Friday, December 30, 2011

Christmas Cookie Tree

Christmas Cookie Tree-Holiday 2011
Hello everybody!


I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas filled with laughter and joy.


I love Christmas, and the best part is the build up two to three weeks before Christmas Day.  All of a sudden, Starbucks cups turn red, cars are zipping down the road with a tree tied to their tops, and poinsettias appear in the flower shops. This all accumulates within a few days before Christmas, hustling to parties, preparing last minute entertaining details and, before you know it it, it's all over.  I hope it is not too late to share with you my holiday baking. This year I decided to bake a holiday tree to decorate my Christmas party. This is a fun and simple way to add a nice touch to your entertaining.  You can make it over and over again once you have the cookie cutter sets.

As 2011 winds down to a close, I am in a reflective mood. I guess this year has been a year of accomplishment for us.  We launched our new website which has been well received by our customers.  We have also partnered with key web developers to make your shopping experience an even better one.  We have earned the trust of distributors and gained distribution rights to large companies like Tovolo, Wilton and Meri Meri.  We will continue to bring you innovative and new baking products to add to your repertoire.  On a personal note, this year, I added two major piano pieces to my repertoire: Chopin's Nocturne Op 9,No 2, and Edward Elgar's Salut d'Amour. Next year, my piano goals will be to master and conquer Chopin's Fantasie Impromtu* and Listz's Un Sospiro.  

I wish all of you the best in your personal lives, career progression, and health goals.  

Thank you for all your support, and may your 2012 be filled with health, joy and peace.


Sincerely,
Julie

*I know this piece is very overplayed to the point of being cliche.  But, there is a story behind this. You see, somebody once told me i would never be able to play this song.  But I have been playing it bit by bit ever since :)  Also, I think it sounds beautiful, so next year I'll be working through this piece carefully until all the little pieces come together into a complete song. 

Christmas Cookie Tree
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Ingredients:
Sugar Cookie Dough- Shortbread dough
Makes a full Christmas Cookie Tree (Plus a few extras, in case of breakage)

*Make two batches of the recipe below for a full tree!
2 sticks of unsalted butter (At room temperature)
⅝ cup sugar
2 ½ cup all purpose flour

1. In a bowl of an electric mixer, cream together butter and sugar until it has turned pale and creamy (About 2-3 mins).  

2. Add the flour and stir gently using the mixer or by hand.  Work in quick efficient strokes until the flour has completely incorporated.

3. Tip the dough onto plastic wrap and shape into into a disk and refrigerate for 1 hour.  

4. Preheat oven to 300 F.

5. Next, lightly flour the working surface and rolling pin.  Roll out dough to ½ inch and cut into shapes.  (I used a Westie Cookie cutter).

6. Carefully transfer the cut out shaped onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or with reusable Silpat.

7. Gather all the scraps and re-roll until they are all used up.  (Don’t worry about the texture, it will be fine).

8. Bake 20-25 mins until the cookies turn a little brown on the edges.  Let cool completely before icing.


*Some tips, the larger star pieces on the bottom of the tree will break easily. Do not handle when it is hot and try to roll them a little thicker. Move with spatula. If they still break, you will have enough cookie dough to make another cut out.


Icing Recipe:

(Outline Consistency)  
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon meringue powder
3 tablesppons + 1 teaspoon warm water
Beat 3-4 mins until incorporated.

Save about 3 tablespoon of the icing above.

(Flood Consistency) (For flooding the body of each star)
Take the remaining outline consistency icing and slowing add warm water until it is thinned out.  This usually takes about 2 tablespoon more of water.  To test for consistency, when you make a swirl with a stick in the icing, it should completely return to the bowl of icing in about 2-5 second.

Instructions for assembling the cookies:
1) Outline the cookie with the outline consistency white icing.  Make sure outline is close to the edge of the cookie but not too close.

2) Wait for it to dry about 10 mins.

3) Next flood the body of the star with flooding consistency white icing.

4) Wait for it to dry completely.  About 3-4 hours, preferably overnight since you will be stacking the cookies and if it is not completely dried, the layers can stick together.

*Note: This amount of icing was *just* enough to ice the tree.  If you need more, it is best to make another batch and save it for another batch of cookies.

Source: Recipe adapted from Sugarbaker’s Cookie Cutter Cookbook

Plated on a cake stand and surrounded by silver paper cups holding a yummy truffle.  This tree was the hit of the party!

Resources:
Cookie Cutter Sets (There are plenty of options here! But I chose the Crate and Barrel because it was a good price and a metal set.  Metal makes cleaner cuts.)




Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Performance Review and Chinese Style Stir Fried Liver


Hello everybody,
It is that time of the year again when companies run their annual performance reviews. Which is my tongue in cheek way to introduce this liver dish. What do you do when feel like you are going to get chopped up like a block of liver during your reviews? 

Here is what I think. I have never been a big fan of a "formalized" performance review. Why?  Well, how do you answer the usual questions like "On a scale of 1 to 5, tell me how you think you have done X,Y and Z..." I find this method too arbitrary and too structured- it puts people on the defensive... which makes the process completely useless.  I much prefer more frequent 1:1 coaching and 360 degree dialogues. I believe a good leader has the ability to get the best work out of his/her people daily, for every single project. If given the correct stimulating environment and resources, it is much easier for a team to be creative and to achieve. I am building a business based on such a management style.

In the end, only you know if you have put your best foot forward given your circumstances.  You must trust that you have approached your tasks to the very best of your abilities. Only then can you objectively look at your performance review and find .. hmm.. peace.. so to say. Always look for ways to improve, but if you get a less than satisfying review and you know you have done your best (honestly done your best), don't be too upset about it.  After all, even if you have been chopped up like a piece of liver, remember that you can always throw it into the wok and stir fry it. It is not the end of the world.

On this side note, liver is very rich in vitamins and micronutrients. Liver is not something I usually eat, but on a recent trip to my usual Japanese grocer, I saw a perfectly fresh piece of liver that I just had to pick up. I called my mom for instructions and made it into a delicious dish.


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Chinese Style Stir Fried Chopped Liver with Ginger
Ingredients:
One piece of pork liver (Must be fresh and bright red)

(Marinade)
2 Tablespoons of Chinese Rice Wine (shaoxing wine)
1 tablespoon of soy sauce
(Seasoning)
1 small piece (about the size of your thumb) ginger, sliced finely
1 stalk of green onion
1 tablespoon of peanut oil

Instructions:
1) Chop up the liver into small, thin slices and marinade with the Chinese rice wine and soy sauce.  Stir to mix completely.  Set aside for 30 minutes.
(Note: I find this part a little gross and the liver at this stage doesn't look appetitzing, but power through please.)
2) After 30 mins, remove the liver pieces using a tong and drain away any residue marinade.
3)  Next, in a heated pan (or wok) add the peanut oil.  After the oil has started to smoke, add the ginger.
Next add the liver pieces immediately followed by the seasonings.  As the liver is cooking, it will slowly turn a dark brown color.  Blood will also ooze out.  Look for this because when the blood stops oozing, the the liver is cooked. For food safety reasons, you will want to make sure the liver is completely cooked before eating.
4) When it is about to be done, add the green onions. 
5) Plate and serve.

Source: A Browncookie original (With guidance from Julie's mom)

Have a wonderful day everybody!

Sincerely,
Julie

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Spicy Glass Noodle Salad

Ready to be served.  The plating is casual.
Hello everybody!

Our refrigerator broke recently, and between debating which model to replace it with and delivery delays by Best Buy, we were caught without a fridge for two weeks. This meant either eating canned foods, eating grains or eating out.  After two weeks of eating this way, I must admit I don't feel great. Eating out is great once in a while but it cannot be a long term solution in lieu of good meal planning. Anyhow, now that we have refrigeration again, I decided to make a spicy glass noodle salad.  It is a lighter dish and quite appetizing and much healthier than anything I have eaten in the last two weeks. This refreshing salad can be eaten alone, paired with rice or used as a side dish as part of a more elaborate meal. For those who do not like the smell or taste of fish sauce (which is a strong smelling, smokey and rich flavored Thai condiment), you can substitute with lite soya sauce. This is a delicious and waist line friendly dish that will surely be a welcome addition to your salad repertoire. Make it and eat it when you feel like you have over indulged in rich meals during the holiday season.

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Spicy Glass Noodle Salad (Yam Wun Sen)

Ingredients:
100g (1 cup) glass noodles (Soaked in water for 10 mins and then cut into 15 cm (6 inch) lengths.)
100 g (1/2 cup) minced pork. (Boiled in water. Use a fork to separate the minced pork during the boiling process. Strain after the pork is cooked).
5 cloves of garlic, crushed
3 shallots-sliced
10 small red chillies (thinly sliced) - Can be omitted if you do not like spicy foods
30 g of Chinese celery -chopped (Can substitute with regular celery if you can’t find Chinese celery.) Chinese celery has a more tapered look, so be sure to slice the regular celery into sticks if using.
45 ml (3 tablespoons) fish sauce (Ok to substitute with 1 tablespoon lite soy sauce)
30 ml (2 tablespoons) lime juice
1 tomato- cut in ½ lengthways and then thinly sliced
10 g (1/2 cup) coriander leaves
10 shrimps (shelled and cooked by boiling) -Optional

Method:
1) Put the softened glass noodles into a pot of boiling water and boil for 1 minute. Drain the noodles and transfer them into a bowl of cold water to stop the cooking process. This will keep the noodles “al dente.”

