Friday, December 23, 2011

More Holiday Times

It's almost Christmas! I have a little more baking to do. So far, I made the white chocolate and craisin cookies, some fudge, some cereal bark, and some sugar cookies.. one batch decorated Hanukkah themed, and the other decorated Christmas themed with my neighbor and her kids tonight.

My sister and I had fun making these last night. Hopefully the kids at the Hanukkah celebration my parents went to tonight enjoyed the cookies.

This is our tree. It's so nice to look at when it's all lit up at night.

Hope everyone's having fun getting ready for Christmas!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Winter Treats: White Chocolate Chip & Cran-raisin Cookies, and Hanukkah

So, I'm beginning my festive season of baking with white chocolate chip and cran-raisin cookies: a sweet, healthy treat reminiscent of winter and fall at the same time. The sweet, snow-like white chocolate chips are a perfect complement to the tart, chewy cran-raisins (or "craisins") that are reminiscent of the fall harvest. Mixed with a classic chocolate chip cookie dough, they're one fantastic kind of cookie that has my family and I returning to the cookie jar again and again. Perfect with a glass of egg nog.

On Wednesday, Hanukkah will start. My family and I already had our Hanukkah dinner at church last week, where we had latkes and grape juice, and shared stories and songs with our friends. We played dreidel, too.

If you've never played dreidel before, the rules are quite simple. Everyone, to start, gets maybe ten tokens of some kind, whether it's pennies, or in the case of last week, dried macaroni. First each person puts one token in the middle of the table, or the "pot." Everyone takes turns spinning the dreidel, a four-sided top that has a different Hebrew symbol on each side, and whatever it lands on is what you have to do with your macaroni. If it lands on "Gimel," you get everything in the pot. If it lands on "Hey," you get half of what's in the pot. If it lands on "Nun," you get nothing. If it lands on "Shin," you have to put two tokens into the pot (three, counting the ante). After each person takes their turn, everyone has to put one token into the pot. Whoever has the most at the end wins. My sister won when we played last week. I may just have to challenge her, as there are still eight nights of Hanukkah left.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Recipes I Love

Whenever I find myself stumped on what I should make for dinner, Mel's Kitchen Cafe has the perfect, fun, creative, easy idea. I've made her Garlic Tuna Pasta with Asparagus, her Lemon Cream Pasta with Chicken, her Skillet Chili Mac, her Tuscan Macaroni and Cheese Bake, her Chicken and Sausage Jambalaya, her Chicken and Rice with Coconut Milk and Pistachios, and most recently, her Hot Pizza Dip Bites. As soon as I saw this recipe, I knew I had to try it. I just love miniature versions of things, packed with all the same great flavor. I made mine with a bunch of different toppings: turkey sausage and olive, chicken apple sausage, and turkey pepperoni.

Definitely the cutest recipe I've seen in a while. My family enjoyed them very much, too. Looking forward to trying another of Mel's fantastic recipes soon.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

More NOLA/ Thanksgiving

Well, besides the Po-Boy Festival and admiring the nature and architecture, I did some other things while I was in New Orleans. I went to Angelo Brocato's Italian Ice Cream Parlor in Midtown with my friend who lives in that area, and we got some Italian cookies and some gelato.

I didn't have my phone with me because it was charging at my friend's apartment, so I didn't get a picture of the beautiful display of pastries under the glass. I did, however, get a picture of the beautiful display of cakes and other goodies at Whole Foods, on Magazine Street, where we went next.

Whole Foods is amazing, it's like Trader Joe's but even better. They have all different kinds of wine, fancy cheeses, international/healthy foods and a large selection of fruits and vegetables. They even had wine and cheese tasting samples inside the store. I bought some Camembert which I enjoyed over a few days with some crackers and blackberry jelly, plus some tangerines.

A visit to New Orleans would not be complete without some adult beverages. I enjoyed a variety of things: whiskey and coke, a Pimm's cup from a jazz club on Frenchman Street, a bellini flavored margarita from the little mall by the river, and a cosmopolitan at Port of Call, a little pub a few doors down from the place where I was staying.

They have great ambiance, candles on the tables for lighting and a big fish tank to watch as drinks are enjoyed. They make it feel like being inside a ship at sea. 

