Year of the Rabbit 2011

The SF Chinese New Year parade was last weekend and once again my family had a great time, despite the rain.  Actually by the time of the parade there was just a light drizzle.  The sights, the sounds, the smells, the tastes – it was a feast for everyone.  We did much of the usual.  Except we also shared the day with friends who hadn’t ever been to the parade.  Experiencing it with someone new is always fun and my kids loved showing them around.

Starting with the Pet Store.  It has an amazing array of unique fish (koi from $2 to $200 each), birds (they even said “hello” and “bye bye”), and reptiles.

Next it was visiting the shops on Stockton Street to see and smell the dried fish, teas, and uniquely chinese ingredients. 

On next to the fortune cookie factory.  I’ve paid the $.50 in the years previous to take a photo but didn’t feel the need to do it again as there were many people waiting and it was drizzling inside.  Here’s last year’s photo.  Nothing changes here anyways.

Finally it was time for dinner at the Oriental Pearl Restaurant.  This year I was able to get a photo of the seafood bird’s nest before they cracked it open.  We also had peking duck, lettuce cups, dumplings, noodles, pea shoots (my favorite) and shu mei.  The kids like the large “lazy susan” (turntable) in the middle of the table the best.  Spinning tea and food to their friends was hard to resist.

Then it was on to the parade.  The rain and cold (in the low 40’s!) didn’t dampen the spirits and there were plenty of people on the streets.  After a few stilt walkers floats and bands our kids were more interested in the poppers, smoke bombs and firecrackers in the crowd and got a bit restless.  They did a few of their own lion dances and spraklers, then we decided to head home early and watch the televised parade with a closer view from our warm house.  That’s the end of the Chinese New Year festivities for 2011.  Although we’ll plan to experience the sights and flavors of Chinatown throughout the year. Gung Hay Fat Choy!


To Market To Market…What To Buy Where?

I thought these articles about what to buy at Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods was very interesting and pretty true to my life.  Especially since these are my main markets.  Trader Joe’s for staples such as flatbread, crackers, cereal/oatmeal, baking supplies, cheeses (and of course orchids).  Whole Foods for well, whole foods (produce, meat, fish, specialty items). 

Take a look at these articles from Eating Well Magazine ….

Trader Joe’s

Whole Foods


King Cake Take 1

So remember I was going to research and test a King Cake?  Since I wanted to make my own, I decided to try the “simple version” first, as found on a few websites.  Some said to make the filling in a food processor to combine, but I omitted that step and just creamed the ingredients in a bowl.  Even easier.  Also most recipes are to serve a party of 8 – 12 (or even more).  This king cake was only going to my 4 member family, so I reduced ingredients for a smaller version.

I had to not overthink the quick version recipe.  I was going to have to buy cresent roll dough from a can.  I know I’m a snob.  I have never bought this myself however I remember having these many times as a kid and watching and helping my mom open the can and arrange them on baking sheets.  I now introduced my daughter to the can and how to bang it on the counter just right to get the dough to pop out.  She thought it was odd.  However she loved getting her hands in the dough and pinching seams to hold in the filling.  She also chose where to put the “baby” (we used a walnut halve as I didn’t have a plastic baby on hand).  This came in handy later when she was able to choose her piece and (miraculously) she got the “baby” and the luck – much to my son’s dissapproval.  Although he wasn’t around for making the cake and filling, he was there for decorating and had a good time with the colored sugars.  Our cake actually looked tame and healthy compared to photos of others we found online.

Since this method is a common one for making filled coffee cakes or Danish pastry rings, and we weren’t having a Mardi Gras party this evening, I decided to serve it for breakfast the next morning with eggs and fruit.  It was yummy.  And I think I’d make the filling again to spread on bagels and toast.
2 ounces cream cheese

1/4 cup brown sugar, packed

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 tablespoons raisins, soaked in hot water for 15 minutes, drained, and patted dry on paper towels

1/4 cup chopped pecan pieces


1 roll refrigerated crescent rolls in the can


3/4 cups confectioners’ sugar 

2 to 3 tablespoons milk

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Purple, green, and yellow colored sugar crystals or food coloring

To make the filling:  In a small bowl, cream together cream cheese, brown sugar, cinnamon and raisins. Add peacan pieces. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 F. Line and grease a baking sheet.

Unroll crescent roll dough and separate into triangles. Position triangles next to each other with the points toward the center, overlapping the long sides about 1/4-inch, forming a large round on the baking sheet. Where the pieces overlap, press the seams together only in the center of each seam, leaving either ends of the seams unsealed so you can fold them up over the filling.

