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December 21, 2010

Gingersnap Cookies, do you believe?

"Mommy, Santa is not real, isn't he?" My 10 year old girl asked me the other day while I was driving to take her to the dance class. I knew that this moment will come someday and I have to give an answer at some point of her young life, but never come up with a good way to respond.
Some might tell their children that Santa is not real and his existence is all made up by grown-ups, but I hesitate to say that to mine. Of course I've never seen Santa myself but I do believe in him, in my heart.

Believing in something can bring miracles. It is not important seeing with your own eyes to believe. It is about how pure your heart is, and follow what it tells you. Children have pure hearts like blank canvas. They believe the power and the spirit of Christmas even without seeking the sign or going into intellectual logistics. Because of their pure innocence it cures their aching hearts, brings them smiles, and delivers them hopes for the future. I somehow lost some of that pure heart in me a long time ago.

I answered to my daughter that evening in the car, "I've never seen Santa myself so I can't not tell you whether he is real or not. But I can tell you this. I got older and distracted with many things in life. I started not to believe him anymore and that's when I lost my magic in Christmas. I think Santa never visited me ever since. If I have believed him I bet he would still have visited me." My girl did not say any word after that.

I like to make gingersnap cookies holiday season. There is nothing like smelling the fragrance of spice coming out of oven during holiday. This is one of my favorite Christmas cookies and my kids love them. It is not that spicy compared to other spiced cookies and you can variate cooking time depend on the texture you prefer. This is not the chewy kind of cookie recipe, although it is not too dry either. Somewhat crunch on the outside and soft inside.  This recipe is from the Joy of baking.

You know what? When you carry the the spirit with you, everything turns out better somehow. So turn on your favorite Christmas music and let's get in the mood!

Grab the supplies for this recipe.

First sift flour with ground clove, cinnamon, ginger and salt. Set aside.

Dump butter and sugars in a mixer.

Beat them in a medium speed until fluffy scraping the bowl once.

Add this sticky gooey molasses, the vintage form of sweetener. Be careful not to drop this jar on the floor. It will be a red alert natural disaster if you do.

Add vanilla and an egg. Can't imagine baking without the help of chicken, can you?

Beat until mixed.

Reduce the mixing speed to low and slowly add flour.

Mix until they get incorporated.

You need to chill the dough for 30 minutes in the fridge, or put it outside somewhere cold if your fridge is full of stuff.

Roll the dough into 1" balls, coat them with granulated sugar. I used organic granulated sugar this time. I sometimes use turbinado sugar and it gives nice crunch.

Place them on the parchment papered baking sheet, spacing 2" apart.

Using the flat bottom of glass, press down each balls to make disks about 2" in diameter. You want to dip the glass bottom in sugar each time to avoid sticking.

Ready to bake in preheated 350º F oven for 12-15 minutes.

I like mine baked for 12 minutes. It was just right texture for crispy outside and soft in the middle.

Cool them on the wired rack completely. These gingersnaps freeze beautifully which I love, so I can always take some out to put in a pretty gift bag to handout whenever I need.

My 7 year old wrote a letter to Santa with his wish list. He is a believer and no one can tear down his world of wonder and magic. I want him to keep his world as long as he can.

"Mommy, how can Santa come in to our place, we don't have chimney and we live on the 11th floor?" he asked.
"I am sure he will find a way. Do you remember he came to our house in Hong Kong last year? We lived on the 40th floor, you know." I replied.
"Oh! I hope Santa knows that we moved... Can you email him?"

Have a wonderful Christmas everyone!

Gingersnap Cookies
recipe from the "Joy of baking"
makes about 4 dozen cookies

3/4 cup (170g) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup (105g) dark brown sugar
1/2 cup (100g) white granulated sugar
1/4 cup (60ml) unsulphured molasses
1 large egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups (260g) all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground clove
1 cup granulated white sugar for coating

Sift flour, cinnamon, ginger, clove, and salt in a bowl, set aside.
In a mixer with paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugars on a medium speed until light and fluffy. Add molasses, egg and vanilla and beat until incorporated. Turn the mixer speed to low, add the flour mixture and mix until combined. Chill the dough for about 30 minutes or until firm.

