You’re So Sweet: March 14

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March 14 is quite a busy day for sweets on both ends of the Pacific Ocean.

In Japan, the day is called, “White Day.” No, it has nothing to with race, of course, but it has a lot to do with love and sugar. You see, Valentine’s Day, on February 14, is the Japan’s equivalent of Sadie Hawkins Day where a girl gets to ask a guy she likes out, or at least tell him how she feels about him, by giving him chocolates.

It’s a clever marketing ploy by a chocolate company, I tell you, but it’s a big deal for them gals!  Some of them wait an entire year for this special day and wait patiently until the 14th of the following Month, on White Day, to receive a response from the guy via white chocolate or marshmallow, hence the name.

Here, in the U.S., it’s National Pi Day!

The two events occasioned me to bake something sweet and because I wasn’t in the mood for pie, I went for some good old brownies, courtesy of Martha Stewart.  I know brownies have nothing to do with White Day or Pi Day, but I say sugar is sugar!

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I used the Godiva dark chocolate bars that I received as a birthday gift a few months ago, and added one cup each of dried cranberries, chopped almonds, and white chocolate chips, in an attempt to clear out the freezer. I think these made the brownies extra decadent, perfect for the sweet March 14.

Episode 5: One Minute Gourmet: Renaud’s Patisserie and Bistro

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My husband discovered this quaint little French patisserie in Santa Barbara a few years ago.  The place is so charming, I imagine this is how Jane’s The Bakery from the movie, It’s Complicated, would be like if it really existed in the lovely seaside town.

Renaud’s Patisserie and Bistro, a small shop tucked away in the corner of a shopping center, is not as flashy or as big as the fictional bakery in the movie, but I would imagine the feeling you get would be similar, with the aromas of buttery croissants and dark roasted coffee beans welcoming patrons walking into the door.  It’s absolutely heavenly.

So, ever since the discovery, we’ve been driving to Santa Barbara, just to get our eager hands on the mouthwatering Almond Croissant (and macarons … and apple tarts … and financiers … and …).  Those trips were made willingly, of course, but we wished that there was a way to get a hold of the goodies without the 100-plus mile drive up the 101 freeway.

Well, well, what do we know.  There was Renaud’s inside the Gelson’s supermarket in La Canada, which is a mere 20-mile drive from our place, THIS ENTIRE TIME!  eek

Sure, a part of me was extremely ecstatic at the idea that those amazing sweets are available just around the corner for us now, but I also did have a momentary “W … T … F” moment, like “Ummm … I would like to get reimbursed for the money I spent on gas all these time, thank you very much.”

635 Foothill Blvd, La Cañada Flintridge, CA 91011

Macaron Days

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My husband and I have an arbitrary rule, that we are allowed one holiday-inspired drink at Starbucks a year. The reason for having it only once every 365 days is two-fold: One, it’s too sugary to drink regularly; and two, it makes the cup extra special, knowing that it only comes around once a year. We know that Christmas is around the corner when we take a sip of the Salted Caramel Latte (him) and Peppermint Hot Chocolate (me).

This year’s cup was extra special because we got to pair it with Laduree’s macarons! Our friends recently got married in the groom’s hometown, and since we couldn’t attend the wedding, they brought back a little delicious souvenir from NYC. A several days have passed since the couple’s return to the Southland and these little macarons were a little on the stale side, but they were still heavenly and brought me back to Champs-Elysees in Paris where the famous French tea house, and (as some story has it) the originator of macaron, stands proudly.

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Speaking of maracons, my husband surprised me with more macarons last night —  this time from Renaud’s Patisserie in Santa Barbara (I raved about this place before, here). He asked his co-worker who was coming down from Santa  Barbara to pick up two assorted boxes for us.  I have the best husband in the world (I hope you’re reading this, Kevin!).

I love the holiday season!

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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.

Mini Strawberry Tarts

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There are so many different ways to reach the same destination when it comes to baking. Everyone and their mothers have their own version of how to make the basics – like pie dough, pate choux, and pastry cream. Navigating through baking books and online recipes can be overwhelming at times with countless variations to choose from, so I usually narrow down to these three experts to guide me through the process: Dorie Greenspan, David Lebowitz, and Martha Stewart.

This is not to say that I don’t seek other patisseries’ tutelage — I do. I have overflowing shelves full of baking books from other authors to prove it.  But when I’m in a need of an absolute fool-proof recipes for French-inspired desserts (and am not particularly in the mood to experiment), I go straight to Greenspan, Lebowitz, and Stewart, as I consider them to be the definitive authorities on the subject. Although they are all American, two formers live in Paris (I thinks Greenspan travels back and forth to Paris and New York) and their authenticities are certainly not lost in translation. And of course, Martha. Martha, Martha, Martha. Love her or hate her (and I happen to love her, clearly), there’s no denying that her recipes come out perfect, every. single. time.

When I was searching for the recipe for pastry cream for the strawberry tart, I compared all three. Greenspan and Lebowitz’s recipes were very similar, but Stewart’s used a few less eggs … and since I was down to just four eggs in the refrigerator (as opposed to six), I decided to go with the Domestic Queen’s version.

And the result? Fantastic, of course, sandwiched between the buttery pate sucree and fresh strawberries.

Pastry Cream
Makes about 2 ½ cups
Adapted from marthastewart.com

2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, seeds scraped
Pinch of salt
4 large egg yolks
1/4 cup cornstarch
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

In a medium saucepan, combine milk, 1/4 cup sugar, vanilla bean and seeds, and salt. Cook over medium heat until mixture comes to a simmer.

In a medium bowl, whisk together egg yolks, cornstarch, and remaining 1/4 cup sugar. Whisking constantly, slowly pour about 1/2 cup of the hot-milk mixture into the egg-yolk mixture, 1/2 cup at a time, until it has been incorporated. Pour mixture back into saucepan, and cook over medium-high heat, whisking constantly, until it thickens and registers 160 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, about 2 minutes. Remove and discard vanilla bean.

Transfer to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the butter, and beat on medium speed until the butter melts and the mixture cools, about 5 minutes.

Cover with plastic wrap, pressing it directly onto the surface of the pastry cream to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until chilled, at least 2 hours or up to 2 days. Just before using, beat on low speed until smooth (you can also whisk by hand).

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I used the same pate sucree (sweet dough) recipe as the Tarte Aux Pommes I made the other day (click here for the recipe). See, I told you I use other pastry chef’s recipes too!  lol

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I used the small brioche pans I purchased from William Sonoma to make these individual shells.

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I tried a few different ways to place the strawberries and this seems to work the best.  I put the whole strawberry, sans stem, in the middle, and arranged the sliced berries around it.

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I used the apricot jam and water mixture for the glaze.  Definitely take the time to do this final step, as it makes the tarts look more professional (and it tastes great).

Happy baking!

Tarte aux Pommes

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Tarte aux Pommes is this Francophile’s version of the all-American apple pie to celebrate the nation’s birthday. biggrin

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I got the recipe from a blog, Mission: Food, who got the original recipe from Michael Paul’s Sweet Paris – a book I immediately ordered after tasting the wonderful dessert. This French apple tart is out of this world. It rivals any tart you get at pastry shops.

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I followed the recipe to a T – from making the Pâte Sucrée (sweet dough) to Frangipane (almond filling) — and although it took me half a day to bake this pie from conception to completion (in a 100 degree kitchen), the result is worth all the hard work.  This might be the most professional-looking dessert I’ve made in a long, long time.

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I hope everyone had a wonderful Fourth of July celebration with good food and company!

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.