Spread the filling around in a ring covering the center sealed seam of each triangle.

Place a small plastic baby or nut somewhere in the filling. (The person who gets this piece will have good luck for the year and has to supply next year’s cake.)

Fold the short side of each triangle toward the center just to the edge of the filling to cover. Then pull the point end of the triangles toward the outer rim of the pan to fully enclose the filling, tucking under the points. Lightly press the seams.

Bake 20 to 25 minutes until golden brown. Let cool to room temperature.

To make icing:  Whisk together the confectioners’ sugar, milk or cream, and vanilla until smooth. The consistency should be fairly thick, but still thin enough to slowly drip down the sides. Add more milk as necessary. Spoon the icing in a ring over the top of the King Cake and allow it to slowly drip down the sides.

To decorate sprinkle wide stripes of purple (denoting justice), green (faith), and yellow (power) with colored sugars.


Study Linking Junk Food to Lower IQ for Children

According to a study by Bristol University, toddlers fed a diet of junk food can suffer lasting damage to their brainpower.  Researchers warn that children who eat more chips, crisps, biscuits and pizza before the age of three have a lower IQ five years later, a study showed.

Read  article here:


Happy Post V-Day with Pot de Creme

For Valentine’s Day my husband and kids and I had a romantic San Francisco style dinner of cracked crab, chowder, spinach salad and sourdough.  O.K. it was made by me at home and not romantic (but sweet).  No worries, as my husband and I will go out on the weekend. 

I did want to do something special and make my husband’s favorite dessert.  Not only is his favorite Chocolate Pot de Creme, but specifically one from Foreign Cinema Restaurant in SF.  So I couldn’t have been any luckier when I saw the recipe from Foreign Cinema’s Gayle Pirie and John Clark in the Sunday, January 30th edition of the San Francisco Chronicle.  I secretly found it, cut it and squirreled it away for Valentine’s. 

Everyone liked it, especially the kids.  Although the Foreign Cinema atmosphere, waitstaff and clean up was missing.  My daughter and I even made the Naomi’s Almond Wafer’s which accompanied the article and served it with a strawberry on top.  Which was my daughter’s suggestion.

Click here for the recipe if you want something creamy, rich and comforting to share with your Valentine and/or kids.  This was quite easy, although can be messy.  I was also glad I removed the ramekins from the hot water (just out of the oven) without kids in the kitchen as it could have been trouble.  I found I needed to cook them about 4 – 5 minutes longer than the 15 – 20 minutes, as they were all liquid.

removing from water
my sous chef making wafers

Chinese New Year Approaches…

I love holidays and celebrations that last more than one day.  Sure there’s the holiday season that everyone talks about regarding Thanksgiving and Christmas, but I feel like it’s a lot of prep for one main event/day.  Chinese New Year lasts about 2 weeks.  And there are different festivals and ritutals throughout.   So if you’re not ready, the first night, no worries there’s lots more to days to cook, decorate, celebrate etc.  I also like to get a jump on activities so I can share them here and also incorporate things into my kids’ schools.

So my first Chinese New Year event this year was a dim sum lunch for a friend’s baby shower.  When I arrived a few weeks ago I had bought the baby a super soft stuffed rabbit with a chime inside.  Little did I know when I bought it 2011 was going to be the year of the rabbit.  Score 1 for me.  “How appropriate!”

Second lucky Chinese New Year event…February 3rd (first day of new year celebration) I got my son’s hair cut.  Later I found out this was very lucky for Chinese New Year.  Hooray, score 2.  More accidental luck.

So what could I do for the next good luck thing.  I thought Long Life Noodles would be appropriate.  This also made a great meatless Monday meal.  For something difference and to give a boost of protein I added some sizzling tofu (see below).  

Long Life Noodles

( from Petit Appetit: Eat, Drink and Be Merry.  Easy, Organic Snacks, Beverages, and Party Foods for Kids of All Ages)

Fireworks, lantern festivals, dragon dances, parades, and lots of food are all part of this special occasion. Both symbolic and delicious, noodles make a great food for sharing during Chinese New Year. There are many options for noodles that could work besides rice noodles; try Chinese egg noodles, udon, or soba for a variation. The peanut butter lends a bit of sweetness your child will enjoy.