Preheat oven to 350º F (180º C). Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
Pour 1 cup of white granulated sugar in a shallow bowl. When the dough is chilled roll into 1" balls, then roll the balls into sugar to coat them thoroughly. Place them on the baking sheet, spacing 2" apart. With the flat bottom of a glass, flatten the ball to make disks, about 2" in diameter.

Bake for about 12-15 minutes or until the cookies feel dry and firm on top. The longer the cookies bake, the more crisp they will be. Cool on a wire rack.
They freeze beautifully for longer storage.

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December 16, 2010

Pecan Balls, wishing for a white Christmas

I have to admit that I am a little Christmas fanatic.  I collect old world European vintage ornaments, nativity sets around the world, Christmas villages, etc. I love to decorate my house for holiday, bake cookies and sweet breads, enjoying Christmas craft with my kids, entertain friends for a special meals, or bringing endless dishes to parties, and etc... I just love to feel the spirit of giving and share the love with people I adore or even ones whom I hesitate to adore.

Although I don't have access to those Christmas treasures of mine this year (all in the storage somewhere), it doesn't mean that I can't enjoy the spirit of Christmas. In fact I find myself focusing more on the true meaning of Christmas rather than all the bells and whistles that I often put more weight on. This is a season we celebrate, the joy and peace on earth, the spirit of giving.

Every year I bake cookies to give out as presents. I often look for new recipes for fancy holiday cookies. However there is one Christmas cookie that I always make. It is the pecan balls. It is an old classic, melt in you mouth cookies. My kids call them "snow ball cookies".

This buttery soft cookies with pecan bites will melt you like snow in the sun. They are easy to make and not overly sweet, which I like. The only weakness of this type of cookies is that you can't freeze them due to the powdered sugar coating. But who cares? They will be gone by the end of the day.

 Simple cookies, simple ingredients. I don't need to name them, do I?

First, you need to chop your pecans finely. I wouldn't use food processor for this job because it will ground them. You want tiny pieces to bite on. Set them aside.

Dump butter sticks (room temperature) and 1/2 cup powdered sugar in a mixer.

 Beat them until creamy on medium speed.

Add vanilla and beat even more until real creamy.

 Sift flour and 1/4tsp baking powder together.

 Add flour into creamed butter mixture. Make sure your mixer speed is on low.

 Just mix until they get mingled each other. Do not over mix!

 Add the nut of your labor, the chopping job of the day. I mean the pecans.

 Stir them until all mixed. Done!

 Make 1" balls with the dough, put them on the parchment papered pan or greased pan, 1 1/2" apart.
 I can fit 30 ball on a half sheet pan as you see. Bake for 25 minutes on 300ºF preheated oven.

 They puffed just a little. Perfect! Let them sit in the pan for 1 minute.

 When the cookies are still warm, roll them in powdered sugar. Put the first ball in your mouth and savor. You deserve it.

Let them cool on a wired rack completely. I dusted with more sugar on top. You can keep them in an airtight container for a few days.

 "Oh, the weather outside is frightful,
But the fire is so delightful,
And since we've no place to go,
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow..."

My kids haven't seen the snow for a few years,
Everyday they wish for it so they can build a snowman,
And I'm dreaming of a white Christmas.
Enjoy the cookies.

Pecan Balls
makes 4 dozens

1 cup (1/2 lb) butter at room temperature
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 tsp vanilla 
2 cup flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1 cup finely chopped pecan 
1 1/2 cup powdered sugar for coating

Preheat oven to 300ºF, place parchment paper or silicon mat on your baking sheet.
In an electric mixing bowl beat together butter, sugar and vanilla on medium speed until very creamy.
In a separate bowl sift flour and baking powder, add to the butter mixture on a low speed, mix until well incorporated. Stir in pecans.

Make 1" balls with the dough and place on a baking sheet, 1 1/2" apart from each other.
Bake for 25 minutes. Let them rest for 1 minutes in a sheet and roll in the powdered sugar when the cookies are still warm. Store the cookies in the airtight container for a few days.

