Azuki Mushi Pan

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During our first few weeks of parenthood, many veteran moms and dads reminded us that tough times will eventually pass, and we’ll be rewarded with better days in the near future. My husband and I trusted those words and kept our eyes on the prize … and after many stressful days and sleepless nights, I think the day has finally arrived!  biggrin

I’m not sure if it’s because Pon Pon is a lot more low maintenance now that she’s 3.5 months old, or we parents have gotten used the routine (or maybe it’s a combination of many things, like not sweating the small stuff anymore), but our days are much more manageable now. The baby sleeps through the night (she goes to sleep at 8:00 p.m. and doesn’t wake up until 6:00 a.m. on most days), she’s happy during the day, and she’s just so fun to be around. And when she smiles … oh my, those giggles make all those early struggles worth it.  I know that there will be many more sleepless nights to be had, but all in all, we’re in a really good, blissful place.

We’re so incredibly lucky.

My kitchen mojo has returned as well. It has become somewhat of a routine for me to go into the kitchen in the morning a few times a week and bake, before the baby wakes up. I’d turn on Today’s Show, say hello to Matt Lauer, and start mixing. I wouldn’t make anything too intricate or time consuming — just something that I can whip up in less than 30 minutes – but I really look forward to this quiet, tranquil “me” time in the morning.

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Today’s sweet – Azuki (red bean) mushi (steamed) pan (bun). I posted a similar recipe before, but I think it’s worth repeating!

Azuki Mushi Pan (小豆蒸しパン)
(Makes 5)

150 g flour
40 g granulated sugar
4 g baking powder
150 ml milk
2 tablespoons prepared azuki
Sprinkle of salt

Instruction:

① Measure and mix the dry ingredients in a bowl. Add milk and azuki and mix, just enough to incorporate all ingredients. Be careful not to over mix.

② Divide and pour the mixture into 5 cupcake linings. Steam over high heat for about 15 minutes, or until inserted toothpick comes out clean.

➂ Cool the buns on a baking rack for a few minutes before serving.

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Few pointers:

  • Don’t worry if you don’t have a steamer at home.  Simply use a large saucepan with a lid and put a steel colander basket that you use to wash vegetables with inside.
  • Don’t over mix the dough. It really makes a difference in the fluffiness of the buns.
  • Don’t steam the buns too long and make sure that your steamer is really hot before putting the buns in.
  • If you put too much water, the buns will become wet and sticky.

These little fluffy buns are one of my favorite Japanese snacks.  I like them so much better than cupcakes and have less calories since there are no oil or butter used here.  The combination of airy bun and sweet aduki beans are exquisite.  I’m going to try making the green tea flavor next time.

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I’m realizing every day how important it is to maintain a good balance in life.  Although the baby’s well-being is our upmost priority (and will continue to be), it’s still very crucial to put aside some quality time for myself … and that’s not being selfish.  On a contrary, that’s what’s best for the baby too.  Happy mom equals a happy baby.  smile

Update:

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A delicious variation of this confection is a green tea mushi pan. Simply add 2 tablespoons of matcha green tea powder with dry ingredients. They’re seriously good.

Itty Bitty Apple Pies

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Ever since the arrival of Pon Pon three weeks ago, my life has turned into all things itty bitty – itty bitty onsies, itty bitty hats, itty bitty diapers, itty bitty burps, itty bitty (or not so itty bitty) poo, itty bitty time to sleep … you name it, everything has shrunk in size! And look, I’m even making apple pies in an itty bitty, individual size now!

I initially planned on making a regular-size apple pie, or even a French apple tart (Tarte de Pommes), but realized after I finished making the dough that I only had four, relatively small Fuji apples, which weren’t enough to fill the entire pie plate. So, instead of making a thin, sorry pie, I decided to make mini, individual size pies using ramekins as a baking dish.

