Tuesday, May 29, 2012

DIY Lemon Cake

In the winter months, we seem to consume all things pumpkin. But now lemons and other fruits are in season, and I'm baking with lighter flavors. You definitely need fresh lemons to make this cake taste right, but it is a very easy recipe. We love this simple lemon cake topped just with lemon curd. If you want to make a layer cake you could use the lemon curd as filling and top with buttercream frosting. The lemon curd is also great for topping scones, toast, or muffins and sounds very fancy when served at something like a ladies' tea.

Homemade Lemon Cake Recipe

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup oil
  • 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (or I often use the concentrate from when I make homemade lemonade the easy way)
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 3 eggs
  • 1–2 Tbsp freshly grated lemon zest
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  1. Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl and stir until well combined.
  2. Pour into a greased 9x13 pan (or two 8 inch round cake pans).
  3. Bake in a preheated oven at 350F for 30–40 minutes until lightly brown on top and toothpick comes out clean.
  4. Allow to cool.

Homemade Lemon Curd Recipe

 briefly adapted from allrecipes

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (or I often use the concentrate from when I make homemade lemonade the easy way)
  • 1/4 cup melted butter
  • 2–3 Tbsp freshly grated lemon zest
  1. Combine eggs and sugar in a double boiler. Then stir in lemon juice, melted butter, and lemon zest.
  2. Simmer in a double boiler for 10–15 minutes or until thickened.
  3. Pour through a strainer to remove any egg white particles if necessary.
  4. Allow to cool; the curd will continue to thicken. Spread on cooled cake or enjoy on scones or toast. 

Monday, May 28, 2012

Mandarin Mondays: 杨梅 (Chinese Waxberry)

While fish heads, chicken feet, and some other delicacies here, may not particularly be our favorites, one thing we do love about the food here is all the different fruit we get to try. This region, because of it's mild climate and long growing seasons, has a exceptional amount of fruit and vegetables all year long. Like most of the world, the people here mostly eat seasonally and locally grown produce, with very little imported. But because of the abundance and variety available in this area, this is very easy to do here and get a well rounded diet and not get bored. We definitely appreciate this about this area because as Americans we are particularly spoiled by the notion that we should be able to have virtually any type of produce at any time of the year. This just isn't the case for most of the world, and many areas of China have vastly different climates and much less variety of produce.

One of our favorite seasonal fruits this time of year is the Chinese Waxberry or Chinese Bayberry. Although since we have only known these in China, we never call them that and only use the Mandarin name yángméi (杨梅). These taste like a cross between a raspberry and a cranberry to us. Our boys absolutely love them, which sometimes surprises the Chinese people, because they can be quite tart.

Recently, Nate took the boys to pick some growing in our apartment complex. This batch wasn't all the way ripe so they were more sour than usual. I ended up boiling, mashing, straining out the pits, and then adding sugar to make yángméi pancake syrup. It turned out great and the boys were super excited with their special pancake sauce.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Family Fridays: Potty Training Update

Andrew had a bit of a breakthrough this past week in that he actually learned how make himself go number one. So he has been going right away and having much fewer accidents. Yesterday, he stayed completely dry all day, and today as well.

He has still been not wanting to go number two on the potty, but this evening he finally said he had to go and then finally did. He got a tiny ice cream cone to celebrate that prestigious achievement! So this was the first day without any form of accidents. I'm sure we still have a ways to go before he is really good at this whole potty business, but we've come a long way baby.

DIY French Silk Pie

As a kid, my parents would take turns taking us on mother-daughter or father-daughter dates to different places to spend some one-on-one time together. One of the places we often went to was Baker Square, where I would almost always get French silk pie. Probably because it was chocolate, and this pie was amazing there.

Well, recently I was having a craving for French silk pie, so that's what I asked my husband and boys to make me for mother's day. It turned out amazing, especially considering we only have a hand crank mixer, so my awesome husband whipped up the perfect fluffy filling with just that and a lot of elbow grease. If you have an electric mixer or especially an electric stand mixer this recipe would be a lot easier.

This recipe is slightly adapted from allrecipes. The filling either makes a thick regular 9 inch pie pan full of filling or a thin 9x13 pan. We made a 9x13 pan and topped it with a lot of whipped cream and chocolate chips. This was a good choice for us because it is such a rich filling. This recipe does have raw eggs in it, so if you are in a high risk group or worried about consuming raw eggs you can buy pasteurized eggs, pasteurize you own eggs, or just skip this recipe.

