Wednesday, December 31, 2008

On the 29th Day of Christmas

Hope you're all heavily steeped in the afterglow of Christmas Cheer. We sucessfully had a Christmas dinner with our whole family, and surprisingly it was one of the calmest Christmas dinner cooking episodes ever. I even took the kids to the park in the morning. Pictures of family fothcoming. Till then, wishing you all a Happy New Year!

Kahlua & Amaretto Cream Pie

The quest for the perfect pie crust stops here!!

Chocolate Gingerbread Cake (Decoration by Yosh & frantic Mas)

Apple Pie with Pecan/caramel topping

Peppermint Meringue Kisses

Friday, December 26, 2008

Awwwww.....Lookie what I got for Christmas!

This is my new friend Pierre the French Pear with no hair. He's my new keitai-nick-nack, ain't he just the sweeetest?

........I think you should know a few things about me:

1: I looooooove pears
2: I equally love light green (can you see the corner of my keitai in the pic?)
3: I triple equally love home-made gifts
4: I am hopelessly endeered to caracatures with lopsided facial features.

Therefore my dearest supermodel/mom/friend has scored massive bonus points with me & had better dig up jeans 2 sizes bigger before she comes to visit. :) Tx, Kari!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Day in the Morning!

If I had to choose between Christmas Dinner & Christmas Breakfast, I know I'd choose the latter. There's something magical about a sunny, cold morning with all the typical excitement it brings. From the helpful kids waking everyone up too early to the tired parents braving the onslaught of wrapping paper & girding up their bathrobes with coffee in hand.
I like being up early working quietly in the kitchen to add a little something to an already special day. I imagine waking up to the smell of baking scones & hazelnut coffee just helps the day start off right, don't you? If you need any ideas for Christmas breakys I hope you'll find something in the following links. (Sorry, I don't have a few of them available) But if you need any help, you know where to reach me.
Merry Christmas Everyone. I pray it's a good one.

Bread Pudding with Whisky Sauce

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Christmas Catering

I got to help Mark & Fumie with their Christmas Party, and boy did I get close to actually eating food this time......I was even there when people piled into the dining room & were oogling to goodies. Oh well, maybe next time.
I lost some pictures when my SD card gave up the ghost but I recovered enough to show off a little friendly experimentation. Hope everything came out OK. I didn't even have time to taste some of the things I made. Lemmie know if you were there. Chala? Mas? Anyone? (you spoiled people who are nursing "Christmas Stomach" syndrome.

So here are a few pics of the fruits of my labor!
Molasses Spice Cookies (Recipe comes from "Pioneer Woman")

Cranberry Sauce with orange juice & maple syrup. Godly & Fine, it was!

White chocolate, cranberry, macadamia nut cookies.

Chocolate Gingerbread with Rummed Fruit and Ginger infused cream, which I adored. (Dorie Greenspan recipe)
Cornbread, sausage, cranberry, raisin, pecan, walnut stuffing!
Brown sugar, Maple syrup, soy-sauce, orange, bayleaf, pepper corns & garlic brine.

The turkey which giveth his life for the merry makers. No picture of the finished thing but it's just as well I think something of the brine (shoyu) made it brown much faster than I wanted it to so by the time I covered it (& it cooked for another 4 hrs it looked like a gaijin who spent too long at the beach)
Trifle of love for a certain Brit.
Check out the nifty display stand DH got at the 2nd hand costco store for 1000Y

Creme de Mente Pie. Took me ages to find "M&M" like candies to put on top.

Here's the chocolate gingerbread cake. BTW, those stars are made of dried ginger -- powerful potent stuff.
And that's it for now!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Tried & True Tips for Turkey Time

I get a fair amount of phone calls every year around Christmas time. My first thought is, "Aww, how sweet, Christmas made you all sentimental & you thought of me?".

Nice try!