Since the only thing that’s not itty bitty at the moment is my raging appetite (I hear that a body often mistakes sleep deprivation with hunger, which explains my recent urge to eat everything in sight), this is a great way for me to control each food portionl!  redface

pink lineMaking the Pie Doughpink line

I’ve tried several different recipes but I found this to be my favorite one for a pie dough.  The texture of the dough is not overly buttery but comes out nice and flaky!  I adapted this recipe / ingredient measurements from the William Sonoma’s website but modified the process significantly, and omitted using a food processor.

Itty Bitty Apple Pie
(Makes 4 servings)

Pie Dough Recipe

Ingredients:

2-½ cups all-purpose flour
2 sticks unsalted butter, chilled and diced into small cubes
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
½ cup ice water

dough 1

① Sift together flour, sugar, and salt in a bowl.  Add butter cubes.

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② With a fork or a pastry cutter, mix the dry ingredients with butter.  Try to break the butter cubes with the fork by smashing them against the bowl.  A food processor is often used here but there’s no need to go out and get one if you don’t own the machine.  Congratulations, you just saved yourself about $100.

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③ Slowly add water, one tablespoon at a time, as you continue to mix.  This should add a little ease, as the dough gets more pliable.  The mixture should have butter chunks the size of a small marble.

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④ Knead the dough.  Although many recipes instruct you to do this on a lightly-floured surface, you can actually do it directly in the bowl.  (Less dishes to wash — yipee!) biggrin

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⑤ Split the dough into two balls.  Wrap each dough in a plastic bag and refrigerate for about 30 minutes. You will only use one for this recipe so you can freeze the other for future baking (It should last about two months in a freezer).

I suppose you can half the recipe and only make one ball but I think it’s always nice to have the extra dough handy, in case you get surprise visitors and want to impress them with a freshly-baked pie or something!

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⑥ Take the chilled dough out of a refrigerator and place it on a lightly-floured surface.

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⑦ Roll the dough with a rolling pin.  Don’t worry about rolling it thinly yet.

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⑧ Fold the dough into three pieces, like folding a letter.

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⑨ Roll the dough again with the rolling pin.  Repeat this several time, for about five minutes.

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⑩ Wrap the dough in a plastic wrap and refrigerate again, this time for about 20 minutes.

pink lineMaking the Pie Fillingpink line

I debated whether to cook the filling first or bake it raw.  I decided on the former since Fuji is very firm and I was afraid that apple slices would still be too crispy after the dough bakes if I didn’t cook them first.  I’m really happy with how it came out – a perfect filling with a gentle bite!

Pie Filling:

4 Fuji apples, peeled and sliced in small pieces
3 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon powder
1 teaspoon nutmeg
Juice of 1/2 lemon

filling 1

① Add the apples, sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a saucepan over medium heat.  Add lemon juice.

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② Cook the filling for about 20 minutes, until the sugar dissolves and the apple slices are tender, but not mushy.  Remove the saucepan from the heat and let it cool for about one hour.  It’ll be quicker if you refrigerate, for about 15 minutes.

pink linePutting  Together the Pie
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① Preheat the oven to 425 degree (F).  Take out the dough from the refrigerator and place it on a lightly-floured surface.  Divide the dough into four equal pieces.  Then, divide each piece in half.  You should now have eight, equal size dough. You will use two (top and bottom) for each pie.  Roll the dough into a thin layer with a rolling pin.  The flattened dough should be larger than the ramekin.

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② Drape the ramekin with the dough and press it firmly against the dish.  Be careful not to tear the dough, but if you do, simply press it together and seal.

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③ Spoon the chilled apple filling evenly into each ramekin.

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④ Trim the access dough from the side with a small knife.  I used a sharp paring knife.  Press the edge tightly around the ramekin with your fingers to seal the filling inside, to avoid spillage during baking.

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⑤ Press the rim around the ramekin with a fork for a pretty imprint.

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⑥ Score the center of the pie with a knife.  This allows the air to go inside the pie during baking and help avoid filling explosion.

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⑦ Brush the top of each pie with egg wash, using a pastry brush, for a golden finish.  Sprinkle a teaspoon of granulated sugar on top of each pie.  Place each pie on the baking pan and put it in the oven.  Bake for about 15 minutes, or until the dough is golden brown.

