define: raclette

a swiss dish consisting of a chunk of raclette cheese that is exposed to heat (traditionally an open fire) and scraped off as it melts… comes from racler, french for “to scrape.” it’s served as a meal with boiled potatoes, dark bread and cornichons, or other pickled vegetables.

There’s no better time to enjoy this dish than in the autumn & winter months. Just like all the holiday decor, it, too, creates that cozy/ warm/ fuzzy feeling inside and truly satisfies any comfort food craving this time of year!

I decided to share this definition with you, because I just saw this awesome little raclette maker in Crate & Barrel’s holiday gift guide (which you’ll find on page 54!) It’s really such a simple concept, but so, so delicious! If you haven’t tried it before, I suggest you do so before the weather warms up again.

P.S. it’s pronounced rah-klet.

Salted Caramel Buttercream

Salted Caramel Buttercream

I have been talking about making salted caramel buttercream to pair with chocolate cupcakes for 2 months now, but I never got around to actually doing it, until this past week. You can ask my sister! Seriously, I borrowed her electric mixer two weeks before we left for our trip home (mind you, that was back in the first week of September!) So, I have no idea why it has taken me this long, but I’m glad I finally did it… because I’m never doing it again!* Hah.

You see, I don’t have much of a sweet tooth – I never have – so I don’t bake on a regular basis, nor do I feel the need to experiment with pastries & desserts. From a young age, I have always thought of baking as kind of the boring part of cooking, since you don’t have the liberty to mess with your proportions/ ingredients, without sacrificing the flakiness of your pastry, or  how well your soufflé will rise (totes been there before and it was so not cool). Don’t get me wrong, I love desserts… I just don’t love eating them very often, or making them myself.

Anyway, I thought since I acquired all these awesome baking skills while working at ACPC (and can literally bake a cake with my eyes closed) I would give the buttercream a whirl. The recipe I used & adapted was from here. Note that I said “adapted” again… of course, I did not follow the recipe. Well, only because it was meant for caramel buttercream, and I wanted to make salted caramel buttercream. Oh, I also thought it was asking for way too many sweet ingredients, and I just couldn’t fathom why on earth the buttercream would need to be that sweet.

Oh, so before you read the recipe below, I should warn you that these quantities are whack. The book claims it’s good for 24 cupcakes, but homegirl couldn’t be any more wrong. I made it as directed and then literally only used 1/4 of what I made (and ended up giving the other 3/4 to my sister to freeze for another time!) If the same happens to you, don’t say nobody warned you!

Salted Caramel Buttercream

2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 pound (about 3 3/4 cups) confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1/2 cup prepared dulce de leche
1 tsp pure vanilla extract – I decided to go with vanilla essence instead
sea salt, coarsely ground, to taste

Using an electric mixer, beat the butter on high until light and fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Reduce the mixer speed to low and gradually add in the sugar, then the dulce de leche, vanilla (if you decide to use it) and salt. Beat until smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.

Pipe the buttercream onto cooled cupcakes as you wish, and garnish with sea salt on top. Here’s where I used ground sea salt but wished I used it in the rock form instead, because it would’ve looked a whole lot cooler for the photo.

*So, coming back to why I’m never making this again: (1) it was the sweetest thing I have ever tasted, and oh my god, it was nauseating, and (2) I swear I inhaled at least a half cup of confection sugar! A little advice: you might want to wear a medical mask, or hold your breath forever, to prevent this from happening to you. Also, please don’t ask for the chocolate cupcake recipe because – who are we kidding?! – you know I didn’t make that from scratch.

And there you have it: the most positive buttercream experience you will ever read about, lol. Enjoy!

Israeli Couscous

Israeli_Couscous

The greatest thing about food is all the “togetherness” that it brings. Families & friends bond at the dinner table. They laugh, argue (not just over who gets the last piece of garlic bread!) and learn new things about each other with every meal. New family members are celebrated with fancy dinner-dances, and who can forget the comfort you get from devouring your grandmother’s signature dish. Mothers’ show their love through a well thought-out meal after a long day, and little kids have the chance to experience new ingredients & flavors, all while secretly expanding their palates.

Do you see what I mean? SO much happens when food is involved.

One other thing that I love about food, is being able to share & swap recipes with my loved ones. Not only does the recipe you’re given instruct you on how to recreate a dish, but it also allows you to reminisce.

That being said, this particular recipe was adapted from one of my favorite dishes by Mum Khaneja. She introduced the hubso & I to Israeli couscous this past summer (during our trip home for her birthday weekend) and we automatically hit it off! Because of the instant attraction, I so eagerly wanted to share this recipe with my mum… and finally got the chance bring her some couscous when we  recently visited HK. She hasn’t gotten round to cooking it though, because – funny enough – I forgot to give her the recipe. Hah.