"What is this paper bag doing in the turkey?" or"How do you make the nog in the egg?" As much as I love to hear from you I'm probably going to be simultaneously policing Christmas Tree vandalism & cookie snatchers. So after giving it no thought whatsoever I've decided to review the basics of turkey making for you. It's something you do so infrequently that you're bound to practically forget each year anyway. If you call me anyway, I'll probably direct you here. Let's get on with it then:

1# To brine or not to brine: I personally am sold on brining, thanks to my bro-in-law, & will never go back I would encourage you to try it too, it's not that difficult. Here's where you can find the basics on Brining your turkey, recipes are many & varied but will involve lots of SALT & a sweetener like sugar/molasses/honey/maple syrup etc... & herbs/spices. Here are some ideas of brine recipes, I'm sure there are a lot more out there, but these are pretty basic with fairly common ingredients. Come on now, you can do it!

2# Timing the turkey: Once you've decided on that you need to plan the timing of your cooking. WORK YOU WAY BACKWARDS! Find your dinner time, and go back from there. Here are the approximate cooking times for stuffed & unstuffed turkeys:

You need to give yourself time for the following things:

- Defrosting your turkey (Here's a chart for that too) Remember cold bath thawing is quicker than refrigerator thawing but you'll have to be faithful to change the water every 1/2 hr.
- Brining (if you choose to) Brining time takes 1 hr for each lb. (easy to remember) Convert your kgs to lbs & you got the time. (roughly it will take btw 9-15 hrs, give or take)
- Preparing your turkey for baking
- Baking
- Covering & setting with foil for 10 min or so (makes it more moist & makes cutting easier)

So grab a pencil & do your math. Here's an example of your cooking schedule for a 12 lb (5.44kgs) brined & stuffed turkey: (remember cooking time is longer with a stuffed turkey)

Day of dinner
6:00pm Dinner time:
5:45pm Enough time to let it sit for 10 min before carving
12:45pm Turkey in the oven (about 4 1/2 - 5 hrs cooking time, go with the longer cooking time to be on the safe side, nothing like keeping dinner waiting.
11:45am Preparing for baking (1 hr) Turkey washed, dried, stuffed & buttered etc...

Day before
11:45pm Start brining (14 hrs)
11:15pm Preparing turkey for brining, (1/2 hr) pulling out giblets, taking off plastic or wire clip etc... freaking out etc..)
4:00pm defrosting in a cold bath (7 hrs) and make brining solution (it needs enough time to cool off completely after heating)

Once you have your Turkey schedule, guard it with your life. There's nothing like having to re figure the whole thing when you're stirring, whisking & burning Christmas dinner.

3# Preparing: Before we talk about what to do to prepare, A few items that you want to have on hand (I always forget to have prepared until it's too late) DON'T BE CAUGHT UNPREPARED!

- 100g. (1 stick, 1/2 c) butter (BUTTER, not Margarine)
- TWINE. (if you want to tie the legs)
- Tin foil for covering during & after baking

Whether you brine or not you'll have to prepare your turkey for baking by pulling the paper sack with the giblets, & liver & the neck. DON'T toss it but save it for turkey stock for the gravy. Fry them in a little oil & put them in 2 l. of boiling water, simmer for about 1 1/2 hrs. (This also will freak out your house hold who will insist that they need to eat Christmas dinner NOW, at 9 in the morning)

As for that annoying leg holder plastic thingie, I always forget how to do that but usually figure it out in a fit of frustration which usually ends with me half in the sink pleading, "Just give it up, already." Good luck with that!

Rinse off the turkey with cold water (rinse extra well if you used brine) Wipe off the outside & inside with a lot of paper towels. Go for it, use them all!! Don't forget to take silly pics of you peering into the gaping cavity of your turkey like a skilled & deranged surgeon.

Even if you do not want to make a "rub" for the turkey (usually made of olive oil or butter & spices, NEVER EVER USE SALT) you can very simply grab 1/4 a c of butter (1/2 a stick) nuke it for a few secs then rub it ALL over the turkey.

