half-naked man jogging along Hou Hai.

At this recreational area, residences are either kicking colourful shuttlecocks...or

having a friendly game of table tennis...

and the few brave ones, taking a dip in the icy lake...

Many small booths and cafes offer yoghurt served in traditional ceramic bottles...and yes, with a straw.

This signboard at a tiny shop says "Number One Smelly in the World"...

people are queuing up its stinky or smelly tofu...

deep fried fermented tofu, which didn't taste as smelly as I had expected.

It was only four in the afternoon but the sun was calling it a day.

We were greeted with a beautiful sun set. Before the night fell, we took refuge at a nearby Starbucks from the cold, before heading out for more street food at the night markets at Wangfujing. It was a leisurely 2 hours walk along the lakeside, and I have to declare that it was the best walk we took in Beijing.

Monday, December 21, 2009

A Barrel of Wishes

It's the time of the year again...

To my child, being born at the end of the year has never been a good thing to him. He has to wait, and wait and wait for his is an agony for him to watch the rest of his classmates celebrate their birthdays one after another.

To reward him for his patience, I wanted to bake a cake that would really make him feel that it is worth the long wait. I googled with the key words "cake", "chocolates", "candies"and "birthday". We were blown away by this particular image of a cake that is decorated with lots of M&Ms, and covered with sticks of Kit Kats! I was then left with the task of replicating this Candy Barrel cake.

Without any basic baking tools, I could only bake a cake out of a box. A cake mix would be good, but I read the instructions on the box, I would need to use an electric whisk or at least a manual one. I have none of these with me. So I bought a pack of Betty Crockers brownies mix...Supreme Hershey Walnuts Fudge Brownies instead, since all I need is just a spoon.

In order to get a more cake like texture, I followed the instruction, to use 3 eggs instead of 2. The end result was not too bad, it was quite close to a dark, dense chocolate cake.

This is an excellent cake for someone like me, who can't frost or pipe a cake properly. The candies covered up whatever flaws that I made along the way ^_^"

I baked the brownies in a big pan (it's actually a roasting pan!) and cut out two 5" rounds (yes, it is a very small cake), stacked them on top of one another, sandwiched with a layer of chocolate ganache. I then covered the entire surface with the remaining ganache and 'glued' the kit kat all around the sides. I didn't cover the top with heaps of candies as I think it would be just too much (I used 3 small packs). Instead, I filled up the barrel with lots of wishes for my little one.

Here's a tip: if I were to make this again, I would bake a tall sponge cake, so that it would come up almost to the rim of the kit kat barrel. In that way, I won't need to use lots of candies to create the impression that it is holding tonnes of M&Ms ;)

With a ribbon, a tag (which I brought all the way from home) and a numeric candle (guess how much I got this from Carrefour here?? It costs only one yuan, which is equivalent to S$0.20!!!), I thought I have made the most awesome looking birthday cake, ever! and, this is so fool-proof!

The birthday boy was thrilled when he saw the cake, he gave me a warm hug and a sweet kiss ;)

The cake tastes as good as it looks...chocolaty, rich and dense, perfect for any chocolate and candies lovers.

A Couple Of Treats

The tail end of last week was busier than anticipated, so Friday and Saturday meals were pretty slap dash. Had some scratch pancakes one night(with bacon!), and the other night was a bean dip deluxe (ground beef, refried beans, cheese, salsa, chopped onions, and chopped peppers). It's thick, and filling on some good quality tortilla chips. We have a tortilla chip factory in town, and the brand name is El Matador. Always fresh and sturdy, they are perfect for dipping the heavy duty stuff!
I had to make dessert for a family get together at my sister's new house...We had all decided I would attempt to make an heirloom dessert we had 40 years ago every Christmas- Sailor Duff! I had my grandmother's recipe which read like a witch's potion- pinch of this, handful of that, etc. I Googled it, and indeed there were similar(but better measured!) recipes. It is similar to Boston brown bread..It's rich, moist, steamed, with molasses, ginger, cinnamon, and raisins in it. I used a bundt pan which sat in a water bath and steam baked at 350 for 90 minutes. It is topped with a simple sauce of water, white sugar, butter, and corn starch for a thickener, all simmered until thick- with a splash(now I'm doing it!) of vanilla extract stirred in after cooling. The cake can be cool or room temp., the sauce warmed and drizzled over it- topped with cold whipped cream.
This stuff is RICH- cut small pieces!
For the kids, I brought a quick, no fail treat similar to rice crispie squares
1. 1 cup of white sugar
2. 1 cup white Karo syrup
3. 1 cup peanut butter
Mix and heat through until liquid, but not boiling
4. Stir in 7 cups of Honey Bunches of Oats breakfast cereal until mixed
5. Spread in buttered 9 x 13 pan, compress with a sheet of waxed paper until uniform height
6. Melt a 1/2 bag of semi- chocolate chips with 1/4 stick of butter, until speadable
7. Spread top of filled pan until covered, refrigerate until cooled.
Those will disappear quickly, as kids and adults enjoy them..
I'm sure we are all ramping up for the big week- so keep your cool, and try to enjoy!
I apologize for the blurry photos, the camera setting got bumped, and made the blow-up photos blurry.. Remember, kids- I paint with a very broad brush!

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