Makes 8 to 10 (1-cup) servings

8 ounces rice noodles

2 teaspoons expeller-pressed canola oil

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger or ½ teaspoon ground ginger

1 cup julienned organic carrot (1 large)

1 cup julienned organic red bell pepper (1 large or 4 mini)

¼ cup chopped scallions (about 3)

2 tablespoons gluten-free tamari

1 tablespoon peanut butter

½ cup organic vegetable broth

1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lime juice

optional – sizzling tofu

16 oz. organic tofu 

Prepare the noodles according to package directions. Drain and set aside.

            Heat 1 teaspoon of the oil in a medium pot over medium heat. Add the garlic and ginger and cook until fragrant and soft, about 1 minute. Add the carrot and bell pepper and cover. Cook until vegetables are tender but not soft, 5 to 7 minutes.

            Add remaining 1 teaspoon oil, scallions, tamari, peanut butter, broth, and lime juice and bring to a boil. Add the noodles and heat until hot, stirring to combine with vegetables and sauce.

For sizzling tofu:

Cut tofu into 2 inch cubes.  After each cut be sure to press out liquid with a clean kitchen towel.  Marinate in light soy sauce or desired sauce such as gyoza or hoison for 1 hour.

Transfer tofu to hot non-stick skillet and cook until each side is browned.  Total time about 5 minutes.  Serve over noodles.


The Quest for the King (Cake)…

Is this a crazy looking cake or what?

So I love a parade and all things having to do with New Orleans, especially the food.  However I have never make or tasted a king cake.  These are the one’s baked with a baby inside and whoever get’s the babe makes the cake and hosts the next year’s party.  Sounds fun.  But when I looked into recipes they are all over the board…Made with braided dough, created from crescent rolls, baked in a bundt pan, etc.  And the ingredients are all different too.  Purple food color, colored sprinkles, candied citron, cream cheese filling, etc.  I need help. 

So please if you have a recipe you’d like to share I would really appreciate it and will spend the next few weeks before Fat Tuesday baking, testing, reviewing and sharing here with everyone.


Mom’s Meatloaf Made Better with…..

BACON!  O.k. so this is not big news for most people.  However it was for my kids.  I guess I hadn’t put bacon on the top of my meatloaf or at least not that they could remember.  At first, they said “ew, mom.  That doesn’t look good” (see pic).  Of course once it came out of the oven they were fighting over who got more bacon on their slice.  Now, I should warn you, I didn’t go whole hog.  This was turkey bacon.  But it was delicious without being gluttonous. 

This was also a good make ahead recipe.  I’m finding I’m cooking or at least prepping my mid-week dinners around 3:30.  With the kids’ school and activities’ schedule, this is when we’re home before rushing out to a 4:45 class of Tae Kwon Do or Performing Arts.  Coming home at 6 is rough if you have to make dinner, give showers and get kids to get bed by 8.   So making ahead is key.

Here’s my recipe from The Petit Appetit cookbook, with the additional directions for bacon.

Mom’s Meat Loaf

Here's before cooking. (It smelled so good, we ate it before I could take a cooked pic.)

Why is it meat loaf and not something sexier like “beefcake”?   This version has some unexpected veggies inside for choosey eaters.  Serve with roasted red pepper sauce  or ketchup for dipping.  Mashed carrots and potatoes is the perfect side dish. 

 ¼ cup diced organic red pepper

¼ cup diced organic carrot

¼ cup diced onion

2 cage- free organic eggs, slightly beaten

¼ cup milk

1 tablespoon fresh parsley

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

2 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan cheese

¼ teaspoon sea salt

¼ teaspoon black pepper

¼ cup dry bread crumbs

2 pounds organic lean ground beef (no more than 10% fat)

 optional:  6 pieces turkey bacon

Preheat oven to 375 F.  Line shallow baking pan with aluminum foil, and grease with cooking oil.  In a large bowl combine all ingredients except beef.  Add beef and mix with a rubber spatula or your hands, so everything is evenly distributed.  Shape meat into desired shape and place in prepared pan.  It is best if meat does not touch sides of pan. (optional: drape uncooked turkey bacon over the top or meatloaf before baking) 

Bake meat loaf 45 – 55 minutes of until done.  Allow meat to rest for 10 minutes.

Shape it up!  A meatloaf can be formed into a traditional square or rectangle shape, but how about a fish or a heart?  This recipe also works well by filling greased muffin tins with meat mixture.  This is fun for kids and will make about 24 round beef cakes, and take less time to cook, about 30 – 35 minutes.