Monday, March 31, 2008

Coming Soon: Mendocino!

Country Cute Charm
Homemade Breakfasts



Long Boardwalks

Friday, March 28, 2008

Je pense que je suis obsédée

"I think I'm obsessed." I said these words to a friend, tonight. Nevermind that his answer was "you're just now figuring that out?" before he even realized what I was doing. I was actually referring to the fact that I was in the kitchen making my second batch of French macarons in less than 24 hours. He thought I meant in general. Hrmph!! Well okay so perhaps he's right - I do tend to go a little crazy when I find something I like. And boy did I like those macarons!!!

Folks who tried them did too! I had a meeting with my senior director this morning and brought her a few (why did Gia immediately rub his nose when I told him that?) and she went so crazy over them she ran to the next office over to share them with another director who "LOVES macarons". Wow.

As the last line in my previous post stated - I was ready to try some different flavors! First one on my list: Pistachio! I'm not sure why except that I love the idea of turning out light green cookies. What I hadn't thought about was that the pistachios I had at home, and was ready to make into little soft fluffy macarons, were in shells and salted. So I rolled up my sleeves and started shelling pistachios, washing the salt off, drying them in the oven and then grinding them so that they'd push through a sieve. WHEW!

I wasn't as happy with this batch though. They were DANG tasty but I think I spoiled myself turning out such perfect macarons last night on my first try. Could I have gotten *gasp* overly confident?? Never! I think I worked the batter too much this time and then didn't bake them long enough. They're not quite dry enough in the center - but boy they sure do taste delicious! I shelled, washed, dried and ground even more pistachios to make a vanilla pistachio buttercream for the filling. Yummy! This is so fun! More than anything I love the idea of churning out different colors and flavors of the same type of cookie. To my friends: I'm taking requests - got a favorite macaron flavor? Leave a comment and I'll try it (and if you're local I'll try to get some to you!)

Have a great weekend everyone!

Macarons vs. Macaroons

I did it! I made French macarons SUCCESSFULLY on my first try! Hallelujah!! *dancing a jig* First things first - there is a difference between the macaron and the macaroon. The latter being utterly disgusting in my opinion. The former being a delectable mountain of soft chewy sweetness. Big difference. Macaroons are blobs of meringue with nasty coconut mixed in. Macarons (aka. French macaroons) are little sandwich cookies typically varying in creative and beautiful colors and flavors. The macaron is supposed to be very difficult to do successfully but I found it quite easy tonight after all the research I'd done and with a lot of help and trial-and-error done by others first ;)! Basically I've poring through a ton of different food blogs which thankfully go into a lot of depth about how to make these beautiful and delicate little cookies. I even found myself trying to remember all my high school French whilst coming upon a French blog explaining the "how to" - but gave up quickly!

Here's who helped me tremendously - many thanks to these folks:
A La Cuisine
Traveler's Lunchbox

And just have to add a couple links to the famous Macaron Houses in Paris:
Ladurée - be sure to click on this to see the most famous AMAZING macarons!
Pierre Hermé - these are $3 per macaron!!!

Thank goodness for the above listed bloggers' pages and pages of notes on how to make perfect little macarons. I've been studying these pages for a couple weeks now - planning my attack and putting together a recipe in my head. My best discovery was that I can buy almond meal at gourmet grocery stores as opposed to dealing with grinding it up myself to the perfect texture. That is perhaps what saved me. I have to say the "funnest" part was tracing the bottom of a shot glass onto the back of my parchment paper so that I could attempt to make symmetrical cookies to sandwich together. The next "funnest" was piping the batter out of a corner-cut sandwich baggy since I didn't have a large enough tip! I chose to make a bittersweet chocolate ganache filling. It was really simple to make with some heavy cream and good quality bittersweet chocolate.

I cannot WAIT to try some different colors and flavors. Hehe... I'm just getting started...

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Cakey Crunchy Coffee

I forgot to blog about this. And maybe no one cares. But I do - so I'm blogging about it right now! My family's famous Coffee Crunch Cake. This recipe has been in my family for I'm guessing more than 50 years. Something my Auntie Betty found perhaps before, but more likely after, the famous Blum's Bakery (Eastern Bakery and Yasukochi's Sweet Shop have their own versions also) started serving it up to drooling customers. There is a lemon version my family has their paws on as well, but I have never made it. Perhaps I'll need to try it sometime too. But we're talking about the coffee version here - so let's continue. In my humble opinion our coffee crunch cake is better than Eastern Bakery's. Eastern's is a little more like toffee (ie: a little harder and sticks in your teeth) and I can't say I've tried Yasukochi's nor was I around to try Blum's in the mid-20th Century. So as far as I'm concerned this cake is the BEST! Every time I serve it I get rave reviews.  But you definitely need to have a sweet tooth to really enjoy it...which I do!  Desserts are by far a favorite in my family. At every family party there is roughly 1 dessert per every 2-3 people. That's not really even an exaggeration!