Another uper groovy trick I learned is to slice of 4-6 thin (1 cm) slices of butter & using a chopstick or butter knife, slip it under the breast of the skin. Push it pretty far back. 2 or 3 slices on each breast. Ooooh la la!

Stuff the turkey, if you want. Personally I learned from my good friend Niki that stuffing it with sliced whole orange, apple, onion, & bouquet of rosemary, bay leaves & thyme (use the twine)gives it great flavor & your stuffing is left looking a lot less stuffed. Suit yourself!

Nows the time to tie the legs if you like. (Cooking time is longer with the legs tied, & some say the turkey is less moist) but ascetically it looks nicer of course. I'm not particular either way.

#4 Baking: Now is the blessed time to bake, oven should be preheated at 175c (350f)

You'd be hard pressed to find a turkey baking pan in Japan but if you have one more power to you. At the very least put it on a wire rack so the drippings can drip down onto the baking tray underneath. Another tip for a golden crust: After the 1st half hour of baking (or when it's starting to brown) melt another 2--3 tbsp of butter & baste or brush the entire turkey. You'll want to continue basting the turkey with it's own drippings every hour or so.

About 1/2 way into the cooking you'll notice that the skins getting pretty golden looking so you can use heavy foil to cover it. Pretty tricky to get it covered but you'll want to do a good job or you'll have some darker spots. Also as much hasle as it is continue to baste the turkey (probably only 1 or 2 times more) till it's done. Keep it from drying out.

5# Setting: And if you have a "pop-up" button you'll know when it's done. I don't have a meat thermometer so I don't know all the specs on that. Plus this post is turning into a major epistle. Take it out, move it to your serving platter (channel the strength of Samson) and cover with foil for about 10 minutes. DO NOT THROW OUT YOUR DRIPPINGS (That oily burnt goop on you baking tray)

6# Gravy: I'd love to go into the gravy "thing" but instead I'll direct you here for a pretty thorough pictorial review. Not to mention you'll want to dive through your computer screen to get a piece of her kitchen. At least I do. IMPORTANT NOTE: if you've brined your turkey the drippings will be salty so you won't need to add very much salt at all to your gravy. Proceed with caution.

And that's it folks, if you've made it this far, you're obviously a real foodie fan or you're terribly bored but either way I love love love you!

Happy Holidays.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Flaming Bathrobe

No, this is not a exotic cocktail but rather an unexpected happening one gloomy morning.

Nearly every morning that I wear my bathrobe I remember this & just need to get it out of my system, so bear with me. This happened about a year ago now. I’m not sure what this story has to do with anything but I just get tickled thinking about it.

I have a tendency to just literally "drag-butt" when I wake up. It’s not that I have a hard time getting out of bed, on the contrary, I’m up alright, it’s just that I feel the desperate need to look like an electrocuted Rastafarian on downers in beggar attire until roughly 9:30 in the morning. Yes, it’s true & if you live with me you’d verify this sad statement. Not to mention if there was a contest for worst bad hair days I’d win hands down.....ON AN AVERAGE DAY! (but that’s another story)

I have this enormous bathrobe that I got about 7 years go on my birthday, and in my blind love for it I try to imagine that it’s not a ratty 7 year old bathrobe but rather a warm & fuzzy old friend that I pull out at the end of the year to warm my soul. I ceremoniously throw it on, shlump down the stairs. And what do I do before anything else? No, I do not look in the mirror. (Very funny!) No, I don't brush my teeth, or wash my face. (the secret to my "flawless" complication?)That’s right, to the kitchen to put on a pot of water to boil.

