Friday, January 27, 2012

Blueberry Muffins

Hello everybody!

Two weeks ago I hosted a breakfast brunch for two of my classmates from the University of Virginia.  We had a wonderful time catching up over brunch and coffee on a cozy Sunday morning. This was my first time hosting brunch, and I must say, brunch is a lot easier to host than prepping a full course Thanksgiving Meal or Christmas dinner.  Best of all, it is not any bit less fun. The only remotely difficult thing was to wake up slightly earlier on a weekend to put on the finishing touches. Like...serving orange juice in wine glasses (a simple way to add instant elegance! Fine hotels do this all the time, and I think it adds a special touch when hosting brunch)... and, baking fresh blueberry muffins!

On that morning, we had many dishes, including hot pancakes, a breakfast casserole (recipe to follow) and Blueberry Muffins.  The blueberry muffins are my favorite. When fresh, they are out of this world delicious.  Here's the recipe I wrote up:

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Makes 12 Muffins


1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter (at room temperature, the amount of time this takes depends on where you live)
2 cups all purpose flour
1-1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups fresh blueberries
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoon pure vanilla
1/2 cup milk


1) Preheat oven to 375 F. Line a standard 12 cup muffin pan with glassine baking paper cups or standard paper muffin pan liners.
2) In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.
3) After washing and rinsing the blueberries, sieve about 1-1/2 teaspoon of flour mixture to coat the blueberries.  This step will help distribute the blueberries evenly throughout the muffin (it won't all sink to the bottom of the muffin)
4) In a bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar on medium-high speed until the butter appears paler, lighter and fluffier.   This should take about 3 minutes if the butter is at the right temperature.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating until combined after each addition.  Mix in the vanilla.  Use a rubber spatula to make sure all the ingredients are combined by scraping on the bottom of the bowl.
5) Add the rest of the flour mixture and turn the mixer on low speed and mix until just combined. Add milk and beat the mixture until the milk has been incorporated.  Do not overmix or your muffins will be tough and chewy. 
6) Using a rubber spatula, fold the blueberries into the mixture.  Work in swift, fast strokes.
7) Divide the batter equally amount the lined muffin cups.
8) Bake for 30 mins until the cake tester inserted into the center of one muffin comes out clean.  It is also recommended that you rotate the baking tray halfway to ensure uniform browning.
9) Let the muffins cool, and, if desired, add another decorative baking cup (usually one with more elaborate patterns or color) to complete plating.

Thank you for reading  If there are recipes you would like me to look into or research, please leave me a comment.


Source: Recipe adapted from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook

Resources: Cupcake Liners Baking Supplies
Starbucks Hot cocoa: Now available at! Hot cocoa with salted caramel, toasted marshmallows, sweet peppermint or rich chocolate.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Coffee Jello-No begging allowed!

Hello everybody,

Today I am going to share with you how to make a simple coffee jello that you can serve as a dessert.

The idea for this dessert actually came from my favorite Japanese restaurant in my neighborhood-Tokyo Japanese Restaurant.  They serve a similar coffee jello complimentary of the chef during dinnertime but not during lunchtime. This dessert is so addicting that it is not uncommon to see guests (other guests, not me) beg for it to be served during lunchtime. Last week, I was having my usual Saba Shioyaki set lunch at the sushi bar when I saw yet another lady beg for coffee jello. "Can I please have the coffee jello.... (bink bink, pretty please eye) I'll pay for it."  The waiter was too nice to turn her down, but when she came back with the jello, she said (maybe just a tad coldly), "This is only for dinner, next time I am going to have to charge you."  The guest blushed in embarrassment. I immediately felt sorry for the guest, but I also understand what it is like to have a food craving so powerful you would do anything just to have it.  After all, I have driven 9 hours (one way!) from Seattle to Redding, CA, just to have an In-N-Out burger.
This is why I am going to share how to make this addicting coffee jello so that you can enjoy it in the comforts of your own home, anytime, in any amount you want.  And, it is so simple. No more begging for this at Tokyo during lunch time.  :)

Remember.. if you "beg for coffee jello, you can only eat it once. Learn how to make coffee jello and you can eat coffee jello for life."  Yeah, yeah, lame. I am known in my circles for lame jokes. Bear with me here.

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Coffee Jello Pre Mix
1 Can Evaporated Milk 5 fl oz (147 ml)
1/4 cup granulated sugar

1) Make the jello pack according to the manufacturer's instructions.
Browncookie Hot Tip: *To make a stronger jello, replace 1 cup of water with freshly brewed coffee.
2) Pour jello into a jelly mold.
3) Heat Evaporated Milk with Sugar until all the sugar has dissolved.  Let it cool.
4) Spoon a a little evaporated milk over the jello prior to serving.

Have a great one!
Source: A original by Julie

Resource: Jello Mold Coffee Jello Mix

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Nian Gao Recipe-Fish Shaped

Hello everybody,

This year, Chinese New Year (the year of the Dragon!) falls on Jan 23rd, 2012, which is fast and furious, coming on the heels of Christmas and the holiday season. I am very excited to welcome this year with our new line of nian gao molds at

Nian Gao, or Chinese New Year cake, is made from glutinous rice flour. It is now enjoyed year round but is traditionally popular during Chinese New Year. You will hear nian gao sometimes called “rice cakes.” It is considered good luck to eat Nian Gao during Chinese New Year because “nian gao” is a homonym for a “higher year.” It carries the symbolism of rising higher in the coming year.