Making my point: this is Thanksgiving 2007. Granted our get together is roughly 80
people but look how many desserts there are - and not all of them made it into the picture!

I keep getting off topic...

I really enjoy making this cake. I'm not sure why exactly because it really is a lot of work. But perhaps because of the work - it is SO satisfying to gaze upon the finished product. The photo at the top of my post was taken immediately following completion; but when you let the cake sit around for an hour or two (in the fridge, of course) the "crunch" starts to melt a little and just looks amazing! Here's all the work that goes into making a Lee Family Coffee Crunch Cake:

First I make the sponge cake. This itself takes forever because of the roughly 30 minutes you spend whipping egg yolks and whites (separately). But at least if you have a stand mixer, you can set it to GO and get to little things around the house - only needing to check in periodically. The most fun for me is when I take my sponge cake out of the oven because it's to be cooled upside down over a beer bottle! One time I took the cake out too early and the entire middle of the cake ended up on the counter about 3 minutes into "cooling". Eeeks!! While the cake cools I typically get started on the crunch part. This also takes forever - about an hour to come up to the temperature I need it to be. The crunch looks like this (on the left) as it cools. Crazy huh? After it cools completely I have to use a mallet to break it into small pieces... so this gigantic piece of coffee crunch can look a little intimidating!

Finally my favorite part: assembling! I cut the sponge cake into 3 layers, beat up a TON of whipping cream and start in on building my cake. It's certainly not beautiful before I get the whipped cream and crunch onto the outside. But this gives you a view into what's going on inside there! And voila! Coffee Crunch Cake - Lee Aunties style! My cousins enjoyed this cake a couple weeks ago, as did a houseful of friends the next night. That's right I did take a "leftover" cake to a friend's party. Let me tell you... NO ONE complained. :)

Monday, March 24, 2008

No boyz allowed!

While recovering from wrist surgery in early February I was going absolutely stir-crazy thinking about all the things I wanted to do which I could not. Talk about "hard times" making one appreciate things! I hope I never again take my right hand for granted! I found myself scheduling dinner for my cousins, a Girls Night In party and a trip to Mendocino with Mom for our (sometimes yearly sometimes semi-yearly) Girls Trip. Mendocino is still up-and-coming, but this past weekend was the "Girls Night In" party. I basically decided that my girls and I needed a night to ourselves to eat, talk about boys, eat, watch chick flicks, drink cocktails and eat. I wish more of my invite list could have made it - especially since my list consisted of some girls I've been promising a dinner party to for a while now! But with 8 of us together, we ended up having a mellow, happy, delicious and intimate night of girl-bonding. I don't know why the men in our lives don't understand the need for nights like these. All we heard from our significant others was "what will you do all night?" "is it going to be an all-night pillow fight?" Do they really think we absolutely need them around in order to have a great time? ;)

I should have tried harder to get an entire
group shot - Ali and I are missing from this one.

First things first I tried to think up a theme. The night would turn into a slumber party for 5 of us which meant I'd be serving Easter breakfast - so pastels for sure! And what do girls love but "cute, little things" right? So cute little foods is what I made! I got a little carried away for sure though. I'm not sure what I was thinking when I filled my menu with more than 1 dish per girl! Something in my head went out of control... First I was thinking "heavy on appetizers" but then as my "little things" idea came on - I forgot to scale back my already identified appetizers as I continued to add the little-foods! Well somehow it all worked and was amazingly fun (and cute) and I think everyone loved it!

Favorites from the evening ~
For the Cute Factor: Caprese Tomatoes, Mini Baked Potatoes and Baby Blueberry Muffins with a mini version of my Chocolate Chip Cookies as favors.
For the Taste Factor: Tuna & Avocado salad, Filet Mignon (yes this same one) and Petite Cream Puffs.