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December 14, 2010

Kimchi or Kimchee, mastering the art of Kimchee vol 3

No matter how festive Korean meals are, how fancy everything looks, if there is no Kimchee on the table, then, that Korean feast is not completed. That's how important our Kimchee is.
There are over 200 different types of Kimchee. Every region in Korea has developed their unique way of making it with different ingredients. This version of cabbage Kimchee method is good for winter time when the cabbages are in good season so that Kimchee can be stored through the winter. 
In 2008, Health Magazine announced Kimchee (Kimchi) as one of the 5 world's healthiest foods.  According to the recent study the good bacteria called "Lactobacilli" in Kimchee help digestions in the body and prevents yeast infection, even the growth of cancer. However Kimchee has its weakness as well, the sodium intake and the spiciness. Using the solution of 1:10 (salt : water) ratio over a long period time rather than burying the cabbages in the salt directly will keep the sodium level on just right amount.
What is good Kimchee like? The texture. It should be crunch and cool. Good Kimchee should not be too salty nor spicy. Even Koreans won't eat if the Kimchee is too spicy. Sometimes red chili flakes from Mexico yields strong spiciness. Chinese chili flakes tends to be darker in color, which means less appealing in the eyes, and not as flavorful as Korean origin.
Also You should be able to taste the pungent flavor in the mouth that is almost unforgettable if you never tried Kimchee before. Once you get used to the flavor, you are hooked. You will crave the flavor.
Welcome back to my final episode of Kimchee class. We are going to wrap up our cabbages to make scrumptious Kimchee.

Remember the Kimchee filling "soh" from the last session? If you are ready to move on to our last chapter of Kimchee making, there are two important items you need to have before we start. 

First, go to your closet and find your husband's (or boyfriend's) hideous shirt that you hate. If you are a boy, put on the shirt that your grandma or mom gave you last Christmas that you don't dare to wear in the public but can't donate either for emotional reason. This is not a time to wear fancy Dolce and Gabbana silk blouse. Chances are you will get some splashes of chili filling on you and this will make a genius excuse to recycle them. Smart, huh!

Second, get a pair of plastic glove.
Don't you even think about a pair you have in your house that you used to clean the bathrooms. If you do, I won't talk to you! This cost only about $1.60(USD) and you should declare them as the Holy Kimchee glove. They will be your guardian angel of your delicate hands.

Now, are you ready? Let's get to work.

Chapter III : The grand assembly

 If Edward has scissor hands, then, I have Kimchee hands. Put them on proudly.

 Now I am going to have you imagine yourself changing a baby's diaper. Have you done it before? If not, this will be a good practice. With your left hand hold up the cabbage just like you would hold the baby's legs and release the most outside leaf to be flat. (You will need a large somewhat shallow mixing bowl to do this) With right hand spread the filling onto the leaf just like on the photo. Make sure you reach to all the nooks and crannies like you would clean the baby's bottom. Sorry to make you imagine that! :-)

 Repeat the layers one leaf at a time. Do not put too much "soh" on each leaf.

I don't need Picasso on the wall. This is artistically good enough to inspire me everyday.

Fold the end leafy part of cabbage toward the stem holding them together.

Remember the rough green leaves we reserved? Just scrunch it with a little bit of "soh". (It was not easy to do wrapping with only one hand and trying to take a picture with the other)
If my fairy godmother would grant me one wish at that moment I would ask for an extra arm, and then later I will regret rest of my life for not asking a pair of glass slipper.

Tightly wrap around the cabbage. She needs to hibernate. Wrapping will help the cabbage to keep its flavor during fermentation process.

My Kimchee sisters are nicely stacked in an airtight container.

Add about 1 cup of water to your mixing bowl you assembled Kimchee in, swirl around to rinse the "soh" and pour over the Kimchee. This will make some Kimchee juice later on to use in soups and stews. The "soh" amount I gave you in the recipe should be more than enough for 2 cabbages. Keep the leftover in the fridge for later use.

"Behold the power of Kimchee!"

My container comes with airtight seal cover in it. It is better to keep your Kimchee not to contact with too much air. You don't have to have this fancy container, of course. You can put your Kimchee in a ziplock back and let the air out, seal it, and then put in a container. That will help to shut out the air from Kimchee.

Let your Kimchee rest in the room temperature for a day or two depends on the room temperature in your house and how much of fermentation you desire. I left mine for a day and half in a 74ºF room and it was just right for me.
Put them in the fridge. They will continue to ferment in a slower speed than room temperature. Your Kimchee can last several month in the fridge.