So on this particular mornings of mornings, I shlump down, looking as ghastly & electrocuted as ever. (thank God, DH is already taking out the trash, no need to alarm him with my appearance, which he seems to take in stride anyway!) I grab the kettle fill it up & clunk it down on the stove. It is upon turning on the stove that I am met with a rather sudden & rude awakening. My entire left bathrobed arm bursts into flames, (No, this is not a joke) and not just normal “flames” mind you but those silent, near invisible, evil blue flames that you can hear hissing. As I’m trying to half-heartedly pat out the flames on my arm (occupational hazard of being a cook is a lack of fear of fire). Immediately, I feel a gust of alarmingly warm air on my neck, followed by a toasty sensation on my back & left arm as well. It is at this point that I tear my bathrobe off stomping wildly on top of it like I'm at a rock concert and there is no tomorrow…....wearing only, or should I say NOT wearing…….well, bygones....Let’s just say the kitchen was coooold, I was awake & I did not need a coffee that morning.

Surprisingly, my bathrobe ended up with only a very faint yellowish brown staining…….OVER PRACTICALLY THE ENTIRE THING!! And upon further inspection the tag says that my bathrobe is (what do you know) NOT flame resistant!! Thank God it didn’t read “FLAMMABLE
I sort of secretly wish someone was there to see it now, cuz’ I’m sure I looked like a total splendid moron. I’m sure I was a sight to behold. Something you only see on Japanese TV, where the skinny comedy duo team light each other's yukata on fire & jump screaming into huge vat of wasabi. But still it’s always funny to think back on

I confess, up until that point I had been guilty of serious neglect when it came to loose clothing in the kitchen. If my DH would let me, I might have cooked all day in my bathrobe. But you can be sure now that I’m a bit more aware of how close I get to the fire with my “non-flame resistant” clothing. I still get a kick out of how I’ll periodically check the back of my arm if I suddenly feel a heat wave from off the stove.

So my friend, if you ever see me wildly spinning in circles patting my back screaming, “GET IT OFF, OH GOD, GET IT OFF!!” you’ll know why.

Have a good one! And be safe in the kitchen.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Cookie Time: Cardamom Sugar Cookies

This recipe must start off a little something like this:
Meet my new friends, Mort & Pes, they are bringers of tiding of comfort & joy. If you've never smashed stuff in a stone mortar you should come by sometime & try it, it's great fun. All this banging & clanging & nothing shatters. (Except the cardamom seeds, mind you) And if you want to smell something that will literally "blow your nasal cavity to the 7th heaven" you must crush whole cardamom seeds. Doesn't look like much but I'm still reeling. My kids could smell it from the school table & came running. (Not to mention it also sounded like Mommy had finally snapped & was breaking all the dishes in the kitchen)
I found this recipe in a book I got for 100Y at a 2nd hand store called "The Joy of Coffee", (eh-hum, let's not get into that today!) There were a lot of good biscuit & cookie/snackie recipes in the back. I spied cardamom & thought "Great, any excuse to smash stuff with Mort again" So here's how it went. I halved the recipe & used 1/2 brown sugar. The best thing about this recipe is that it was very easy to handle & cut out. The kids had great fun cutting out the stars.
So, it goes a little something like this:
1 3/4 c flour
1 tsp b. soda
1/2 tsp cardamom
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 c butter
1/2 c sugar
4 tbsp honey
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
2 tsp orange zest

Whisk the dry ingr together in a separate bowl. As usual with cookies, the butter & sugars get beaten together till their light & fluffy. Then add the honey & then the egg & vanilla. Next add the dry to the wet, mix till well blended.
Gather it up & put it on a sheet of clear wrap/saran wrap/cling form...whatever. Flatten out into 1 inch thick disks & chill for at least 1 hr.
Lightly flour wax paper or clean surface & roll out to 1/8 inch thin, cut out w/ cutter. Awww, how can you not just enjoy the look of those.
Place on cookie sheet & bake at 160 (350) for 10-12 min or till golden brown around the edges & raised in the center, move to wire rack immediately & cool. Snitch immediately, if not sooner.
Nummy-num-num. These were good, crispy & cute & not too sugary. The cardamom stood out well enough & orange zest added that little extra grown up flavor that I love. DH was a pretty big fan too.