Thanksgiving was great, too. My mom and sister and I shared the holiday in Palm Springs, CA with my great uncles, my second cousin and her family, my uncle, aunt and cousins, and some other relatives and friends. There were about 20 of us all together. My great uncle was the host, and he had to specially order tables and chairs so there would be enough room for everyone to sit. It was like being at a restaurant. He even has his own bar.

Someone was making drinks, and I requested a martini. I usually like my drinks sweet, but sometimes a nice martini is the perfect choice.

We also had all kinds of lovely appetizers... bacon wrapped figs (amazing idea I will have to make for my own party one of these days), cheese spreads and crackers, and caviar pie with crackers. 

And of course, the main event: turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, home made creamed corn, and an assortment of other delicious side dishes. It was very nice.

Now I'm back in my normal routine at home, starting to get ready for Christmas. Maybe we'll start decorating the house this weekend, and soon I'll be baking a bunch of cookies and other sweets!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Beauty of New Orleans

Every time I visit New Orleans, I am struck by the architectural and natural beauty that surrounds me. The buildings, the neighborhoods, the trees, the river, the bayous... they're truly unique. They reflect an older time that will never be forgotten.

Yes, even the grand Bourbon Street has a place in history... I took the liberty of censoring a bit, because this is a nice blog. ;)

I stayed in this hotel once, Hotel Le Cirque. At night, the outside lights up to all different colors.

When's the last time you saw this many buildings in one picture?

When you walk down St. Charles Avenue, you see so many beautiful trees.

Often, they're decorated with all kinds of Mardi Gras beads. This city celebrates Mardi Gras all year round.

Here's a St. Charles streetcar. These streetcars are hundreds of years old, and still in working operation to this day.

This is the more modern Canal Street streetcar. These streetcars are so fun to ride, it's like being on an old-fashioned train.

This is the Mississippi river. Every time I visit the city, I visit this river. This last time, I enjoyed a nice little lunch of jambalaya, Camembert cheese, crackers and blackberry jelly by this river.

This is Bayou St. John. One of my friends lives near here, she's lucky she gets to see it all the time.

One more post to come, where I'll talk a little more about New Orleans and the rest of my Thanksgiving vacation. :)

Friday, November 25, 2011

Celebrating Sandwiches

Well, I certainly had my share of sandwiches over the past week. The festival was fantastic, and I tried two kinds of po-boys there:

1. Oysters Rockafeller: fried oysters with lettuce and mayonnaise. Very tasty!

2. Hot sausage with collard greens and pickles. Different, but surprisingly pretty good.

There were a lot of people at the festival, and wherever there's a crowd in New Orleans, a "second line" (impromptu parade with a little band and people following it down the street) is bound to break out. That's so much fun.

While I was at the festival, I stopped by the "artist's village" and got some pretty ceramic art tiles for my family that featured famous landmarks of New Orleans, like the French Market and Cafe Du Monde. I also bought a cool vintage purse at a clothing exchange store, and a nice instrumental jazz CD at a book fair along the street. I tried some nice bread pudding, too, of a white chocolate variety.

I volunteered at the festival during the evening, handing out maps so everyone would know where to find the po-boys they wanted according to which side-street coincided with the main street at which the festival was being held. People were very appreciative. I got a free t-shirt, too. Whoever created the picture on the front has amazing talent.

Later on, at a restaurant in the Mid-town area called Lil' Dizzy's Cafe, I also had a fried shrimp po-boy. So, suffice to say, I've definitely given my love to po-boys this time around.

Next post: some pretty architecture and scenery! :)

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Halloween Fun and Upcoming Vacation

I had a fun Halloween. My mom and I made pumpkin stew, which is cooking a stew inside a pumpkin, and it was very good. The pumpkin flesh tasted just like spaghetti squash, with a very nice flavor.

You can see that the second pumpkin was the one we used for the stew. My dad felt like being a little silly and carving a face into it afterwards, haha.

It doesn't get much better than this-- warm, hearty stew on a chilly Halloween evening. We got some of the cutest trick-or-treaters, too-- some preschoolers who barely even knew how to say, "Halloween," but gave it a good effort. We also ordered pizza and watched classic scary movies.

