Thursday, December 19, 2013


I'm pretty much done with the Christmas baking here in Seattle. I'm heading down to LA to visit my Mom tonight with tins of cookies for my Mom and her partner Ed and I doubt that I will make any more cookies while I am there, but we do have a family Christmas Eve dinner for all the relatives at my cousin's house that will be a buffet of Chinese food (and I will be making some) but I may get the urge to make a few of the cookies I didn't do this year. I usually make about 9 different kinds and so far I have given up at 6.  Last night, though, I made my son's favorite cookie and my Father's too - the Snickerdoodle.  Now this is an American classic cookie and can be made any time.  It's really just a puffy sugar cookie topped with cinnamon sugar.  It's perfect with a cup of tea, coffee, hot chocolate or milk and is a wonderfully simple and  homey treat.  I used to bake them small when my kids were little, and now prefer them bigger.  The only unusual ingredient is Cream of Tartar, which is worth buying because it lasts forever.  Kids love this cookie so you might want to add it to your list of Christmas cookies too!


2 2/3 cups flour
2 teaspoons Cream of Tartar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup of unsalted butter ( 2 sticks softened)
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 large eggs

For Topping: 2 Tablespoons Sugar mixed with 2 teaspoons Cinnamon in a shallow bowl

Preheat the Oven to 400 degrees.  In a large bowl, mix together the flour, Cream of Tartar, baking soda and salt.  In another bowl, cream together the butter and sugar (I use the Cuisinart).  Then add in the eggs and blend thoroughly.  Then add in the dry ingredients half at a time and mix until blended.  Break off pieces of the  cookie dough about the size of a walnut and roll in between your hands until it is a smooth ball.  Dip the ball of dough into the cinnamon sugar and place on the cookie sheet about 2 - 3 inches apart.  Press down to flatten the cookie with the bottom of a coffee mug or glass.  Bake for 10 - 12 minutes or until lightly browned on the bottom edges.  Let cool and enjoy.

Five Element Analysis

Cookies are an Earth food because they are so sweet.  This one also has the added bonus of just a bit of cinnamon, which brings in the Metal Element along with the butter and Cream of Tartar.  The Water Element is represented in the Eggs and the Wood Element by the Wheat Flour. Only the Fire Element is missing, which is why serving these with coffee or tea is such a good idea!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Steak and Mushroom Savory Pastry

When I first visited New Zealand, I was quite taken by their savory pies and ate them frequently. I am quite sure they came with the immigrants from Cornwall and are a variation of the famous Cornish Pasties - the hand pies that the miners took to work to have for lunch. I particularly liked the steak and mushroom version so I decided to create it as an open-faced savory pastry instead. I had some Puff Pastry lingering in the freezer and some leftover rare roast beef. I combined that with some onions, fresh button mushrooms and made a quick gravy that became a wonderful snack that fed my son and his friend. It was a big hit and I will definitely be making this snack again!  

Steak and Mushroom Savory Pastry

2 cups cubed leftover roast beef (or 1/2 pound ground beef cooked)

1 small onion, minced
1/2 pound button mushrooms, washed, stemmed and sliced
2 Tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup beef (or chicken) broth
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 frozen sheet of Puff Pastry (I used Pepperidge Farm) thawed

Heat the oven to 375 degrees

Melt butter in a large frying pan.  Add in the onion and cook until wilted. Add in the mushrooms and salt and saute until the mushrooms are soft. Add in the beef and toss to mix.  In a small bowl, stir the cornstarch into the broth and add to the pan. Cook until sauce is thickened. Take off the heat and cool until ready to use.

Spread the puff pastry on a large baking pan.  Roll the edges to form a ridge and then spread the meat mixture over the pastry to the edges.  Put into the oven and cook until the puff pastry is  browned - about 25 minutes.  

Five Element Analysis

Beef and mushrooms both belong to the Earth Element so this is fundamentally an Earthy snack.  The onions add some of the Metal Element and the wheat in the Puff Pastry contributes the Wood Element.  The Water and Fire Elements are missing so serve it with some tea or soda and perhaps another Watery snack like hummus and celery sticks to achieve balance. Otherwise, serve those elemental foods at another meal that day.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Christmas Eve Tamales

It's time for me to get ready for Christmas and besides baking loads of cookies to give away, I also make Tamales.  I guess this is a side effect of growing up in Southern California, but to me it is an important food of the holidays.  I make them ahead of time and freeze most of them so that I can cook them. Most Mexican people have them for Christmas Eve, but I usually serve them on Christmas Day as my family does a Chinese banquet for that night. 

Tamales are pretty easy to make, but they look intimidating.  I think the hardest thing for most people to deal with is the lard (Manteca) that you have to use to make them. I know a lot of people who think that this kind of fat is bad for you, when in fact recent studies show that it is very healthy. It assists in making Vitamin D, is good for the skin, hair and nervous system and is seen in Chinese Medicine as an aid to keeping you warm in the winter. That's why so many Northern European countries include lard in some form as part of their winter food - such as Schmaltz spread on bread. So once you get over your fear of lard, you will realize what a good food it is!

Most of the ingredients for Tamales are readily available in most West Coast grocery stores, but in other places, you may need to find the corn husks and masa online or at Latin grocery stores. I usually make both pork and beef tamales.  They are made the same way and they are both delicious.  If you love tamales, I hope you will try to make them too.  

