Monday, November 25, 2013

Blueberry-Ginger Scones

I love, love, love scones! If I could eat one type of pastry for the rest of my life, I would choose scones, especially Alice Waters’ scones… they’re light, soft, and totally melt-in-your-mouth goodness.

Whenever I make scones, I usually go for Alice Waters’ recipe and put my own spin to it, so it’s kinda-sorta different each time. Over the number of times that I have used her recipe, my favorite flour blend is half whole wheat and half whole wheat pastry. It makes for a delicate scone with good substance.

This time, I decided to toss in some blueberries and crystallized ginger in the mix. The combination of both is heavenly! The freshness and sweetness of the blueberries makes you think of sunny fields while the warm and spicy flavors of candied ginger reminds you of burrowing under the covers. The blueberries and ginger bits enveloped in the orange-infused scone dough is simply delightful.

Blueberry-Ginger Scones (Makes 8 large scones)
Adapted from Alice Waters’ Scones, The Art of Simple Food

1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
2 ½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup sugar
zest of 1 orange
½ cup fresh blueberries
¼ cup crystallized ginger, minced

1 and 1/3 cups heavy cream

Vanilla-Cream Wash:
1 tablespoon heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon sugar

Move an oven rack to the middle slot and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Prepare a baking sheet, by covering it with parchment paper or rubbing it generously with a bit of butter.

Whisk the flours, baking powder, and salt well together in a large bowl. In a small bowl, massage the orange zest into the sugar granules using your fingertips. Whisk the orange infused sugar into the flour mixture. Toss in the minced ginger and whisk well. Add the blueberries and use your fingertips to gently sift it in the dry mixture, make sure you don’t crush them.

Pour in the heavy cream and using a flexible, rubber spatula, gently mix the cream and the dry ingredients until a scraggly dough forms. Tip the dough onto a clean counter and gently form into a circle. Pat the circle into an 8-inch disk. Divide the disk into 8 wedges using a knife.

To make the vanilla-cream wash, stir together the heavy cream, vanilla extract, and sugar in a small bowl. Brush the scone wedges with the wash using a pastry brush.

Carefully move the wedges onto the prepared pan. You might want to use a very flat, plastic spatula to peel them off the counter. Bake for 20-24 minutes until the top turns into a nice, golden brown.

Pairing these scones with a cup of coffee, a good latte, or your favorite tea is highly recommended. Sit back, smile, and enjoy!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Appetizer Party, Fall 2013

DFJ and I invited some new friends over last Saturday. We had a lovely time getting to know each other and running after babies. Who knew that the spider webs your vacuum cleaner missed could entertain two-year old twins?

We served the following foods along with some good cheeses and crackers. These appetizer recipes can also be great additions to your Thanksgiving menu! Just click on the links to find the recipes.   

I am in love with this savory butternut squash soup! It is rich in flavor, creamy, and has a very slight kick that slowly creeps up on you. This will make you feel warm and cozy all over. The toasted sunflower seed topping is a must-make (so, don’t skip them) they are perfectly crunchy, salty, and cuminy (that’s a new word)! There were two things that I slightly adapted in this recipe: 1) adding torn sage leaves on the butternut squash before roasting it and 2) using half chicken stock and half vegetable stock.

As always, Smitten Kitchen, never fails me. A few years ago, my artisan baker friend, Angela, told me to make this particular recipe from Deb’s blog and I obliged. This is the third time I made this recipe for a party and it never fails to please the crowd. It is something that is made with all too common ingredients that one would never think of putting together. Perfectly roasted sweet potatoes are topped with minced shallots, celery, pecans, goat cheese, and cranberries seasoned with mustard vinaigrette. That’s a party right there!


 If you have the Jerusalem cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, do yourselves a favor and cook up these amazing meatballs. If not, the recipe for these meatballs is a good enough reason to invest in this cookbook. (All the other recipes that I have made from this book turned out great too, it’s worth it!) I know that some people may think meatballs are meatballs. So not true! Ottolenghi has a knack for bringing out the best in everything and turning something simple like meatballs into a complex blend of flavors that play so well together. These meatballs are spiked with exotic spices, it makes you feel like someone’s grandmother from Jerusalem invited you in her warm kitchen for dinner. The herbs loaded in these babies give them a dose of freshness. The tangy lemon juice adds brightness and makes them even more flavorful. I also love the smooth texture and the saltiness of the beans. And all that chicken stock helped keep the moisture in the meatballs.

We substituted some ingredients to accommodate what we had on hand. Instead of fava beans, we used frozen lima beans and skipped the blanching part (which caused our beans to lose the bright green color). This recipe calls for some ground lamb but since we didn’t have any, we used all ground beef. For the herbs, we doubled the fresh parsley and cilantro, used dried dill, and skipped the mint. Baharat spice mix is easy to make at home and Ottolenghi has a recipe for it in the book. 