Homemade French Silk Pie Recipe

  • Pie crust (1/2 of this recipe make one regular pie pan, 1 whole recipe will make a 9x13 pie pan)
  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 1/2 cups white sugar
  • 4-8 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder (depending on how dark your cocoa powder and how dark you want your filling)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 4 eggs
  • whipping cream whipped for topping pie
  • chocolate chips or chocolate curls for topping pie
  1. Prepare pie crust using this or your favorite recipe and let cool.
  2. For the filing cream together butter and sugar. Blend in cocoa and vanilla.
  3. Beating in one egg and beat until thoroughly incorporated. Up to five minutes per egg for optimal consistency, even with a regular electric mixer. Repeat with each remaining egg. Keep whipping until fluffy.
  4. Spread in cooked and cooled pie shell.
  5. Top with whipped cream and chocolate as desired and refrigerate until serving and for storage.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Mandarin Mondays: 鱼 (Fish)

Last week, a friend of mine taught me how to make steamed fish (yú, 鱼) in a traditional Chinese way. I am not a huge fan of fish, but this was quite good and Andrew (our two year old) couldn't get enough.

First we went to the market so my friend could pick out a fish. After she bought the fish they gutted and scaled it for her.

We took it back to her apartment where she put it on a plate with fresh herbs. She also place a dish with soy sauce and oil on the side. Then this whole plate goes into a wok on a wire rack to keep in elevated out of the water in the bottom of the wok. The wok should already be steaming hot when you put the plate in, and then you simply cover and steam the fish for 9 minutes. It has to be 9 minutes exactly, per instructions. Then you pour the sauce over the fish and eat!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

DIY Easy Dark Chocolate Cake

This is the recipe for the cake my guys made for my birthday. It was absolutely awesome with chocolate ganache and caramel sauce on top, but I am sure it would be great with regular frosting on top as well. I think it would be hard to go wrong with this cake as a base for a dessert recipe.

Homemade One Bowl Dark Chocolate Cake recipe

  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup boiling water
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease 9x13 cake pan.
  2. In a large bowl, stir together the sugar, flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt. Add the eggs, milk, and oil, mix until well combined. Stir in the boiling water last. Batter will be thin. Pour evenly into the prepared pan.
  3. Bake 30–35 minutes in the preheated oven, until the cake tests done with a toothpick. Cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Mandarin Mondays: 下雨 (Rain)

May is usually when the rainy season begins. Right now, many people are hoping that it will begin in earnest soon because we have had a very dry winter (dōng tiān, 冬天) and spring (chūn tiān, 春天). While this made for a very nice mild temperature and climate, the city could use the water. Today was the first rain (xiàyǔ, 下) this May (wǔ yuè, 五月). We'll see if this starts a trend.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Family Fridays: My Birthday

This past Friday was my 26th birthday, and it was a lovely day. My husband and boys spoiled me.
Pastries from local Western bakery, yummy start to my birthday.
Nate and Aaron baking an amazing dark chocolate cake for me.
Even Andrew got to help.
Relaxing with Andrew and new baby.
A sweet friend of mine made me a chocolate, chocolate cake.
The boys were very excited about an extra surprise cake.
Nate brought back McDonald's double cheeseburgers.
Double cheeseburgers taste amazing on this side of the world.
My sweet honey got me beautiful flowers.
Aaron went with daddy to get the flowers and brought me this rose.
He bought it with his very own cuteness!
He also managed to get me a birthday balloon
from the pharmacy with his cuteness.
Andrew found a balloon in the house to give me too,
little sweetheart.
Aaron wanted to play party games.
Cards and gifts from Nate and the Boys. My sweet honey also wrote
me a computer program so we can organize our family videos better.
Amazing dark chocolate cake, with chocolate ganache,
caramel sauce, and chocolate chips on top.
Yea, for cake number two!
We continued celebrating the next day by going
to Chicago Coffee for pizza. The boys enjoyed coloring
with our friends there.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

DIY Caramel or Turtle Ice Cream

It is no secret that I love caramel. This recipe and variations thereof have probably become my all time favorite ice cream. We made this together today to have for my birthday tomorrow. I basically used David Lebovit'z salted butter caramel ice cream recipe, but I broke it down into easier steps and came up with some variations of this recipe. Adding chocolate and walnuts to make this into turtle ice cream is even better, if that's possible.

To me, this recipe is easier to understand when it is broken down into several steps. Making hard caramel candy chips, making caramel sauce, turning the caramel sauce into a custard ice cream base, and freezing and adding desired additions. I am not sure if it would work, but you could try starting with a pint of store bought caramel and making the ice cream custard from that to save some work. Let me know if you try it how it turns out. However, homemade caramel is really so much better than store bought it might not be worth it anyway. And how can you go wrong with a ice cream base that has butter in it?