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star!

PS. The recipe says that it will keep for 2 weeks in an air tight container, not that it will survive that long. I kept some for about a week & found that they lost that crunch, I wouldn't suggest keeping them too long.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

And the Cookie Muncher is.......

Before I tell you who won, I thought you should know you've got me itching to make a whole lot more Christmas goodies now. And I'm also growing more & more curious about Christmas Pudding!

I also thought that giving a measly 9 cookies seemed a little skimpy so I figured lets have 2 Cookie muncher winners!

So we put the names in a box


Winner Number 1:

Winner Number 2:

So there you go. Congrats Ladies & your cookies are on the way. I already have your address, Dawn. Send me your address Elaina & they're on the way!
PS. Tx to everyone else who played along, I got your favorite dessert now, so come & visit! :)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Cookie Time: 4 Spice Cookies

I just like these cookies...because! They are total dipping cookies. Not that I condone dipping or dunking. (You know how it is, let one kid dunk the next thing you know you've got milk-toast soup-slurping party, sorry Ves!)

I would say these are pretty similar to Gingersnaps, with that extra spice kick from the nutmeg, cinnamon & cloves. They're crunchy & cute & a TOTAL Christmas cookie, in my opinion. The molasses is the clincher to the old fashioned flavor in this classic.

So let us commense to make ourselves some:

2 1/2 c flour
1tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp ginger
1 tsp cloves
1 tsp nutmeg
3/4 tsp cinn
1 c b. sugar
1/2 c butter
1/2 c shortning
1/4 c molasses
1 egg

Whisk dry in a bowl, beat butter, shortning & sugar till smooth, add molasses, blend in egg. Mix dry into wet. Lets not try to be immature and make silly comments about how much this dough looks like poo. I have restrained myself from posting an even more suggestive picture my daughter took of it once it was rolled out into a (e-hum) log!

Cover & chill for 2 hrs. Roll into 1 inch balls place 1 inch apart on baking sheet. Flatten a little. Aren't those just the cutest little smooshed balls? Bake at 170c (350f) 8-10 min till cracked but still soft. Take off of rack & cool immideately. Store in airtight container up to 3 weeks.
I found that baking them for 8 min was even a bit much, as you can see some of them that were in the natorious "Hot Spot" in my oven came out pretty toasted, I would've done them for a bit less for a more chewy center.

PS. You can also roll these into 1 1/2 inch logs & freeze for up to 2 mo. Just slice & bake with an extra minute added onto cooking time.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Christmas Cookie Give Away!

That's right you heard me!

In the spirit of Christmas giving, I'm going to give away a box of cookies to ONE happy random person. This box will consist of: 3 cardamom orange cookies, 3 ginger spice cookies, 3 white chocolate & rum fruit cookies. (Don't tell my DH, he's terribly possessive about these last babies)

And all you have to do is post a comment with your heartfelt answer to this question:

What is your favorite Christmas dessert?

There is no wrong answer. (Unless you're the guy who says wasabi & mikan pudding) When the time limit is up I'll have my kids randomly pick one person to be the happy winner. There are only a few simple rules to this give away:

- (As much as I hate to do this) It's only going to be eligable for people who reside in Japan
- This giveaway starts NOW & ends Dec 12th (11:00pm, Japan time)
- Please don't comment more than once

Winner will be announced Dec 13th.


Wednesday, December 03, 2008

It's that Man's Birthday AGAIN!!

Random thought on about my December Man Child!

Once upon a time a very round mommy gave birth to a very round baby. To be sure, no one knew why a 10 day early baby could look quite so huge. At 4.2 kgs (9.2 lbs) the midwife had too much fun snapping pics of the "biggest umbilical cord" she'd ever seen & a placenta nearly 2 kgs. (4.4 lbs) that she desperately wanted to pass around to all present. :)Did the kids gather round and adore his TINY little hands & feet?.....well....they gathered round alright to observe the time honored tradition of "Baby goes kuro-goma paste poo through 3 layers of clothes & pees on mommy & onlookers" while kids are scard for life & will never spawn.