Christmas Eve Pork (or Beef) Tamales

1 package of corn husks soaked in cold water overnight

For Filling

3 pounds pork roast, cut into 4 – 5 big chunks (can also use chuck roast)
1 large onion, cut into quarters
2 cloves garlic
3 whole New Mexico Chiles
10 cups water
Salt to taste
1 teaspoon of ground Cumin

Put pork in a large pot and cover with water.  Add in the onion, garlic clove and Chiles.  Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.  Occasionally skim off the foam that rises.  Cook for one hour and then season to taste with salt.  Continue to cook for 2 more hours.  Remove pork (or beef) and shred when cool enough.  Scoop out the onion, garlic and chiles.  Remove the tops of the chiles and then put them with the garlic and onions into a Cuisinart and puree with a small amount of broth to make a paste.  Add to the shredded pork (or beef) and mix thoroughly.  Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of cumin if desired. Put pork (or beef) and broth aside until needed. 

For Masa:

4 cups Masa Harina
2 cups lard
3 – 4 cups of Broth from Pork
2 teaspoons salt

Put 4 cups of Masa in a stand mixer.  Add in the lard and mix until evenly distributed.  Add in enough broth from the pork to make a smooth paste

To Assemble Tamales:

Take one corn husk and lay flat with the narrower side closest to you.  Take a ball of Masa about the size of a small tangerine and press on the corn husk, about 2 inches from the top and bottom and at least ½ inch from the sides.  Place about 2 Tablespoons of pork in the center.  Take one side of the corn husk and roll over and tuck just before reaching the other of the masa and continue to roll until a packet is formed.  With the folded edge facing you, fold the narrow bottom of the corn husk toward the center and lay the tamale with the folded side down on a plate.  Repeat until all the masa and pork is used up. If desired, you can use little strips of torn corn husk to tie the tamales.

To cook:  

Place the tamales you want to eat immediately into a steamer basket with the fold side down (I used a Chinese Bamboo Steamer over a wok) and steam for 1 hour.  Freeze the remainder of the tamales and when ready to eat, steam for  5 – 10 minutes to warm them up or place in the microwave with a wet paper towel over the tamale.  Serve with Salsa Ranchero (February 14, 2012 post)

Five Element Analysis

Corn meal is a very Earth food so that element is covered.  However, the pork is a Water Food and the onions and garlic in the cooking broth and also in the salsa along with the Cilantro add in the Metal Element.  The Fire Element is present in the Chiles and the Tomatoes in the Salsa.  The pork and the method of cooking – steaming – also contribute a lot of the Water Element.  The Wood Element only shows up in the lime juice in the salsa but this element needs enhancing so be sure to serve these tamales with another Wood food, like a green vegetable to achieve balance.  

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Martin's Foam Cream Sauce for Strawberries and Meringue

This is a delightful sauce that is like a cross between a Sabayon (or Zabiglione) without any alcohol and a Pavlova. It's also a lot like what's called Eton Mess in England, but the creamy egg sauce is richer and I think a bit more sophisticated. It was served by Martin at my birthday party and I fell in love with it and have been meaning to share it with you ever since. If you want a special dessert sauce for strawberries, you need to try this one. It's fabulous!

Martin’s Foam Cream Sauce for Strawberries and Meringue

½ cup sugar
6 egg yolks (pasteurized)
2 cups of heavy whipping cream
4 cups of Strawberries, washed, trimmed and cut into half
1 Large Meringue (recipe below), broken into bite sized pieces (or use meringue cookies from Trader Joes)

Heat sugar until melted and barely caramelized (just turning color) and cool to room temperature.  Put into a large bowl. Then add to the egg yolks and beat until creamy.

Whip cream without sugar until soft peaks form.  Fold into the egg mixture very gently until just blended.

Break meringues into bite sized pieces and place at the bottom of serving dish.  Then pour the sauce over.  Drop in Strawberries and serve immediately.

Optional Variations:

Add 1 teaspoon instant coffee granules to whipped cream for Mocha Sauce
Add ½ teaspoon of grated orange peel to the whipped cream plus 1 shot of Grand Marnier to the Egg Sauce

Meringue Recipe

4 room-temperature egg whites

Pinch salt

1 cup plus 2 tbsp. sugar

2 tsp. cornstarch

1 tsp. white vinegar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a baking pan with parchment paper.  Put egg whites and salt in a large bowl and whip with a mixer on medium until frothy. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until whites form stiff peaks.  Gradually add sugar while mixing and then increase the speed to high and beat until egg whites are stiff and shiny. Sprinkle cornstarch and vinegar over the egg whites and then gently fold them in.
Spoon meringue onto the parchment gently and create about a 10-inch circle.  Place in the middle of the oven and reduce the heat to 300 degrees.  Bake for one hour.  Then turn off the oven and leave meringue in until it is completely cooled off – this may take 3 – 4 hours.  
Five Element Analysis
Eggs belong to the Water Element so that element is covered as is the Earth Element since this is a sweet dessert. The strawberries bring in the Fire Element and the Cream brings in the Metal Element. Only the Wood Element is missing so be sure to serve this after a meal that includes those kinds of food - like plenty of green vegetables or chicken.