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⑧ Remove the pies from the oven and let them cool for a few minutes before serving.

pink lineServing the Pie
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You can remove the pie from the ramekin (it should slide right out, even without buttering the dish beforehand, if it’s still warm), or serve it directly on the ceramic dish.  The pie will be amazing a la mode, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

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The filling is not too sweet and not too mushy – just perfect.  And the crust has an amazing crisp to it.  I know it’s not typical to use Fuji apples for a pie but I find this to be the best kind because of its texture (they’re nicely firm and crispy) and has the perfect combination of sweetness and tartness.

I know I’m two days late, but I hope everyone had a wonderful Pi Day on March 14, to celebrate the significant of the number π, by eating your favorite pie!  Who knew mathematics can be so delicious!

Going Bananas

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It’s official – I’ve gone bananas.

With only three hours of sleep (in 15-minute increments) in the last few days, I’m now completely moody, incoherent, and utterly delirious. Ask my husband. He probably thinks my head will start spinning any day (if it hasn’t already), like a woman possessed. I actually don’t know how I’m still alive.

Thank goodness for my friend Y for recommending me a book called, “Bring Up Bebe,” about the wisdom of French parenting. I’m only halfway done with the book, but I’m already fascinated. In addition to plethora of common-sense-but-so-often-forgotten advice, there’s even a chapter on how to make babies sleep through the night!  Boy, do I need to implement this technique immediately!

When life turns you into a banana, there’s only one thing to do – bake a banana bread, of course!

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Please excuse me that this is a repeat of a post from 2009 (except I added some chocolate chips on this one). I baked a banana bread this morning and wanted to share some photos of this delicious dessert!

Banana Bread with Agave Nectar

(makes 1 loaf)

Ingredients:

1-3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/3 cup agave nectar
1 teaspoon baking power
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/3 cup corn oil
3 ripe bananas, mashed (I like to leave little chunks in for texture)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 to 3/4 cup chocolate chips (I used half semi-sweet and half milk chocolates).

Instruction:

① Preheat the oven to 350 degree (F).

② Grease the 9x5x3 loaf pan with corn oil and place parchment paper inside.

③ Sift flour, salt, baking soda and baking power in a bowl and put aside.

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④ In a separate bowl, mash bananas. Add vanilla, ground cinnamon, agave nectar, canola oil and eggs and mix them together.

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⑤ Add the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Add chocolate chips.  Fold the wet ingredients gently into dry just until they mix evenly.  The important thing to keep in mind here is not to over-mix as it will result in tough bread (so all you KitchenAid lovers, put those stand mixers away and grab a spatula).

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⑥  Pour the mixture into the loaf pan. Bake in the oven for about 45 minutes (in the middle rack), or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

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⑦ Remove the loaf from the pan and let it rest on a wire rack or on a plate.

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⑧ Slice the loaf and serve at room temperature or cooled. I personally LOVE it served slightly warm!

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Enjoy! Bon appetite! Itadakimasu! Okay, good night!

Caramel Muffins for Valentine’s Day

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Ever since I received an amazing homemade caramel sauce from my sister in law for Christmas a few years ago, I’ve wanted to try making it myself. I’ve never been much of a caramel person, but the homemade version that I tasted converted me into a fan of the ooey gooey sweet goodness.  I still don’t eat it all that often but I certainly crave it once in a while!

My husband and I don’t usually celebrate Valentine’s Day (we thrifties can’t stand the hiked-up prices at restaurants and spend money on overpriced flowers and gifts lol ), but I used today as an excuse to indulge in this super sweet treat. I was also in the mood for something cake-y so I decided to make Caramel Muffins — the best of both worlds!

pink lineMaking the Caramel Sauce
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Ingredients:
Inspired by this video instruction but modified slightly!