Did we intend to make him look like a giant egg-head? No we did not but somethings just can't be helped. The round fat baby was at his best when he was in a loud room. Where the action was, there was the Travis also. Watching the action was alright until he was about 3 months, then he had to BE the action as well....and things got a bit more complicated.
One fateful day at 6 months he was standing, we were in denial. 7 months, he began to walk. I pretended I didn't notice & prayed it was just a phase. know how that goes. Next thing you know he's climbing the stairs.
There came a moment of Revelation for me when he was 10 or 11 months & we took a walk to a park more than a km away. He ran there and (I wish I was joking) but he ran back as well with short breaks where he'd collapse & sit on the ground for a moment & then get back at it. It was one of those moments when you try not to make eye contact w/ your husband & inevitably when you do, you're like, ".....YOUR SIDE OF THE GENE POOL!!"
At this point we also looked into a toddie leash. (We never did do it, couldn't get him to hold still for long enough)

Story that comes to mind when I think of his pre-walking stage: Seeing Benny trotting through the hallway with 6 mo old Trav sliding along with him becasue he's clutching so tightly to his fur & just won't let go. This is the "Chicken Smile" phase. If you get it, you get it. Don't get me started on the 'fro, though. He will probably never live it down & when he's 19 over the hill, well-meaning friends of mine will go, "Hey Trav, I remember you, give us a Chicken Smile?"

Story that comes to mind when I think of his 1's: Us running around Walmart looking for him in a half panic. He's on the other end oblivious, running around with two rolls of wrapping paper in his hands like baseball bats.
Yeah, there's that Chicken Smile again. (BTW, whose gonna step forward & claim rights for thinking of that title? Elaina?)

This is the kid that my friends would always tell (sadly) true, bizzare stories about & sigh wistfully, "I'd just LOOOVE to have a kid like Trav". (Strangely, when I'd offer to send him over for the weekend I never did get any takers). If it weren't for this Mark-in-law, we'd still be rebounding from pent up energy left over from his TERRIBLE (and by that I DO mean TERRIBLE) two's. Mark is responsible for teaching him to sumo wrestle, pillow fight, ride a bike with one hand, jump off the top bunk & play "Extreme Tickle War". I owe you one, man!

Don't ask me why, but if I was to sum up his 2nd year in one incident it would be this: I come into the dining room and a certain "Gene-ious" is sitting on the table, bowl of instant ramen in hand, psychotic look of glee on his face. My son is running around the table full speed, hair & fat little body wet with sweat & without a shirt.

"Gene, what are you doing to my son?"

"Shush, shush.....he's almost at 60......Come on Travster!!.....YES!! 60!!!"

Did he do it 100 times, I'm afraid he did.

The secret to keeping a guy like this busy? Changing it up! If it's a challenge, he's on it. If he can't do it yet, you're off scott-free for at least a 1/2 hr till he figures it out.

Is he just about the action? No way! He's bound to be anything & everything when he grows up. And I'm not about to tell him he can't. To name a few he's been:

- break dancer, cook, skateboarder, Lightning McQueen, bobsledder, baseball player, Michael Phelps, contemporary dancer, naked drummer, ballet dancer, Steve Mcnair, compulsive duster & sweeper, basketball player etc etc etc.....Truth be told, I was always a bit afraid of having a high action kid, I'd look at other parents with energetic kids & subconsciously think they were doing something wrong. And in case you look at me & think that, you're probably right! But, I'll never look at the "happy kid" in a family like that again. Honestly, If I tell you I'd take your hyperactive boy or crazy tomboy daughter for the weekend.......I do mean it! :)