Archive for February, 2010

Some people collect Barbies.  I collect recipes.  Lots of recipes.  I used to keep them all neatly sorted in various folders until I managed to try that recipe.  That is, of course, until I realized after several months of doing this, I no longer had that patience to sift through 100 cake recipes to find, for example, an Almond Tea Cake.

Besides, the “must-make” item changes from week to week, so I tend to forget that I wanted to make something as soon as the next “shiny” thing comes along.  Yes, it is usually shiny because people like to adorn glazes and sauces that make pastries and sweets look all the more delectable.

Thus, I weed.  I devote Fridays to whittling down my pile of recipes-to-make down to a more manageable pile, so I can easily find things as I need.  It’s such a hard task though because I like to hoard various interpretations of certain items.  Like lemon bars.  And brownies.  And chocolate chip cookies.  I have a hard time trusting people who say that this is my go-to recipe for such-and-such…

While I try to keep my lists of recipes diverse, I find the recipes have grown similar over time.  For example, I was talking to a friend about how all my cookie recipes seem to have almond, chocolate, and citrus.  She commended my tastes in chocolate and almond, but she found my liking of citrus to be distasteful.

Me: A little lemon zest makes a whole bunch of things a little more special :D

Her: Ew!  No citrus!  It makes everything sour!

Me: Not sour!  Fragrant unless you use the juice!

Her: Still ew!

Haha,  all I can say is that people are entitled to their food preferences.  I have to respect them all even though I may personally disagree.  In any case, I decided that I should remedy the sugar cookies situation I gave to her during Christmas.  (Yes, 2 1/2 months after the fact!)  In that box of cookies, one of the sugar cookies was an “updated” version of the traditional cookie, and it had, well, a “zing of lemon zest.”  While she did not think they were bad, she felt it was a little too odd for her preference.



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After over a week in full makeup, heels, and a business suit, I just wanted to be my normal bare-faced, slightly sloppy college student self.  Yes, yes, that self that walks around with a clumsy over-sized jacket on the weekdays and a smudge of batter on weekends. Because I cannot mindlessly work away at baking projects without a functional kitchen, I chose to go to Confectionery Row to poke into various bakeries for a pick-me-up at the end of this exhausting week of having to aggressively market myself to a bunch of strangers.

I stopped by one fairly well-known bakery to sample one of their cakes.  Goodness, I wish this cake tasted as adorable as it looked, but sadly, it was unusually bland for a coconut-passion fruit cake.  (How does a tropical cake seem so boring?!  It should taste like paradise!)  Maybe it would have tasted better if I was treated better, and maybe I should have dressed up more fashionably.  I should have known better since I anticipated I would be treated less than stellar because I didn’t fit with their usual customers who are older and with money.


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This past week has been a long one.  It was the week of my first paper, first quiz, first exam, and first corporate interview.  It feels like madness to realize that I am now at the cusp of being financially independent.  I remember stepping out of the interview room on Friday with this sudden burst of energy.  It’s not to say that I nailed that interview perfectly, but I felt good about my prospects.  In fact, I felt so good that I felt superhuman, and I could do anything O-O.  Even flying.

Granted I was mentally sound enough to know better than to try to jump off a building to test my “superhuman” abilities, it was still an awesome feeling.   I wish I felt like that now because I have at least two more interviews left :(.  Alas, I am back being anxious as usual, but I am optimistic and hopeful.

If anything, that week tested my ability to focus on each task at hand and perform each task well.  Thus, I haven’t been doing much thinking ahead, which is not at all like the organized and put-together person most people recognize me as.  In fact, I have been living from moment to moment except for planning for a small baking project.


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Chinese Egg Cakes

Chinese cooks are cynics.  They assume that when recipes are passed down to them, the author is hiding a secret key to the success of the dish or cake.  My mother points out bitterly, “You know it when the dish looks vaguely like what it’s supposed to be,” as she tosses the dish into the trash.

While my mother has the curiosity and determination (plus the cooking chops) to master any dish regardless if the recipe has a step or ingredient omitted, I do not have that kind of energy and time at the moment to turn the kitchen into a culinary laboratory.  (Hehe, as Dad put it, I also do not have the willing consumers to eat all the prototypes like Mom has.)  Thus, I have largely avoided Chinese recipes after witnessing my mother go through failure after failure.