— 1 cup of granulated sugar
— ½ cup milk (many recipes call for heavy cream but I used 2% milk)
— 5 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut in pieces

Instruction:

① Warm the milk in low heat. Pour the sugar in a separate sauce pan and melt in high heat.  I learned that the key to caramel making is to work quickly so make sure to have the milk and butter close by!

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② The sugar will begin to turn dark after a few minutes.

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③ Stir the sugar until it melts into a golden, or even amber-colored syrup.

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④ Once the sugar is completely melted, add the butter and stir. Your kitchen will start to smell sweet and lovely right around now!

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⑤ Once the butter is melted, remove the pan from the heat (or simply turn off the heat), add the warm milk, and stir. The bubbles will rise but there’s nothing to worry about. Just keep on stirring.

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⑥ That’s it! Cool the caramel sauce for a few minutes.

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You can simply enjoy the caramel sauce without using it in muffins. It’s great on vanilla (or any flavor) ice cream, in coffee drinks, or just out of the jar! You can transfer the leftover caramel sauce in a clean jar. Let the sauce come to a room temperature before closing the lid.

(You will get a lot more sauce than you see here.)

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pink lineMaking the Caramel Muffins
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Ingredients (makes 8 muffins):
Recipe inspired by Asuka, from a Japanese blog お菓子と猫とパリ.

— 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
— 75 grams granulated sugar
— 180 grams cake flour (Don’t fret if you only have all-purpose flour. Simply remove 2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour and replace them with 2 tablespoons cornstarch. I learned this wonderful trick from Joy the Baker)
— 2 eggs
— 1 tablespoon baking powder
— 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
— The caramel sauce (I put some aside for later use)

Instruction:

① Preheat the oven to 375 degree F.  Line the muffin tin with baking cups (I used my reusable silicon cups) and set aside.

② Cream together the butter and sugar in a bowl. Add the eggs, one at a time, and vanilla extract and mix well.  Don’t be lazy here — you need to beat the heck out of the mixture!  I used a hand-held mixer for this since my KitchenAid stand mixer was too heavy for me to carry into the kitchen!

③ Add the flour and baking powder, and mix. Don’t over mix here, as the dough can get tough.

④ Add the caramel sauce and mix lightly.

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⑤ Pour the mixture into a lined muffin tin.  Drizzle a little bit of the leftover caramel sauce (about one tablespoon each) on top of each muffin, for a crunchy muffin top!

⑥ Bake in the oven for about 25-30 minutes, or until the inserted toothpick comes out clean.

⑦ Let them cool on a cooling rack.

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pink lineThe Verdict!
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I must admit that these muffins didn’t come out perfect in terms of looks but they are still very delicious nonetheless.  I think you’ll especially enjoy them if you’re a caramel lover!  These muffins have more of the texture of an airy cake than a typical muffin, probably because of the cake flour that was used, instead of the usual all-purpose kind.  .

I know that eight muffins are an odd number (most recipe makes 12) but that works out better for me so I won’t end up eating them all!  lol  Although every bite is worth it, be warned that these little innocent-looking muffins are super buttery, sugary and incredibly high in calories.  Definitely consume in moderation!

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These are the orchids that I received from my mother on my birthday last month! It’s not a bouquet of roses, but they are still so beautiful and very appropriate for this romantic day!

I hope everyone had a wonderful Valentine’s Day, if you celebrate this Hallmark holiday! My husband and I had a not-so-sexy Chinese takeout for dinner tonight but I couldn’t be happier spending the evening with the love of my life.

Cheesy TV Calls for Cheesy Meal: Mushroom Risotto

a3There are things in this gastronomic world that are meant to coexist to create a lovely harmony.  Goat cheese and honey, for instance, compliment other’s strengths – with the sweet drops of syrup gently balancing out the subtle tanginess of the cheese and its grainy texture. And the golden brown honey drizzled playfully over the ivory bar of goat cheese is like having Jackson Pollock’s artwork on a plate (or a kid’s doodle, you be the judge).