These are ultimate crowd pleasers! We served this at DFJ’s parents’ Christmas party last year and it was gone in less than 5 minutes. That’s how good it is! First you have to make some carnitas, of course. You can make it a day or two ahead of time as it keeps pretty well in the fridge. Right before the party, fill some mini taco shells with carnitas, top with a few drops of salsa, and sprinkle on some shredded cheddar cheese. Pop it in an oven preheated to 350 degrees F and bake until the cheese melts, approximately 8-12 minutes.

My Anything Goes Crostini

This crostini is really good and perfect for the foodies and the picky eaters in your party. It is easy to make and the toppings can be made ahead of time. Just stir fry diced leeks, mushrooms, half a bell pepper, and a bit of ham steak in olive oil and season it with salt and pepper. On the day of the party, put a bit of Dijon mustard on some small slices of good sourdough, add a spoonful of the stir fry mix, and top with a slice of Swiss cheese. Bake in an oven preheated to 375 degrees F and cook just until the cheese melts. Serve warm. Comfort food in the form of a miniature cheese steak!

I got this recipe from Smitten Kitchen (again) and she got this recipe from one of Ina Garten’s cookbooks. The funny thing is, I have all of Ina’s cookbooks but for the one that has this recipe in it. Orange and dark chocolate is one of the best food combinations out there… it’s a classic and it just can’t go wrong. I kept it simple and skipped the syrup and the ganache. It seemed like too much work, with everything else that we were making. The cake in itself is just perfect. Beguilingly simple, this cake will surprise you with its rich orange flavor and the delightful chocolate bites. I cut the sugar quantity back by ½ a cup and the cake is still wonderful. We’ve been eating the leftovers for breakfast and dinner dessert AND loving every bite. The cake is pretty dense, so a small slice goes a long way...

I hope this recipe round-up will give you some ideas on what to serve at your next party! 
Happy cooking!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

My Life Recently + Haiyan (Yolanda) + PLEASE HELP THE PHILIPPINES

Too often I find myself being so selfishly wrapped up in my own little bubble that I forget to be an active participant in this big world that we live in.

So many things have transpired since my last post over a month ago. If you had asked me how I felt about heading off to 200 hours of Yoga Teacher Training in New York for the entire month of October, I would have told you that I felt sad about leaving home and being away from DFJ, that I was nervous about not knowing how to find my way in the city, that I fretted about not knowing what the training days will look like, that I had a big fear of getting injured during asana practice, that I worried about getting too tired during class time, that I wondered if my fellow yogis would like me or not, and that I was scared shitless of practice teaching in front of the group.

I have always wanted to be an optimist but unfortunately, most of the time, my little head is ruled by too many negative thoughts. Being able to go to New York City for yoga is a privilege that I somehow overlooked.

What happened after Yoga Teacher Training was a flurry of going to 2-4 yoga classes every day for another week, a 30th birthday weekend celebration in New York (low key, as always), and coming home to Maryland late Sunday night. For the next few days that followed, my days were slow and easy. I worked hard on my teacher training take home final which made my head spin. The fridge was looking bare and bachelor-like so I went out to do some food shopping. There were a couple of bank errands that needed to be done. Since we were not home for a while there were a few loads of laundry waiting to be done. DFJ said he missed eating vegetables when I was not around, so I indulged him. And always, I found time to escape upstairs and do my yoga practice. Since the training, I have also taken to practice teaching to an imaginary student. You would think I have completely lost my mind if you see me.

Who the hell am I? I am not sure I recognize this person who has all of a sudden become domesticated and not busy, yet still manages to lose track of time and accomplish nothing. On top of that, I complain about not having anything to do. What a joke!

As I selfishly lament my fate in the safe cocoon of Maryland, on the other side of the world, people in the Philippines are heartbroken and devastated over the loss of their loved ones and homes due to the brutal Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda). If I weren’t here, I would be in the midst of all that devastation, just like my family and friends are.

On November 7th (Thursday morning here), I talked to my mom and sister on the phone and they told me they were getting ready for the typhoon that’s coming. They were busy filling water bottles and had some life jackets out in case of flooding. I told them to put important documents in a safe place so they don’t get wet and with that, we said goodbye. Since the Philippines is always hit by typhoons and storms, we thought this one would just be slightly stronger than the usual and nothing more.