Anyway, this one’s for you, Mum!

Israeli Couscous w/ Veggies

1 pkt Roland’s whole wheat Israeli couscous – I use this one in particular
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 yellow onion, julienned
3 cups baby spinach
3/4 cup carrots, shoestringed
1/2 cup baby bella mushrooms, sliced
4-8 oz sugar snap peas, washed & trimmed – I love them, so tend to go overboard here!
1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
salt & pepper, to taste

Prepare the couscous as directed on the packet. After this is done set the pot aside, covered, and grab a wok/ non-stick sauté pan. Heat the oil and sauté the garlic over medium-high heat for about 1 minute, but not until it’s browned. Add the onions and cook until slightly browned & translucent. Then add your carrots, sugar snap peas & mushrooms, and cook thoroughly for about 3-4 minutes (you’ll want the sugar snaps to become a bright vibrant green!) Season with salt/ pepper as you see fit. Next, combine the couscous with your sautéed veggies and make sure you leave any remaining liquid in the mix (this is where all the flavor is). Sauté for another minute or two, until all components are well incorporated, and turn off the heat. Fold in the spinach so that is just begins to wilt.

Serve & enjoy hot. You can have this as a side dish at a BBQ (think lamb chops, sausages, etc.) or throw in your choice of meat to create an entree-size meal.

This recipe makes about 4 (side) servings.

define: velveting

a technique in chinese cuisine for preserving the moisture of meat while cooking. it provides a soft or “velvety” texture to the meat of any entree. this technique is applied to raw meat before cooking, and involves pre-coating the meat with a mixture of oil, egg white, cornstarch, and sherry or rice wine.

Have you ever made a stir fry so enthusiastically but were left disappointed because your chicken ended up super dry & rubbery? If your answer is yes, don’t worry… so have I (sad story, I know). Well, cry no more, my friends, because now you know what you were missing!

So let me keep it real for you – don’t even bother with the egg whites, and the oil, and all that fancy stuff… the most important ingredient here is cornstarch. I mean, think about it: why would you waste your time with the extra stuff when all you’re trying to do is make a quick (yummy) meal after work?!

If it makes you feel any better, I don’t entertain the fancies. I just sprinkle on a little bit of salt & pepper and generously coat the chicken with cornstarch (I prefer to massage the cornstarch in because the last thing I want is lumps in my food. Uhhh… ew). Next, marinate the chicken in your stir fry sauce for a good 20 minutes at room temperature; and then when you’re ready, throw the meat into a wok with some veggies and you’ve got yourself some juicy, moist Kung Pao Chicken! Woo!

P.S. I cheated today. I googled the definition because my dictionary didn’t know the definition.

Little Tea Sandwiches

Little Tea Sandwiches

I’ve always been fond of high-tea and everything that this particular dining experience brings to the table (I love using that phrase!) The sandwiches are the perfect combination of sweet & savory ingredients, along with unique pairings of exciting flavors. The little guys are stacked beautifully on a 3-tier tower and are accompanied by a pot of your favorite tea… who wouldn’t love this?!

With high-tea on my mind, I decided to make 3 of my favorite little tea sandwiches for a friend’s potluck picnic happening this weekend. The ingredients aren’t expensive and the preparation process was very simple so I don’t really have a “recipe” for you guys… but I do have this amazing list of 50 tea sandwiches to share with you!

Peanut Butter & Banana

whole wheat bread, sliced
banana, thinly sliced
creamy peanut butter – I liked to use Skippy 

Spread the peanut butter on one side of both slices of the bread, and pile on the banana slices (I go a little crazy here because I love banana, but feel free to do as much as you like). Close the sandwich and slice into 4 squares with, or without the crusts on.

Cucumber & Basil

white sandwich bread, sliced
english cucumbers, thinly sliced
fresh basil leaves
avocado, mashed
3 tsp whipped butter – I used a little more butter since I was making a larger quantity
parsley, fresh or dried
a couple of dashes of lime juice
garlic salt & pepper, to taste

In a small bowl combine the butter, avocado, parsley, garlic salt & pepper. Mix thoroughly to ensure all ingredients are incorporated well, into a smooth-ish spread. Apply the spread onto one side of both slices of bread, and layer the cucumber slices on. Sprinkle lightly with pepper and place the basil leaves on top. Close the sandwich and slice into 4 squares with, our without, the crusts on.

Ham & Brie

deli low sodium ham, thinly sliced – I prefer the Boars Head brand
brie, sliced length ways
dijon mustard
medium pretzel roll

Spread the dijon mustard on the inside of a split pretzel roll. Place one slice of brie on the bread, then pile the deli ham and close the sandwich. Slice into 5 pieces.

Serve each sandwich with your favorite cup of tea & enjoy!