Getting ready for spring-new adventures awaits

Spring is here in Chicago. For the past few weeks it has been raining. Today, the sky was covered with dark clouds in the morning but quickly drifted away in the afternoon. The temperature began to rose from lower 60s to high 80s. It was such a superb weather for sunbathing, I also meant for the plants. I took the remaining plants that survived the super strong wind from yesterday for a sunbathe. I also did a little shopping for our garden, got some tulip and ranunculus bulbs. It’s a matter of time before our garden blooms with colorful tulips, lilies, ranunculus, peppers, basil, mixed wild flowers, cherry tomatoes, and more additions in the future. This is what Spring is all about: the birth of life.  And also the beginning of a whole new adventure!

A whole new adventure, starting from food choices. As I was packaging for tomorrow’s lunch, I suddenly decided to ditch the same old kind of lunch (typical rice with meals and vegetables) and make sometime different.  Something I never had nor ate before: a nori sandwich. A sandwich made with seasoned rice (ketchup mixed with white rice) and added in whatever meat i can find in the refrigerator sandwiched between the rice and wrapped with seaweed. Technically, it’s more like sushi roll but in a different dimension and with different ingredients.

 

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Anderson Japanese Garden

Anderson Japanese Garden located in Rockford, Illinois roughly about 1 1/2 hour from the heart of Chicago. Walking down the trails of the garden on a sunny day, one can explore the beautiful scenery and its landscape.  There are many ponds, waterfalls,  tea house and a guest house of Japanese style architectures. This garden provides a very peaceful and relaxing environment, which is ideal for a Sunday walk. It is also a great place to practice photography as well especially on a sunny day. I saw a newly wed having their wedding photos taken on the day that I visited. There is admission fee to help keep the garden running. For those that are interesting in buying souvenirs, there’s a gift shop located at the entrance of the garden. They carry lots of cute Japanese items to bring back to love ones.

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Childhood memories-Lisa Frank Merchandise

One of my favorite store in the area is DollarTree. Sometimes I can find some real treasures for only a dollar. Don’t underestimate this place, they sometimes carry the exact items that can be found elsewhere for three or four times the price. I often shop there for baking pans, accessories, stationary, gift bags, books and seasonal accessories. Recently, I was shopping around for craft ideas and I stumbled upon Lisa Frank merchandises. I’m surprised this line of characters still exists after so many years. It once had its glorious moment back in the 90s when I was in grade school, around 9 years old. Every girl in my class was so obsessed with it; there were  Lisa Frank sticker book, pencil cases, notebooks, school bags, etc. I remember going to the store and saw a whole section filled with Lisa Frank products. I looked down at the price tag and shocked at those high digits. I was a kid with no job and I was raised in a very frugal environment; my parents will never spoil their kids nor reward them with good grades unlike most parents in my class. For unnecessary stuff, I won’t ask my parent’s for money. As far as I remember, I probably bought one or two of the Lisa Frank stationary using my new year money which was customary in our culture for married adults to give the kids during new year for luck. As an adult, seeing the products or characters that I grew up with, still exists in today’s market really brings back joy and memories.

Chinese Steamed Sponge Cake

I remember when I was little, my mother would make steamed sponge cake on important days. By important days, I meant days that the Chinese would celebrate according to their beliefs and traditions. The upcoming festival is Qingming where the Chinese would visit the burials of their ancestors.  In some families including mines, steamed sponge cake or some kind of cake is a must. The ingredients to make a sponge cake is fairly simple:

6 eggs

1 cup of flour

1 cup of sugar

However, the METHOD is the key. Back when I was little about 7-8 years old, I rarely had steamed cake that are fluffy with smooth texture, more often it was hard like a rock with uneven top. I remember when I was helping my mother make those cake, she would tell me to beat the eggs until there’s bubbles and it WILL take a long time. Back then, we don’t have any electric egg beater, all we had was chopsticks. After beating the eggs for 30 minutes with a sore arm, I saw bubbles forming over the top layer and excitedly thought it was ready. Little did I know, it was nowhere ready, which I found out recently.  Obviously, the resulting cake was just the opposite of what was expected. I kept thinking what went wrong; there were only 3 ingredients, how can that happen? We were later introduced to the easy commercial cake mix which cut down time and energy by half. We later phased out the steamed sponge cake for the cake mix.

When I start baking from scratch in my early twenties, I try to venture different recipes from different bakers.  Never had I stop and try the one where I first started and fell. Until one day my aunt call my mother over the phone that she made some sponge cake and she claimed it look so good.  Mom told me the method that my aunt used with the same old recipe: beat the eggs with sugar until fluffy and then mixed the flour. We were skeptical at first since we made sponge cake by beating the whites until fluffy and separately combined the flour and egg yolk before folding both the egg whites and the flour mixture together. In the end, we gave it a try. With the same method as my aunt instructed and relayed from my mom to me, the cake turned out flat. Bakers are definitely no quitters! Unsatisfied, my mom called my aunt again to make sure there’s no missing steps or making sure how “good” was my aunt’s cake claims to be. It took like 5-6 calls before we learn aunt uses her hand to mix in the flour as opposed a electric beater in our case. That all make sense! We over beat the batter, that was why the cake was flat. The second batch, we fold in the flour. Sadly, that failed too since I guess we were so scared of over mixing it. This time, it turns out the batter was UNDER mixed as there were spots of raw flours in the cake. Well, thirds a charm! We gave it a try for the third time. First was over mixed, second was under mixed, this time was just right.  You learn from your own mistakes whether it’s big or small, the most important thing is to acknowledge them and correct them. Also to never give up along the journey.