Why the symbol of rising higher? Well, I suppose, we all have to start somewhere. When I first started blogging, the food photography was so atrocious that I questioned if anybody would want to read it. The quick answer was, no. My old blog in 2006 rarely had any visitors, except for my sister and family members. Then, we would laugh at the terrible pictures together. 

Fast forward to now, and I feel that I have gotten a handle on blogging. Our blog has been featured in the Top 10 section of Foodbuzz a few times, and I feel that I am now blogging at a "higher" level than than where I started. That is exactly the kind of improvement that a nian gao ritual is supposed to emulate.  HIGHER, more achievement, improvement. But it is never JUST about an achievement, it is what you have had to overcome in order to achieve something.  To me, an achievement is not an achievement unless it is accompanied by overcoming something, rising up to a challenge, crossing a chasm- all leading to an improvement.  Nian gao is a yearly reminder of this, to rise higher, overcome and to improve. 

A lot of people think that nian gao is hard to make.  But, again, it is one of those things that because we are used to buying it, we never think that it would be easy to make at home.  I have made it easy for you.  Whether you are looking to make a few nian gao shapes, a big batch to give away to friends, or because it is unavailable where you live, I hope you will give this recipe a try.

Rise higher in the New Year!

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200g or (1-1/2 cup + 1/3 cup) Glutinous Rice Flour
100g or (1 Cup) Wheat Starch (aka Ungluten Wheat Flour, or Tang Mien Fung)
20g or (1/4 Cup) Rice Flour
160 g or (3/4 Cup) Sugar
400 ml or (14 Fl oz or 1 Can) Coconut Milk
150 ml water
1 tbsp vegetable oil (I used peanut oil)
Vegetable oil (For greasing the mold)
2 Black Kidney Beans (For the "eyes" of the fish)

1) In a large bowl, sieve together the glutinous rice flour, wheat starch and rice flour.
2) In a sauce pan, add 150 ml of water. Combine the sugar and heat on medium heat until the sugar has dissolved. This will yield a simple syrup.  Set this aside to cool to room temperature.
3) Add the can of coconut milk to the sieved flour mixture and stir to mix.
4) Next, add in the simple syrup solution and oil into the flour mixture. Fold quickly with a spatula. The batter will be quite liquid, but do not overmix.
5) Remove 1 cup of the white batter. Tint this 1 cup with orange food coloring.  (You can mix orange food coloring by combining red and yellow primary colors- Add about 6 drops of each color- more if you want to achieve a more saturated color).
6) Grease the fish mold by rubbing a little oil on a piece of paper towel and then rubbing the surface of the mold.
7) Using a small teaspoon, add the orange color to the "dorsal fin" of the fish, side fins and tail.

8) Gently add the white mixture, slowly pouring on top of the orange color mixture.

9) Steam on gentle steam for 40 mins.
10) Insert black beans into the eye areas.

Note: The plastic mold can withstand temperatures up to 120C. Steam is 100C. It is important not to let the mold come in direct contact with metal. It is better to steam using a water bath.

Unmolding Tips:
Let the nian gao cool completely or even overnight before attempting to remove it.   Remove the "fish" with the end tail, carefully supporting it and peeling the rest of the body away from the mold.  If the mold has been greased properly, the release should be perfect. 

It is best to make the fish nian gao the night before you plan to present it.  If stored in the fridge, the fish may crack.  In most circumstances, it is ok to store the nian gao at room temperature for up to 2 days.
This recipe will yield 1 fish, with some batter left over.

Final note: This finished steamed "nian gao" is not ready for serving. To serve, cut up the nian gao in 1/2 cm deep pieces, batter it with egg and flour and pan fry it.  The instructions will come separately in a different post.

Source: Do what I like Blog + With detailed tips by Julie

Resources: Nian Gao Fish Mold

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Burdock Root with Red Bean Soup

Hello everybody,
I have always had an interest in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).  This is why you will see some occasional postings of my musings and experiments here.

Let me share with you a story.  I didn't always believe in TCM. Being Western educated, I default to hard science, evidence-based Western medicine.  This changed on a trip to Shanghai with my family, when we stopped by Beijing Tong Ren Tang, where my family was seen by a jade physician or "Yu Yi."  These are TCM doctors who studied with previous generations of jade physicians who have traditionally treated emperors, royal courts and their imperial families for generations.

We were there mainly for the cultural experience. First up was my dad.  The jade physician carefully listened to his pulse, observed his face and then said my dad is generally healthy, but he has a kidney stone that is going to give him a lot of trouble, very soon, in 3-6 months.  He even took out a writing pad, drew a bean to represent the kidney and marked the location of the stone.  My dad, being the skeptic, just sorta laughed off the diagnosis and, worse, refused to buy the herbal medicines he prescribed.  After all, he doesn't have any reasons to worry, he has never had any problems with his kidneys.