That hasn’t stopped me from trying Asian recipes from time to time.  In this particular case, my aunt really missed a particular cake she grew up with, 雞蛋糕.  It is one of those kinds of cakes that you do not really find in a Chinese bakery–it’s something made nearly exclusively in Chinese households.  I feel bad since San Francisco does not really have many food reminiscent of her home back in Taiwan, so I decided to bake this recipe she clipped out from 世界日報.


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I will admit the novelty of baking projects has largely worn off.  Back in my Colgate days, I used to go out on a whim.  I would watch Food Network, and when I encountered a dish I wanted to make, I would buy all the ingredients for it immediately without regard to my pantry.  Of course, by the time I moved out of my Colgate apartment, the cupboards were filled with canned foods and spice cans.  My mother, who was helping me move out, demanded to know why I spent so much money on pantry items since now we had duplicates of every spice.

“Well, the kitchen didn’t look right with the cupboards all empty.  I wanted to make myself feel more at home, so I went about filling it up!”

“Stop being my twin!  I don’t want another Nelly!”

Nowadays, I am not as compelled to buy random ingredients just to do a recipe.  With my access to overstuffed kitchen cabinets and my college student budget, I allow myself one secret ingredient per week.  Yes, yes, just like in Iron Chef!  (By the way, I should totally hire someone to do that for me complete with the martial arts theatrics and O-O expression of the Chairman in ICA.  That would never cease to amuse me!)  Anyway, this week, the secret ingredient is…


Am I the only one who gets excited by this high-fat butter?  Ah yes, how un-Asian of me, but I’ll be honest–a good butter puts all its competitors to shame.  It’s just more buttery in aroma and texture.  It’s hard to describe its appeal until you unwrap its foil and smell it yourself.  I think it’s so easy to forget how wonderful it smells with all these butter substitutes (margarine included).

However, I do understand the lack of appeal since “fat is fat.”  When a recipe calls for a bunch of spices, it’s hard to enjoy butter when it takes a backseat.  Thus, I tend to splurge it on goods where butter plays a key role in the good such as these gorgeous linzer cookies, which are picture-perfect for afternoon tea.


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Growing up, my mother taught me never to eat foods raw.  With the exception of my family’s Burmese culinary tradition of eating salad (dok), my more dominant Chinese culinary tradition dictated that foods were best eaten cooked.  Whether food was stir-fried, braised, or steamed, the sharpness of raw ingredients disappeared, and the flavors would meld together.  Food was in harmony together only when cooked.

It is that kind of upbringing that made it difficult for me to understand how people were tempted by raw cookie dough or batter.  The gritty sugar and the raw flour taste just did not have any appeal to me, but  of course, it did to my kitchen mates in middle school cooking class. I remember that we were supposed to bake chocolate chip cookies–one batch for our school’s bake sale and the other batch for ourselves.  While the batch for our school’s bake sale was followed to the letter, the other batch was improvised on the whim of my group mate who was nibbling on the cookie dough constantly and adding more brown sugar to taste.

The result was a mind-boggling recipe for Martian mud–my friend and I peered into oven and saw the poor cookie dough in a bubbling muddy mess.  Our cooking instructor tried to revive our poor cookie dough by making them into muffins to no avail.  Our dazzling concoction reliably became Martian mud, and I had to scoop out the lumpy mess into the trash.  My friend still giggles about that incident till this day.

In a way, this baking disaster taught me that all things go wrong when you eat raw dough or batter.  Yes, it’s a bit irrational since it was the improvisation of adding excess brown sugar that ruined the cookie dough, but I feel that disasters should be avoided at all cost. I do not need to be reminded of such disasters.

Although now that I have more baking experience, I can see the temptation of raw cookie dough and batter because I realize that the sheer knowledge of having to wait for something sweet and delicious at the end of a long baking time is enough to test someone’s patience.  Why not nibble a bit here and there?  However, that incident in middle school has forever scarred me from ever trying to lick the spatula despite how luscious and rich and intoxicating the smell of, let’s say, a brownie batter.

I usually save my tastings after the baked goods are warm to the touch.  After that, I take a nibble, make some mental notes, and drift off.  Baking loads of goods every so often does that to you.  Not everything piques your attention enough to warrant more than a nibble.  That is, of course, unless you’re talking about Francois Payard’s Flourless Chocolate Walnut Cookies.


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