I Love Lollipop Love

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I love the idea of making things from scratch. Like, from scratch scratch, as in I-want-a-sheep-so-I-can-make-my-own-yarn scratch. But since owning a sheep is not feasible at the moment, I resorted to making lollipops from scratch, like, you know, from sugar.

Here, I made Basic Lollipops from the book, Lollipop LoveDessert First’s Anita Chu’s third and newest dessert cookbook that came out last month.

I’ve been a fan her blog for years, and I admire her so much that I even asked her to be my friend on Facebook. And I jump up in joy, like a teenage girl at a boy band’s concert, when she occasionally leaves me sweet comments. Her stunning photography and warm writing style makes me feel like I’m reading a beautiful spread on a glossy magazine while sipping tea in Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris.

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Despite the fact that this was my first attempt at making candies from scratch (I’m made caramel but never hard candies), I think they turned out pretty well. Working with sugar was a little scary because the liquid can get really, really hot (up to 300 degree F), but I managed not to burn myself or turn the sugar into caramel (or worse, to a black tar). Pouring the liquid into a mold was a bit of a challenge, especially because you have to work very quickly, but it got easier by the third or forth cavity.

The only mistake I made was using a flavor oil. I used a strawberry flavoring liquid I purchased from LorAnn Oils and it created a slightly medicine-y taste. I think I put too much but I think I’ll be sticking to natural flavors going forward.

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I tried out another recipe from the book the other day. This time, I tried the Peach Iced Tea Lollipops recipe. Instead of the peach tea, I used Rose Royal black tea from my favorite tea house, Lupicia. I brewed two tablespoons of tea leaves with a cup of hot water and mixed that with sugar. I LOVED the flavor (reminded me of the candy version of a popular Japanese tea, Gogo no Kocha, or Afternoon Tea). I might reduce the tea leaves to one tablespoon instead of two next time since the brew came out pretty strong.

I hope you pick up the book and start making some delicious homemade candies free of artificial ingredients!

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Smile Biscuits

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It’s so ironic.  Japanese tourists would drop hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars gobbling up American goods when they’re visiting the states on a holiday, while we Japanese living in the states would spend three times as much to get Japan-made products online or at local Japanese stores!

I love Japanese book and I can spend hours browsing through Amazon Japan to check out fun cookbooks and craft books. I usually resist the urge to purchase anything since it’s more expensive to buy it here and the shipping fee is pretty ridiculous, but once in a while, especially when I’m tired and lacking the willpower, I push the “click to purchase” button, which immediately follows by a buyer’s remorse.  But most Japanese books are so well written and practical, I’m always glad to have ordered them when they arrive at my doorstep three to five business days later.

My latest purchase was this baking book titled, “Mainichi Tabetai Gohan no Youna Kukki to Bisuketto no Hon,” (まいにち食べたい“ごはんのような”クッキーとビスケットの本), which translates loosely to, “Book of cookies and biscuits you want to eat every day like a meal.” The author, Shiho Nakashima, cleverly and quite accurately titled the book as such, because all the recipes included here are so healthy (maple syrup instead of white sugar; a tiny bit of canola oil instead of butter, and no eggs, for example), one won’t experience an ounce of guilt even after eating these baked snacks every day.

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The basic, and perhaps the most popular among the cult followers (Nakashima has published several more books on this “every day” series, including everyday muffins, crackers, and chiffon cakes, which are equally impressive), is the Smile Biscuit, which you see here. It’s made out of the combination of whole wheat and cake flours, maple syrup, and canola oil. I was pretty hesitant at first (how can something with virtually nothing in it possibly taste good?) but I was surprised when I took the first bite of the super dense biscuit.  It was absolutely sensational!  It was so simple but not plain, and so gentle but not flavorless.  It reminded me of snacks I grew up eating in Japan in the early 80s, before all the artificial sweets began filling up the grocery store shelves.