Too bad eating little things doesn't result in trimming little waistlines!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

A little bit of this and a little bit of that

It may seem like I haven't been knitting at all lately if you go by my entries. But really quite the contrary. The problem is that just about everything I'm knitting right now is a gift for someone who might check my blog! I'll drop a few hints here but probably won't be able to go into any details for another 2-3 months. *sigh*

I've also decided to start in on a summer knit. Something I can get full satisfaction from in that I can complete it and then wear it and not have to wait until the Fall or next Winter. Trying my hand at Coachella in Berroco Suede. So far I'm not very excited about the "yarn". It's nylon and sort of like flat ribbon so if it gets twisted while you're knitting (which it certainly does, and I'm actually not anal enough to untwist it while I knit) then it doesn't lie flat. From reading about Berroco Suede I think it will perhaps fluff up a little if it's washed and dried (?) but I won't know for sure until this is done. I'm also a little worried about about the fit. I should have done a more research before starting this pattern 'cuz everything I read now says it runs really big. I'm making the M and I'm worried that I should be making the S. Not even sure what I'll do if it's enormous when I'm done and the yarn alone cost me $50! Wish me luck!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The other side of my world

I have blogged about my favorite city - Prague. Next on my "where has Lisa traveled to" list is my Most Foreign City. Without a doubt this would be Bangalore, India. I traveled to Bangalore in 2006 to train some of our offshore support workers at Infosys Technologies.

These are unfortunately pretty unflattering (& +10 pounds!) pictures of me around the
Infosys campus - but being mostly by myself it was tough to get into many pictures!

Being half Chinese, when I travel in Northeast Asia I find customs, food and culture mostly familiar or at least reasonably easy to pick up quickly and understand. And of course being from the US, I find most of Europe to also be pretty similar in overall Western culture as well. India was about as foreign as it gets for me. When I left for Bangalore, I knew very little about the food, less about the culture (other than attending 1 Indian wedding and having tons of friendly Indian coworkers) and had been warned numerous times about safety since I was traveling there by myself. It was in this state of mind that I found myself arriving at an airport thick with more mosquitoes inside than outdoors!

Biggest "I'll Never Forget"s:

~Leaving the Four Seasons in Singapore for a tiled dorm room on the Infosys campus in Bangalore. (left)

~Re-teaching a portion of my training session because I didn't understand the "affirmative" head nod that I received in response to asking if the lesson was understood. Affirmative in India looks like "so-so/maybe/a little bit" in the West.

~Being primarily bound to the Infosys campus because it wasn't safe for me to leave on my own. My hosts were only free for dinner one night...

~Seeing cows roam freely in a manner similar to how we see cats enjoying our own neighborhoods. (right)

~Having my cab driver hand me his cell phone upon arrival back at my dorm after being out to dinner, to tell my Infosys hosts (who had called him) that "yes indeed the driver took me back and didn't try to rob me and leave me in the middle of nowhere".

~Being the loneliest I've ever been in my life starting around 12pm and continuing until 9pm when I'd know I couldn't get ahold of anyone in California - because it was 12:30am-9:30am. Truly the other side of the world...

~Stores after stores of amazingly beautiful, colorful, soft, lightweight pashminas primarily imported from Kashmir. (left)

~Eating cup-o-noodles that I brought from Singapore for as many meals as I could draw them out. I had no one to eat with most nights, wasn't familiar with the food nor did I feel like venturing out to the campus restaurants and receiving the constant stares I'd been subjected to all day long already. *sigh* I suppose it was some form of flattery, but I was tired of it.

~Staying within the walls of a multi-billion $$, multi-national corporation all the while being able to glance out my window, over the campus walls to watch people do their laundry in a bucket. (right)

~Feeling unusually tremendous relief at arriving at the airport for my flight home. This was the last time thoughts of "is the cab driver taking me where he says he is?" would be running through my head anytime soon.

~Traffic of the likes I'd never seen anywhere... not in China, not in Germany, not in Mexico, not in Taiwan... Everything from cargo trucks - to mopeds - to rickshaws - to sports cars - to pedestrians - to oxen pulling carts, all traveling along the same road at the same time. (below)

"I'm honking to let you know I'm still here! 6 feet away
from you! Just like I was 30 seconds ago!"

I would never take back this trip. It was incredibly eye opening, built up loads of travel confidence, allowed me an invaluable view into the very different lives of some of my coworkers and most fortunately - brought about a consistently growing fondness for Indian food!

India was unlike anywhere I'd ever been. That's a very cliched remark but it's so accurate. Nothing could have prepared me for the overstimulating sights, far-from-home longings, newly desired flavors, locally stressed caution, "2 hours to travel 10 miles" traffic, or even the fascination with Westerners these very educated workers seemed to possess.

Each car ride I took found me wide-eyed and mouth parted gazing out the window. I'd love to return to India someday. But only with a travel companion (and lots and lots of mosquito repellent) at my side.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Simply the vest!