WE WERE SO WRONG. This typhoon was like no other. It was worse than the flash flood that killed almost 8,000 people in my hometown, Ormoc City, on November 5, 1991. I was there when it happened, two weeks after my father passed away, and three days after I turned eight. That flash flood happened so fast, we just barely got home from school. I remember not knowing why we came home early when the rain wasn’t even so bad… then all of a sudden, water came rushing into our house and rose about 5 feet. The next thing I knew, we were crouched on top of our heavy dining table just watching the murky water flood in. My uncle punched a hole in the ceiling and we hid there listening to the raindrops pelting the roof that was only a few inches away from our heads. When all that was over, we moved to our grandparents’ house in the next town, Albuera. That was our temporary shelter while our house was getting cleaned, fixed, and repainted. Then life went back to normal somehow… I was only eight and my mother did an amazing job shielding us from the worst, after she just lost her husband and experienced a severe catastrophe. 

Now, as an adult, seeing the current devastation caused by another natural calamity, I can see so much more. DFJ and I stayed up late last Thursday watching the news, knowing that the eye of the storm was right there over my beloved hometown, threatening the lives of my family and friends, relentlessly unleashing it’s wrath over thousands of people who live in houses not built to withstand even a gentle storm. I called home even though I knew that was futile and there was nothing I could do but sit and watch and panic. All communications in the hardest hit areas were down. Facebook was my only source of live news from the Philippines as friends from other parts of the country who were unaffected continued to post updates. I read somewhere that there was going to be a storm surge and fear rose up my spine. The storm surge spared Ormoc City but flowed through Tacloban City, which is about 65 miles away from my hometown, and it left the town in ruins. The current death toll in the Leyte Province is 2,000-2,500 people with thousands of people rendered homeless.

As the days passed, I heard from my cousins that everyone in our family is ok and our homes as well. Relief flooded over me but I was still full of unease as I have not heard from my mom directly yet. On Tuesday night, I finally got to talk to my mom. They are all fine and unharmed and our house only sustained very minimal damage. So far, they have enough food supply to last for a while and some rusty water from a pump for showers, dishes, and the toilets. My mom is smart, on the day before the typhoon, she hired someone to cut the trees surrounding our house and someone to reinforce the roof of our house. Since the flash food in 1991, she has had iron grills screwed outside all the glass windows and doors of our house to prevent debris from breaking the glass in case another calamity happens. She also took this carpenter to my grandparents’ house and had him reinforce their big doors. Had she not done these before the typhoon came, those trees would have fallen on our house and that big door would have blown into my grandparents’ house. She told me that she sat in our living room for a while, watching the sky get dark and the storm brewing outside through the glass doors. When she thought she couldn’t stand death coming towards them, she and my two sisters all hid in the master bedroom. They held each other and talked about how lucky I am to be the sole survivor of the family as the wind continued to howl outside. Her words gripped my heart and while she talked to me I could hear the wind crying in my head as I have heard that sound countless of times during typhoons and storms growing up in the Philippines. My mom said all they could do was cover their ears and wait it out, ever-ready to take action if and when the roof blows off and debris starts flying towards them. The 195 mile/hour winds finally came to an end and thankfully left my entire family unscathed and our home standing strong. My family is very fortunate to have survived Haiyan, one of the strongest cyclones in history.

The vast majority of the victims of Haiyan are now homeless, injured, and hungry. Even worse, they are out there, grieving or looking for lost family members. As far as I know, although things are really bad in Ormoc City, what happened to our town is not nearly as bad as Tacloban City. My mom told me that as far as she has seen, walking and driving around, no trees are left standing. Almost all business establishments are destroyed and roofs look like crumpled newspaper. My uncle was the 3,000th person in line to get 2 liters of gas. There’s a loooong line for charging a cellphone and it costs 20 pesos per charge (about 50 cents here). They have no electricity and running water. People who have been left homeless are suffering under the scorching heat, especially since there is no more shade.

The Philippines has received an overwhelming amount of international aid and our hearts are extremely thankful for all the support that you are giving to our country. Filipinos overseas and all over the Philippines are rallying to help out by donating money and packing relief goods to be sent to the hard hit areas. You are all heroes and thank you for all your efforts!

Friends, let us continue to help the Philippines… there are so many bellies that need food, parched throats that need clean water, so many injured who need medicine and treatment, hundreds of thousands left homeless, debris that needs to be cleared out, better infrastructure that need to be built to avoid extreme damages in the future… I could go on. We may not be able to heal the grieving hearts of so many but we can provide them with their physical needs. So maybe for today or the next few days, save your latte/fresh juice/ beer and cocktail/new outfit/new shoes/new purse/ money and donate it to the Philippines instead.

If you are wary about donating because you are not sure exactly whether that money goes to where you would want it to go, here are some of the big and trustworthy organizations to donate to:

Every penny counts and the Philippines need as much help as we can give. PLEASE HELP MY PEOPLE RISE. Thank you so much.

Daghang salamat kaninyong tanan.