So, now that we're done with the Halloween excitement, it's time for me to work a couple more weeks.... then, I get a week off, during which I will be going to New Orleans again, then Palm Springs for Thanksgiving. It will be so much fun. There is even going to be a festival on November 20th when I am in New Orleans, featuring one of the foods of which I have wanted to try more.

They will have all kinds of Po Boys there, and arts and crafts, and live jazz playing all day. Some other new things I plan on trying/visiting while in New Orleans: oysters, a mint julep, their famous bread pudding, bananas foster, Antoine's, Mahony's, Croissant D'or Patisserie, the antique shops on Royal Street, and more. Hopefully I'll have enough energy to see and do as much as possible!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Cute Party Foods :)

Tonight, my parents and I had a Coffee and Jazz party at our house to promote this new healthy coffee my mom is selling, Organo Gold. I made some crescent roll sausage snacks, caprese bites, and cheesecake bites. We also had some soft tacos, and chips and salsa with guacamole. Everyone loved the food and had a great time.

I got this idea from a cook book of mine. So easy-- just slice up some mozzarrella into cubes, marinate it in a little olive oil with a couple teaspoons of fresh chives and parsley overnight, then thread them onto toothpicks with plum tomatoes and some basil.

These were also fun to make. I just made them muffin size and cut them up into fourths, and added some blueberry preserves and strawberry jam ontop.

Looking forward to the next party and finding some new fun things to make! :)

Monday, October 3, 2011

A Fall Vacation

Well, I just got back from Sunnyvale and it was a lovely little vacation before starting my new job. I got to visit Stanford University, bought some very nice tea, and cooked/baked some fun things, too.

Stanford is a beautiful campus, and I took lots of pictures. They've got excellent architecture, pretty fountains, and plenty of fascinating outdoor sculptures. They even have an art museum, and a big outdoor mall with every kind of store you could want.

This Engineering building was one of my favorites. I bought a postcard with a picture of it and gave it to my mom.

They've even got pretty flowers everywhere. This one was especially fascinating, it was almost like a work of art in itself.

This fountain is really nice. The students there must enjoy having so many fountains around. :)

I've never seen a fountain like this before. Just imagine how fun it would be to run across it, or just stand under it like you were taking a shower.... haha.

Some outdoor art.... you can tell this campus is just brimming with creativity and innovation.

They've got a church, too.... it was so big the whole thing didn't even fit in the picture. I couldn't back up further to try to fit the sides because the sun was throwing the lighting off, but as you can see it's a lovely church.

My main focus during shopping was a visit to Teavana, where JoDee got me some delicious lime flavored tea during her visit to Oregon. I got to sample about three different kinds, and ended up taking a berry tea and almond biscotti tea home in a nice tin. The almond biscotti, which I am enjoying right now, actually tastes like its name in tea form. Exquisite.
To celebrate Rosh Hashanah, we got some challah from House of Bagels in Mountain View. It was baked perfectly, and we enjoyed it with some apples and honey. And of course, no trip to Sunnyvale would be complete without some good food. My boyfriend and I made some apple crisp with his mom, some banana bread, and some delicious grilled stuffed flour tortillas (aka quesadillas, basically) from one of my favorite cooking blogs.

The apple crisp went great with ice cream. We used a recipe from his mom's cookbook.

And the banana bread.... two whole loaves of it. Another classic recipe. There's nothing like the scent of banana bread in the oven.

I'm quite refreshed after a week away, and look forward to keeping busy this week.... plus, making those delicious quesadillas again and sharing them with my family. :)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

♥ Matzo Ball Soup ♥

I was taking a look in my cupboard, wondering what to make for dinner tonight.... and I was struck with inspiration when I spied a box of matzo ball soup mix. This comforting soup is a Passover favorite I have cherished my whole life, but why wait until April for something so delicious and easy to make? So, I made some right away.

Making this soup is very easy: you just get a box of matzo ball soup mix, which comes with a packet of matzo ball mix and another packet for the broth. You make the matzo ball mix with a mix of two eggs and between 2 tbsp and 1/4 cup of vegetable oil (depending on what kind of box mix you get), to which you mix in the matzo ball mix until thoroughly combined, and refrigerate for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, you get 2.5 quarts of water boiling, or basically just fill a big pot with water most of the way, and add in the soup mix. I sprinkled in some dried basil, too. While you're waiting for the water to boil, peel and cut up 3 carrots, and slice up 3 stalks of celery. Put those in the broth as it's starting to boil, and take out your matzo ball mix and make walnut-size balls, which you may put in when the broth has reached a medium-to-full boil. Add some cooked, diced chicken too, if you want-- 1.5 to 2 chicken breasts should do. Let the soup cook at a simmer on low about 20 minutes, and it's done.