It's completely done! I finished knitting my first piece of clothing - the vest! I realize it's nothing fancy but I'm still really satisfied that I could [not so much complete the knitting, but] figure out the pattern. That's probably the hardest part of knitting for me - figuring out what the pattern's telling you to do. But I suppose it's not always a disaster if you DO miss something. In fact, I actually decreased the front armholes a little more and started the V a little higher, than either called for in the pattern. But I managed to make it work, and now - no one would know. **Must thank Dad for the engineering genes I have floating through my head and hands.**

Please forgive the particularly silly photos. I finally got someone to take pictures of me (my brother, Mark - on a visit to my parents' place for dinner tonight) and of course that someone is one with whom I probably goof around the most. The funny thing is - upon viewing the pictures they were actually pretty great at showing the details of the vest. You can see the sides - which you couldn't have if I was in "non goof mode" with my arms at my sides.

Now that I’ve worn it and seen these pictures - I think it could stand to be a tad longer. I tend to have a long torso (and short little legs) though, which I should have thought of as I was knitting this sucker. Well, let's see if the more I wear it and stretch it and (essentially) block it after washing it - the more it relaxes.

I'm attempting some new designs in handbags right now. Something I visualized, drew up and am trying out. I'm also tempted to try another sweater. Now that I know I can do it... I want to try something more complicated. Looks like my days of hittin' Michaels for yarn and books are almost over as I find myself investigating patterns and yarn that can only be found at legitimate knitting stores aka. Local Yarn Shop (LYS)s.

*sigh* 5 years ago Saturday nights were spent clubbing in the city. I guarantee tonight I'll be knitting... what happened?!

They say what goes around comes around...

...but for the love of God - I hope leg-warmers never come back into style!

So take a look at my next knitting project - the entire outfit on the left... Kidding, of course. But is that not one of the funniest things you've seen lately? I couldn't help myself but take a picture of this unbelievably awesome knit outfit I discovered while flipping through some of my mom's old knitting books. Seriously - that model is ROCKIN' her 'warmers. That's the closest I've seen to "knit pants" ever! I wonder how many ladies-of-the-eighties actually sat down to knit these beauties. WOW.

And just in case anyone wants to hunt these fashion-forward patterns down and get ready for when they cycle back onto the haute-couture runways, here's the cover of the book. Heck, you can message or email me for the patterns and I'll send 'em on over - just cuz I'd love to know and keep in touch with anyone gearing up to essentially make themselves some Fisherman knit pants!
Title: "Great Classics"

clas·sic (klăs'ĭk) adj.
1. Serving as the established model or standard
2. Having lasting significance or worth; enduring.

Yah, I'm gonna say perhaps not so Classic.

1985 was a good year. Women feathered their hair, and wore fanny-packs, and high waisted jeans and...
.... leg-warmers!

Monday, March 3, 2008

Cup{cake} 'o Kahlua!

Hope you all had a nice weekend! Mine was great - very relaxing and spent a good amount of time with family which is always nice.

A few weekends ago, my cousin made a Kahlua cake for my auntie's Chinese New Year party. I particularly enjoyed it which got me to thinking about Kahlua cakes. Now in terms of my friends, I don't run with a large gang of bakers or anything, but in the last year or two I've been served five, yes five different variations on a Kahlua cake from a different friend (or cousin). Is there a secret R&D group at The Kahlua Company whose sole task is to churn out varying Kahlua cake recipes? Well if so, I guess it's working! I decided to make one. So I started searching the web and discovered something like 10 DIFFERENT (yet very similar) Kahlua cake recipes on alone! Some with chocolate chips, some with nuts, some with a vodka/Kahlua syrup soaked into the top, some with a Kahlua glaze, some using a yellow cake mix and some instructing to make a chocolate cake from scratch. Whew!! Whatever happened to the one faithful "recipe on the box"? [I LOVES me some Rice Krispies treats!]

I finally settled on a no frills recipe. I also decided cupcakes would be more fun and would come out of the oven faster. The fantastic leavening in this recipe made them rise up perfectly! But now what do I do with 18 cupcakes? Hhmm I think some coworkers will be getting awfully lucky upon arrival at the office tomorrow morning...

1 pkg Devil's Food Cake mix
1 small pkg instant chocolate pudding
1 cup sour cream*
1/2 cup oil
1/2 cup water
4 eggs
3/4 cup Kahlua
1 1/4 cups chocolate chips

Combine all ingredients adding chips last. Fill cupcake papers 3/4 of the way. Bake 350 degrees for ~16-20 minutes. Don't over-bake or they'll get dry!

*I only had a 1/2 cup of sour cream so I added a little whipping cream to make up for it. Not sure if it made any kind of difference but I felt better about it. And also sorta felt like I was "putting my own spin" on the recipe. Ha!

Oh and I finished my vest!! It's blocking right now as I type but it seems to have turned out great! I'm really excited (gawd what's happened to me that I'm excited about knitting a vest?) to try it on once it dries!