You can’t really think of this as a substitute for a regular, butter and sugar cookie but think of this rather as something completely new to our taste buds. Sure, it tastes nothing like the cookies that we’re accustomed to, but it brings a wonderful, fresh flavor and texture (and so much comfort) that would sure to satisfy any adventurous and open-minded cookie lovers out there. I am absolutely in love with these cookies / biscuits and I will, in fact, bake them and eat them every day as part of my daily dining ritual.  (Confession:  I received this book a week ago and I already made four batches of it.)

Here’s the video of the author making the Smile Biscuit!

Aarti Paarti Cookbook Signing

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I met my girl crush Aarti Sequerira over the weekend at Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena while she was promoting her new cookbook, Aarti Paarti: An American Kitchen with an Indian Soul!

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She was even lovelier in person, if that were possible! I intend to write my thoughts on the cookbook (which is seriously awesome, full of delicious recipes and stories) and will definitely cook from it, but I’m still star struck and at a complete loss for words! If you can imagine a teenage girl squealing in delight at a boy band’s concert — that’s was me at the book signing, and even now, two days later.

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In the meantime, go get the book and start cooking! 🙂

Salmon Cakes

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I am trying so hard not to pass judgment or make assumptions about others. I recently read a story about a certain celebrity couple who left their three-month-old baby home to fly to Paris, to attend a certain celebrity event. The former self would have judged and said, “Dude, what the #%@#? They’re such #$@%-ing awful parents for leaving their newborn, just to satisfy their own vanity!” (By the way, I’m trying hard to curse less too.) But the new self now thinks, “Everyone is entitled to their own choices, and if going away and taking a little vacation from parenting actually makes them better parents, let them to fly to a foreign country and flaunt those mega post-baby boobies!” It’s not easy, but I’m trying!

So, in the spirit of positive thinking, giving the benefit of the doubt, looking on the bright side of life, and glass is always half full, give Salmon Cakes from a canned salmon a try! Canned fish often gets a bad rap but these flaky cakes are delicious!

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Salmon Cake
(Adapted from Ten Dollar Dinners, as well as Food Network)

Ingredients

2 strips bacon, cooked until crispy, crumbled, bacon fat reserved
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 egg
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 lemon, zested
1 (14-ounce) can wild salmon, checked for large bones
1 baked or boiled russet potato, peeled, and fluffed with a fork
1/4 cup bread crumbs
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup vegetable oil

Directions

Heat 1 tablespoon of the reserved bacon fat in a small saute pan over low heat. Add the onions and cook until translucent. Cool the onions for a bit.

Mix the bacon, onion, egg, mayonnaise, mustard, sugar, and lemon zest in a bowl. Add the salmon and potato, mixing gently after each addition. Form the mixture into 12 small patties. In a shallow dish, combine the bread crumbs, Parmesan, and pepper, to taste. Coat the patties in the bread crumb topping. Heat 1/4 cup of the oil in a large saute pan over medium heat, and cook the salmon cakes in batches until golden, about 3 to 4 minutes per side. Add more oil, as necessary. Arrange on a serving platter and serve.

I didn’t make the recommended side dishes. Instead, I served the cakes with pasta salad and string beans.

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Black Bean Brownies

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I’ve noticed that many bloggers I adore have vacated the blogosphere and moved on to other social media in recent years, sharing their thoughts via pictures and 140 characters instead of potentially lengthy, often time-consuming posts. It’s wonderful that I can still take a peak into their interesting lives and delicious food and craft adventures in catchy tweets and sepia color photos, but I miss their creative expressions through vibrantly written words.  Many of them are great epicurean, talented crafters and even better writers, and I miss savoring on their deliciously selected words!

On a separate note, this blog, Lavender and Olive (well, Time for Dinner for most part, until I changed the name), celebrated its six-year anniversary the other day, with more than 500 posts.  Six years!  Yipee!  The readership remains meager (I don’t think my family members even read this blog lol ) and I STILL don’t have a clear point of view (Is this a food blog?  Knitting blog? Sewing?  Soap making?), but this is an extension of my life and I’m really proud of it.  And thank you so much for your continued support.

Cheers to six more yummy years!  In the meantime:  Black Bean Brownies from Melissa D’Arabian’s Ten Dollar Dinners!