Hazelnut Chocolate French Crepe

One of the greatest thing in life is when someone share things with you, especially great food. A coworker of mines brought some hazelnut chocolate crepe to our happy lunch table one day and immediately I felt in love with it. This crepe can be found at Costco and was imported from France, sounds luxury already in my opinion. I believe this snack is seasonal as they don’t carry them at Costco year round. It did took me a while to find them in the store, I was going through aisle after aisle. The crepe was so thin, which reminded me of the Lady M crepe cake that I had before. Obviously its not the same as the Lady M crepe cake, but the thinly layers of crepe, although chewy, does melts in my mouth if leave a bit longer. The hazelnut chocolate fillings is not too sweet which creates a nice blend. It is great for anytime snack.

Cranberry Chocolate chip Cookie Coming Right Up!

It has been raining all weekend long. What’s best to do on a raining day? Staying indoors! After having a dim sum brunch with friends and family, I headed straight home as I had a sudden urge to bake. My mom suggested to make some steamed buns, which I fulfilled. But somehow I wasn’t satisfied because I was making the same kinds of buns as I did before. Nothing interesting. Then something struck me. I want to make a test batch of cookie which I plan to make for a cancer fundraising event this upcoming week. I use one of Anna Olsen’s recipe from Oh Yum with Anna Olsen YouTube channel with some alteration.

Ingredients

4oz of soften unsalted butter

1/2 cup of light brown sugar

1/2 cup of granulated sugar (I use a little less than 1/2 cup as my family members don’t like it too sweet)

1 large egg

1 tsp of vanilla extract (I used almond extract because I ran out of vanilla extract)

1 1/4 cup of all purpose flour

1 Tbsp cornstarch

1/2 tsp baking soda (I used baking powder in this case)

1/2 tsp salt (I use a pinch)

1 1/2 cup chocolate chips (I didn’t measure mines, I just add as much as I like)

1 cup of chopped pecans (instead of nuts, I use dried Cranberries)

Methodology:

Combined both sugars with butter using a spatula until well blend. Then add an egg to the mixture and blend it well. Next fold in all the dry ingredients and mix it well. Lastly, add chocolate chips and dried cranberries into the mixture.  Before baking them, Use a spoon to scoop out the dough to form small individual balls,  place them onto a cookie sheet 2-3 inches apart from each other and refrigerate it for an hour.

What I learned and noticed when I bake two batches of cookies one on each rack inside the oven is that the lower rack will always cook faster than the top ones. After about 20 mins, I let it cool and enjoy.

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Cream Cheese Pan Fried Buns

Recently, I have experimented on steamed buns and have continuously making them for a period of time. Today I want to try something new, something different. I YouTube some recipes and stumbled upon a recipe from Amanda Taste. Her recipe doesn’t required any baking nor steaming. She introduced me to a new method of preparing buns: pan fried. This is so intriguing and quite interesting. Thought I’ll give it a try. The ingredients are quite simple (I do not own the recipe, credit goes to Amanda Taste’s channel on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gmhb2HTrbKE):

250g Bread Flour

125g of milk

1 egg

1tsp of active yeast

3 Tbsp of sugar

pinch of salt

60g of softened butter

100g powdered sugar

150g cream cheese

The method is very simple. First, combine bread flour, milk, egg, yeast, salt and sugar together until the dough is formed. Next, slowly add the softened butter in 3 parts to the dough so that dough can be absorbed. Set the dough aside to rise, this takes roughly about 2 hours depending on the temperature. I usually place it on the upper rack inside the oven with a bowl of hot water right under the dough so it can rise faster. In the meantime, on a separate bowl, whisk the cream cheese until loosen and add the powdered sugar into the mix. This will be the filling. Once the dough is ready (rise twice in size), divide the dough into small individual balls. Flattens each dough balls into thin round sheets and wrap the fillings with it. Place the uncooked buns unto a parchment paper and transfer them into a pan, cover the pan with a lid. Turn on the stove and put it on the lowest setting. Wait until the buns expand in size and flip the buns over. According to Amanda’s Taste, it takes 8 minutes to be cooked. For some reason, mines took an hour or so. I thought maybe the difference in stove setting, pans, or size of the buns? I want to play it safe and cook longer than expected. But definitely 8 minutes is nowhere near cook in my case. I make this twice, the first batch with all purpose flour and the second batch with bread flour. Because the first batch I use was all purpose flour, I thought maybe that might be the reason my batch takes so much longer than what was shown. Therefore, I went and purchased bread flour for the second batch which sadly turns out to use the same amount of time. The texture on both type of flour used is slightly different in my opinion. Overall, it was a fun new experience. It does takes a lots of patience in pan frying these buns in my case.