My family will be enjoying this delicious soup for the rest of the week. It's so good, I might even invite a friend over to have some.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A Relaxing Tuesday Night

Every Tuesday night, my parents go out to attend their club meeting, so I make dinner for myself. Tonight, this is what I made...

Ramen with red cabbage and salmon

Every now and then, I just crave a nice big bowl of ramen... and it's particularly fun when I'm inspired by other ingredients I have on hand. I also added some chives and parsley from my garden for extra flavor. A winning combination :). Some tater tots on the side make it a simple, fun meal. Tell me, readers: what did you have for dinner tonight?

Saturday, August 27, 2011

My Birthday Party

So I had a very nice birthday party last weekend. I invited my three closest female friends and we had a tea party like last year. We giggled and talked about girly things, and had tea, cupcakes, meringues, strawberries, cucumber sandwiches and crackers. Then we looked at a selection of fabrics from which I chose for my fashion major friend Tiffany to make a skirt for me. Can't wait to see how it starts to turn out! :)

I made chai cupcakes with a honey buttercream frosting, and they were very nice. To decorate them I used some sugar crystals and candy pearls.

Everyone loved my meringues, and I was so glad I was able to actually somewhat succeed making meringues, unlike the first time I tried to make them maybe a year ago and vowed never to try again. It's a good thing I gave it another shot.

I just love strawberries. They are so summery and refreshing. I had a whole bunch of strawberries before my party too, and I used them for a strawberry coulis to go with a previously made pound cake, plus I had some with crepes.

 The whole spread... and me in the background getting something I guess, haha.

Yay, more presents :). 

The table was kind of similar to last year, but it was nice to try new treats to eat and share. My friends are the best. :)

Hope everyone's enjoying their last few days/weeks of summer! Winding up my summer has been busy but nice. I saw a bunch of family today for my grandpa's memorial service (mom's side), and tomorrow's a family reunion with my dad's side of the family. As we all used to say at the Montessori school where I worked... "we are thankful for our food, friends and family!"

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Birthday Weekend!

Well I had a very nice birthday weekend. My family and I had a barbecue with tri-tip, chicken, french bread, beans, potato salad, and corn. Santa Maria style tri-tip is famous worldwide. Our beans are famous too, and super good.

Then after that we had s'mores and exchanged funny stories. Also, my parents got all of us cupcakes from KK's Gourmet Bundt Cakes as my cake. My dad got me a customized wine bag, a charm photo bracelet, and a CD. My mom got me a pretty snow globe with kitties in it. My sister got me a salad spinner and a flexible liquid measuring pouring cup for baking. My boyfriend gave me one of his treasured beanie babies and his mom got me a pretty bookmark. So I felt very special.

The next day, my boyfriend and I went to a Chili Festival in Arroyo Grande, near Lopez Lake. It was really fun and we got to try all kinds of different chili recipes-- vegetarian, red (spicy), chili verde, and some other unique styles of beans. The spicy beans I voted I liked the best were one of the groups that won-- these beans came from Chele's Food & Spirits, in Pismo. Apparently they haven't changed their chili recipe in 22 years and they've won at the festival two years in a row. I may need to check out that restaurant sometime! :)

There isn't much summer left, but I'm trying to enjoy the rest of it as much as I can. Saturday, I'm having a birthday party with my girls. Looking forward to that!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Pretty Cakes

Time for another update, so I'm going to share some pretty cakes I've had the pleasure to enjoy recently.

This is the cake from the wedding I went to. It was a lovely yellow layer cake with custard filling.

So pretty on the inside, too :)

Caramel Macchiato cupcakes JoDee and I made.

We made these Tres Leches style with sponge cake and layers of soaked in cream and coffee/bailey's (or non-alcoholic bailey's irish creme flavored cream for those who didn't want the alcohol kind). Then a vanilla buttercream frosting and caramel sauce drizzled ontop. I liked them a lot. 

My birthday is in 3 days, starting to get excited! :)