We returned home. Two months later, my dad experienced flank pain so painful that he couldn't move.  He went to the ER and the diagnosis?  You guessed it.  A kidney stone. And, it was so severe he was hospitalized for over a week.  Did the jade physician see this coming?  Maybe, but what are the odds that he just got lucky? Epidemiology statistics show only 10% of all males will develop a kidney stone over their lifetimes, so if the physician wanted to quack around, it wouldn't be the disease I would pick. So, I think the jade physician knew something was up.

After this incident, I thought about what the jade physician said about my own health.  From my pulse, he can tell that I am too yin, I drink too many cold and sugary drinks. I also walk around barefoot during the winter in my house, another big no no. The remedy for being too yin?  Drink soups made with ingredients with "warming" characteristics.  So, I decided to look around for soups with these characteristics.  Ingredients like red beans and burdock kept coming up. Here is a soup I made by observing TCM principles.  This nourishing soup can be enjoyed by the whole family.

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1 Stick Burdock- Peeled and cut into small pieces
7-8 Red Dates
2 Pieces Dried Abalone (This is optional)
3/4 cup small red beans
5 cups of filtered water
3-4 pieces of pork bones (Neck pieces are best, blanch these in hot water so that the exterior of the bone is cooked)
Pinch of Salt

1. In a sauce pan, fill it half full with water.  Bring it to a boil.  Add Red dates, red beans, and dried abalone.  Boil for about 1 min and turn the heat off.  Let these ingredients soak for about 20 minute and then drain.  Set the ingredients aside.
2. In a small stock pot or clay pot, add all the ingredients and pork bones.  Add 5 cups of filtered water. 
3. Bring the soup to a boil and then simmer on low heat for 2 hours.
4. Serve hot.

*Note: Drink only one bowl of soup (Rice bowl size).
Edible ingredients: Meat on the pork bone, red beans
Ingredients you can nibble on: Burdock, Red Dates
Not Edible, only used for flavor: Dried Abalone

Source: Table for 2, + Adapted by Julie to suit her taste.

To good health everybody!


Monday, January 2, 2012

Crab Fried Rice

Hello everybody,

Happy 2012! It's time to revisit some of those New Year resolutions, eh?

One of my New Year resolutions is to try to "eat more local." It is good to eat locally grown ingredients, but I didn't always feel this way. When I first moved to Seattle, I was always looking for exotic ingredients to cook with. What did I look for? Usually, things like sweet palm sugar from java (gula melaka), which I later found out Martha Stewart says is a key ingredient and stocks in her pantry all the time, so I guess it is not that exotic after all.  Also, for some reason, I was hung up on swordfish filets, which is a fish found in tropical and temperate waters, and I live in the Pacific Northwest. To be honest, this whole "eating local" thing sounds a little pretentious to me. What, is a conventional apple not good enough for you? You know what I mean?

But, one day I had a change of heart.  I was going to buy my usual swordfish from my local supermarket when I noticed it was especially sad looking and dried out. Looking closer, I saw a label, "Fresh-Imported from Singapore." My gosh, the fish had traveled a loooong way to Issaquah, Washington.  In my native Singapore, my mom would not even buy fish that has been dead for a few hours (I am not joking about this). I gave up eating swordfish quickly and started looking for more local options.  This is when I discovered Dungeness crabs, which are local, fresh and alive.

Dungeness crabs, unlike other crab varieties, have relatively soft shells.  They are easy to crack without breaking or wearing down your molars. Because their shells are soft, it makes it easy to take out all the meat and do something with this ingredient, like making crab cakes, or, in my case, I decided to make crab fried rice.  This dish is very easy to make and is delicious.  Every mouthful of rice is saturated with fresh, crabby flavors. So, local is better. :)  This summer, I may even try my hand at catching some with my crab pot. 

Here is the fried rice recipe, I hope you enjoy it:

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1 fresh Dungeness crab (Steam and remove all the meat, approximately 2 cups)
(If you do not want to go through the hassle of buying fresh crab meat, it is ok to use a prepared one, usually presented in a plastic tub or brined.)
1 clove garlic-chopped or minced
2 Eggs
1 cup cooked long grain rice
2 tablespoon peanut oil (Always look for cold, expeller pressed oils.)
2 sprigs Green Onions
Key Limes (For garnishing)

1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp fish sauce
1/4 tsp sesame oil
1/4 tsp ground white pepper (Ok to subtitute with black pepper)

1) In a hot wok, add the peanut oil and heat for about 2 mins.  Drop the beaten egg into the oil and fry it until it is firm.  Break up the egg into small pieces.

2) Next, add the chopped garlic and stir fry together with the eggs, about 1 min.  Then add the crab meat.  Stir fry for another 1 min.

3) Add the cooked rice and stir fry.

4) Add all the seasonings.  Note, crab meat can come in varying degrees of flavors and saltiness.  The seasonings given here are approximate.  You can adjust according to taste and also to the flavor of the crab meat.

5) Add the green onion last.

6) Continue stir frying until the ingredients are heated through.

7) Serve with lime wedges.

A original
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