Homemade Caramel or Turtle Ice Cream Recipe

Recipe makes 1 generous quart or liter of ice cream

Hard Caramel Candy Chips
Pictures of this process here.
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  1. Line an 8x8 baking pan with parchment paper, or just get out a silicone baking pan to have ready nearby.
  2. In a very clean and dry saucepan, begin heating the sugar, stirring occasionally to keep it from burning.
  3. Continue heating the sugar, stirring occasionally, until it is all melted and has turned amber in color. Stirring too frequently can result in lumpy caramel. However, stirring too little or heating too long can cause the caramel to scorch and burn. This is really not difficult, but you do have to keep a close eye on this recipe.
  4. Once all of the sugar is melted and turned a beautiful amber, very carefully pour into prepared baking pan. Melted sugar is extremely hot so be careful not to burn yourself. Wearing oven mitts and a long sleeved shirt is a good precaution.
  5. Spread out the melted sugar with a spatula to cover the entire bottom of the pan.
  6. After the caramel has cooled and hardened, break it into pieces. You can use a mortar and pestle, rolling pin, meat tenderizer, or even your hands (if you are really determined) for this step.
  7. Set aside caramel chips to mix into ice cream later.
Caramel Sauce
(Pictures of this process here.)

  • 1 1/2 cups white granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup (4 Tbsp) butter
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  1. Begin by placing sugar in a medium to large saucepan over low heat. Even though this recipe only makes about 1 pint of sauce altogether, you need a much bigger saucepan because the caramelized sugar will bubble and foam up a lot when you add the butter and cream, and you don't want to get burned.
  2. Melt all of the sugar completely, stirring and swirling the pot as necessary to keep it from burning. Be aware that too much stirring can make the final product a little lumpy.
  3. Once all of the sugar is melted, add the butter carefully and stir to combine. Some of the caramel may harden and seize, but if you just keep stirring it over low heat, it will melt into liquid again.
  4. Then add the cream a little at a time because this is when the mixture will really bubble up. The caramel will harden again, but just keep stirring over low heat until it melts. 
Custard Base
  1. To the caramel sauce, add 1 cup of milk to the sauce and stir over low heat until well combined.
  2. Put five egg yolks in a small bowl and whisk egg yolks. Begin adding some of the warm milk mixture to the egg yolks. When the egg yolk mixture is warm, add it into the milk mixture, and continue heating over low heat, stirring frequently until the custard thickens enough to coat the spatula or spoon.
  3. In a heat- and freezer-safe mixing bowl, add one cup of cold milk and then the custard. Mix until well combined. Chill until mixture has cooled.
  4. At this point, you can freeze the ice cream in an ice cream maker if you have one. Or if you don't have an ice cream freezer, simply mix all ingredients in a freezer safe bowl or pan and place in your regular freezer. After about 30–60 minutes, check on the ice cream, and stir vigorously with a spatula or hand mixer to break up the ice crystals. Repeat this process every 30–45 minutes until the ice cream is frozen well. In general, the more you break up the ice crystals, the longer it will take for the ice cream to freeze, but the smoother the end result will be. There is a lot more information on making ice cream and frozen yogurt on David Lebovitz's site.
  5. When the ice cream is semi set mix in caramel chips for all caramel ice cream. 
For Turtle Ice Cream
Make caramel ice cream as directed above.
Mix in:
  • Caramel chips like directed above
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips or chunks
  • 1/2 cup walnuts

Place in Freezer to set up more before serving. This is the one homemade ice cream that I make that stays somewhat soft even in our freezer which is very cold. The high sugar content of the caramel gives it this wonderful soft and rich consistency.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

DIY Chocolate Ganache

This week, I am sharing some of my all time favorite foods in honor of my birthday. Chocolate ganache is a favorite way to eat a favorite food, chocolate. This chocolate ganache recipe is great for using in place of or over traditional frosting. It looks really elegant, but is quite simple to make. Make a thicker ganache by decrease the amount of cream, or increasing the amount of chocolate. A thicker ganache makes a great filling for cake, and a super-thick ganache is the base for chocolate truffles.

This could even make a great unique gift for a chocolate loving friend, as it is far better than any store-bought chocolate sauce out there for ice cream.

Homemade Chocolate Ganache Recipe
  • 6 oz chocolate chopped or (1 cup) chocolate chips (use whatever % of cacao that you prefer to eat plain because there is no additional sweetener in this recipe)
  • 1 cup whipping cream
    1. Chop the chocolate and place in a heat safe mixing bowl.
    2. In a saucepan, heat the cream to just simmering, stirring frequently to avoid burning. Once the edges begin to bubble, pour over chocolate.
    3. Let is sit a few minutes so the chocolate begins to melt, and then stir until well combined and smooth.
    4. Chill in the refrigerator until desired consistency or until ready to serve.
    5. Pour over cake, ice cream, or other dessert.
    6. Enjoy!


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