Another match I adore is spinach and bacon, where the sizzling, crispy bacon wilts the leaves on contact, creating the soft – but not mushy – texture good enough to eat at a kitchen counter, never making it to the dining room.

Others, however, are quite contradicting in theory, like chocolate and chili (wtf!) but it somehow works like magic.  For me, green tea ice cream ranks as one of the most bizarre creations. No reasonable Japanese would have ever imagined putting sweet confection in green tea, as the drink is something to be enjoyed straight, sans sugar and milk unlike its British cousins. But tradition takes the back seat to the out-of-the-box imagination, especially when the result is a specutacular success.  The combination of the slighty grassy bitterness of the tea leaves and the silky, luscious mixture of vanilla, cream and sugar, is a true culinary masterpiece (yatta!).

But above all that, my all-time favorite duo is combining cheesy with cheesy – and I’m not talking about piling four kinds of cheese on a dough to create a perfect slice of pizza.

The cheese I’m referring to here is Women’s Murder Club, author James Patterson‘s popular, best-selling series. Yep, books. I admit that I am addicted, although the series is one of those real corny thrillers where you know the murderer before the murder is committed. The characters are also quite predictable.  I picked up the book as a way to kill time during my frequent business travel and I would have never picked up this genre of books otherwise, but there’s something very soothing about mindless, effortless read (this is somewhat reminiscent of the time I secretly watched the endless reruns of embarrasingly plotless, severely nutrient deficient Saved By the Bell although I didn’t dare tell anyone about my sickening behavior … oh god, please forgive me).  So, when I learned that this book was turning into a television series on ABC, I had to make sure that I make this momentous Friday night a very special one for the series premier.

To celebrate the cheesiness of it all, I’ve decided on cooking mushroom risotto with lots of freshly graded Parmesan cheese — my first attempt on creating this Italian staple.

Mushroom Risotto

(Note: This is a quick and less sophisticated version of the real deal, which usually calls for more bourgeois ingredients such as truffles. We’re talking cheesy paperback thriller and not the work of Fitzgerald here, so this will do.  Also, I’m notorious for not following a recipe so this is completely my own creation.  Therefore, there’s no guarantee of success if you follow this poorly written instruction).

Ingredients: Pancetta or bacon (1/4 cup), Portobello mushroom (2 cups), garlic (1 clove), onion (1/2 of large or one medium), green peas (defrosted, 1 cup), arborio rice (2 cups), chicken broth (6 cups, unsalted, heated), dry white wine (1/2 cup), Parmesan cheese (bring that sucker on!), Italian parsley for garnish, salt, pepper and olive oil.

1. Begin by sautéing diced pancetta with a teaspoon of olive oil, then add minced garlic, onion and sliced Portobello mushroom in a large saucepan. Add salt and pepper to taste. I know I’m supposed to also add dried mushroom for more robust flavor but I couldn’t find it at Trader Joe’s (shucks).

2. Once the mixture is cooked all the way through (about 5-7 minutes), put aside half of the mixture. With the remaining mixture in a pan, stir in and cook Arborio rice until each grain changes color to slightly clear. Add the dry white wine and cook until the alcohol evaporates but still retaining the flavor.

3. Begin adding the heated chicken broth to the rice mixture, one cup at a time and stir, stir, stir, stir … darn, my arm hurts!

4. Once the rice is almost cooked, add the mixture you put aside earlier back in the pan, and stir again. Add a handful of green peas for color and lovely sweetness.

5. Add grated Parmesan cheese and top it with chopped Italian parsley. Add loads and loads of cheese, as this is the tribute to something cheeeeeeeeesy.

a116. Pour the remaining white wine in the glass and make yourself comfortable in front of your television. But if you’re like me, you might have to grab another bottle because all the wine was consumed during cooking.

7. Put your feet up and enjoy a relaxing Friday night with delicious wine, cozy plate of risotto and indulge in the guilty pleasure of cheesy television.  However, when Monday rolls around and your friends ask you what you did on the weekend, politely smile and walk away.  Afterall, you still have to maintain your image and what’s left of your reputation.