Note: I substituted black beans with kidney beans (because that’s all I had in the pantry) but still came out delicious!  I might like this better than regular brownies, with the perfect combination of cake and fudge.  I think I’ll add more beans (maybe a whole can, instead of 3/4 cup) next time because I loved the texture so much (but they don’t taste like beans at all).

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Black Bean Brownies
(Adapted From Food Network)

Ingredients

Butter, for greasing pan
3/4 cup cooked black beans
1/2 cup vegetable oil, or olive oil
2 eggs
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon instant coffee or espresso
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips, divided
1/3 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9 by 9-inch square baking pan.

In a blender, puree the beans with the oil. Add the eggs, cocoa, sugar, coffee, and vanilla. Melt half the chocolate chips and add to the blender. Blend on medium-high until smooth. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add to the blender and pulse until just incorporated. Stir in the remaining chocolate chips. Pour into the prepared pan. Bake until the surface looks somewhat matte around the edges and still a bit shiny in the middle, about 20 minutes. Let cool at least 15 minutes before cutting and removing from the pan. Dust with confectioners’ sugar and serve.

Cook’s Note: Place a small cutout or stencil on the brownie before dusting to make a design.

A Guilt-Free Cookbook: The Food You Crave by Ellie Krieger

As much as I love to cook and bake, you’ll be surprised to see how little cookbooks I own. Cookbooks, for me, are serious business and I don’t take them lightly. Before a book can secure a coveted spot on my lovely Ikea bookshelf, it must undergo an extensive selection process. And although the criteria I set are fairly simple and straightforward, it’s surprising to learn how many books actually make the cut.

I know that we’re not suppose to judge a book by its cover but screw it, I do. The book must, above all, capture my attention immediately, or I won’t even open it. If the cover is not attractive, how good can the recipes inside be? Cookbooks are about food, and I savor food and books with my eyes first.

ellie-krieger-001I’m not too critical about the amount of photographs inside though. Believe it or not, some of my all-time favorite cookbooks have absolutely no pictures in them. For me, the written words are as delicious, or even more decadent, than pretty glossies. Well-chosen words tell a beautiful story, recreate a special experience, and paint a colorful flavor in my mind. And that is a real treat.

Last but not least, I need to feel the love. The book must have passion, pride, inspiration, a defined point of view, and yes, love. It must also be something that has a tremendous meaning to the author. I don’t look at cookbooks solely as a source of good recipes but also as a dialogue between two people who love and respect food very much.

My latest cookbook acquisition is Ellie Krieger’s The Food You Crave, which focuses on recreating food we love and crave, only healthier. My ritual when I first bring home the baby is to sit down with a cup of tea, go through the book from cover to cover and mark all the recipes that I would like to try with little stickies. By the time I finished skimming through the book, I had marked more than 30 recipes! Everything in this book is fabulous, using fresh and healthy ingredients. I cannot wait to try Grilled Zucchini Roll-Ups with Herbs adn Cheese (pictured above), Crab Salad in Crisp Wonton Cups, and Portobello Panini with Gorgonzola and Sun-Dried Tomatoes!  How delicious, healthy and satisfying do these sound?  I really appreciate the fact that Krieger, a registered dietitian, included nutrition information on each dish too.

mushroom-saladWell, speaking of healthy and satisfying, I prepared this huge bowl of salad for dinner tonight (serves 2 as dinner, 4 as appetizers). This did not come from Krieger’s book, but it was inspired by a couple of recipes she created that used some of the same ingredients. This is a combination of savory smoked salmon, tangy goat cheese, meaty sautéed Portobello and Shitake mushrooms, creamy cannelloni beans, red onion slices, capers and a vinaigrette dressing on a bed of baby spinach. I bought each ingredient with an intention of creating couple dishes, but I got lazy so I decided to throw everything in a bowl and call it a salad. Despite the sloppy exterior, the salad was absolutely divine, healthy and complete guilt free.

The Food You Crave

By Ellie Krieger

★★★★★

Her Food Network show, Healthy Appetite with Ellie Krieger, is pretty darn amazing too!