2) After soaking the cooked glass noodles for 1 minute, strain them completely dry using a strainer.

3) In a large salad bowl, mix together the cooked pork, water, garlic, onion, chillies, Chinese celery, fish sauce, lime juice and tomato. Add the glass noodles, and toss to serve.

4) Garnish with shrimp (optional) and coriander leaves.

Recipe Adapted from: Chiang Mai Cooking School Cookbook

I hope you enjoy it!

Sincerely,
Julie

Monday, December 12, 2011

Westie Cookies

Hello everybody!

Christmas is almost here!  What are your holiday plans?  The perfect holiday for me is staying home and baking. I also don't believe in spending a lot of money on gifts just because it is Christmas. I think the best gifts are the ones you put effort into.  Some of my dream gifts are... A handmade quilt, a knitted scarf, or a recording of music that somebody worked very hard in order to play well or sing well. Such gifts are more meaningful, I think.  :) 

This year, for my holidays gifts to friends and family, I have decided to develop a "house cookie."  I wanted only one design.  The design had to be simple and easy to duplicate for years to come. So this is what I came up with:



Hopefully, when people see a Westie Cookie in the future, they will think of us. I hope you like it.  Here is the recipe:

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Sugar Cookie Dough- Shortbread dough
Makes 24 Westie Cookies

2 sticks of unsalted butter (At room temperature)
⅝ cup sugar
2 ½ cup all purpose flour

1. In a bowl of an electric mixer, cream together butter and sugar until it has turned pale and creamy (About 2-3 minutes).

2. Add the flour and stir gently using the mixer or by hand. Work in quick, efficient strokes until the flour has completely incorporated.

3. Tip the dough onto plastic wrap and shape it into a disk and refrigerate for 1 hour.

4. Preheat oven to 300 F.

5. Next, lightly flour the working surface and rolling pin. Roll out dough to ½ inch and cut into shapes. (I used a Westie Cookie cutter).

6. Carefully transfer the cut out shape onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a reusable Silpat.

7. Gather all the scraps and re-roll until they are all used up. (Don’t worry about the texture of the cookie, it will be fine).

8. Bake 20-25 minutes until the cookies turn a little brown on the edges. Let them cool completely before icing.

Icing Recipe:

(Outline Consistency) (For the outline of the Westie and for the Black eyes)
2 cups confectioner’s sugar
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon meringue powder
3 tablesppons + 1 teaspoon warm water
Beat 3-4 minutes until incorporated.

Save about 3 tablespoons of the icing above.

(Flood Consistency) (For flooding the body of the Westie and its Scarf)
Take the remaining outline consistency icing and slowing add warm water until it is thinned out. This usually takes an additional 2 tablespoons of water.

Instructions for assembling the cookies:

1) Outline the cookie with the outline consistency white icing. Make sure outline is close to the edge of the cookie but not too close. (Use Wilton Round Tip #1)

2) Wait for it to dry- about 10 minutes.

3) Next, flood the body of the dog with flooding consistency white icing. (Use a squeeze bottle).

A shape that has been outlined with white outline icing and flooded with flood icing

4) Wait for it to dry completely. About 3-4 hours.

5) Tint about 1 tablespoon of flood consistency icing with red food coloring until you reach the shade of red desired. (Use Wilton Rounded Tip #1).

6) Draw the scarf with the red icing. Let dry.

7) To complete, use black food marker or tint about 1 teaspoon of outline consistency icing in black and dot the eyes.   (Use Wilton Rounded Tip #1).

Recipe Adapted from: Sugarbaker's Cookie Cutter Cookbook
Some final Pointers:  The recipe is easy, but here are some tips. When the dough is chilled, it is important to let the dough come completely to room temperature before baking.  This is what happens if the dough is too cold.... the surface will appear cracked (On the left).  The butter also cannot fully be baked into the flour to give it a nice golden color.
Dog on the left was baked when the dough was still too cold.  Dog on the right is at the right temperature.

Enjoy your holidays!
Sincerely,
Julie

Resources:

Browncookie.com
1) Piping Bags
2) Siplat Silicone Half Sheet

Wilton.com
1) Round Tip Number 1
2) Squeeze Bottles

Westie Cookie Cutter

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