Yes, Kimchee making is a work but it pays off. Think of how many dishes you can create; the soups and stews, fried rice, dumplings, noodles, stir-fries, and so on..., the possibilities are endless. I will be enjoying the fruit of my labor throughout this winter.
So next time you go to Korean market and see the gorgeous cabbages? Think hard.
Make it or buy it? That is the question.

The Kimchee class is now officially over.
The recipe is written below.
Thanks for all your kinds words and encouragements.

It is my favorite season of the year.
Hustle and bustle, fun to observe people shopping in the stores...
This petite Korean woman is getting in the mood of baking cookies.
Perhaps I will share with you one of my favorite holiday cookie recipe next posting.
I have been spicy for couple of weeks, so
I better show you the sweeter side of mine.
I am a sweet Ajumma after all,
Although I hate to admit that I am an Ajumma...

 Cabbage Kimchee or Kimchi
(배추김치, Baechoo Kimchee)
makes 8 cabbage quarters

For the soaking
2 whole nappa cabbage (about 5 lb or 2.3 kg each)
3 cups Korean coarse sea salt plus 1 cup more for sprinkling
30 cups water

For the rice glue
a handful of each dried anchovy, shrimp, kelp, and Pollock fish
3 cups water
2 Tbsp sweet, glutenous rice flour

For the filling
1 Korean radish (about 3 lb or 1kg) sliced thin and julienne to 1/8" sticks
2 bunch green onion, cut into 1 1/2" long both white and green
4 cups Korean red chili flakes
1/2 large onion roughly diced
10 cloves garlic
2" piece ginger peeled and roughly chopped
4 Tbsp anchovy sauce
4 Tbsp shrimp sauce (salted shrimp)
1 1/2 Tbsp sugar
2 Tbsp toasted sesame seeds

For the soaking;
Remove the most rough outer leaves (about 2-3 leaves) from each cabbage, set aside. Give a 2"
slit to the stem part of cabbage, open up and rinse them. You can give another 2" slit on the center stem part of the cabbage halves.
Sprinkle some salt onto the white stem part of each leaf of the cabbage, make sure you salt each and reach to the tip of the stem. Be careful not to break the leaf. In a deep large container dissolve 3 cups of salt with 30 cups of water. Place the cabbage facing up and press them down so the solution will sip through each layer. It is okay if your cabbages are not completely immersed in the solution at this point.
Cover the cabbage halves with the reserved green leaves, put plastic cover, and place something heavy on top. Let it soak for 8 hours, turn the cabbages to the other side, place the covers and heavy item back to push down, let it soak for another 4 hours. After 12 hours, try to bend the stem part of each cabbage. If they are willing to bend,  it is done. If not, Sprinkle a little more salt on the stem part and soak for 2 more hours.
Remove the cabbages and the rough leaves from the solution and rinse 3 times. Cut the cabbage laves into another half. This will make 8 cabbage quarters. Drain the cabbages in the colander or basket for at least 2 hours so the water will drain out thoroughly. You can cover them with a large bowl or plastic to prevent them from drying out during this step.

For the rice glue;
Bring to boil water with dried seafood in a pot, covered. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and let it sit for 20 minutes to intensify the stock. Strain the stock and reserve 2 cups.
In a small pot, whisk 1 1/2 cup of stock with rice flour, bring to boil whisking continuously until it gets bubbly and thickened. Let it cool. Reserve 1/2 cup of the stock for other use later.

For the filling;
In a blender puree onion, garlic, ginger and the reserved 1/2 cup of seafood stock until smooth.
Pour chili flakes in a large mixing bowl, add the garlic mixture puree and the cooled rice glue, anchovy sauce, shrimp sauce, sugar, sesame seeds. Mix well.
Add sliced radish and the green onion to the chili mixture and mix again. It will look like mostly radish and green onion at this point. Let them sit for 30 minutes so the radish will extract their moisture and get wilted. Your filling should be spreadable consistency. You can adjust with more stock in case your filling seems too thick.
Break a little piece from cabbage,  put a little bit of chili filling and taste to see if it is seasoned right. You might need more fish sauce or salt depends on the sodium level in the soaked cabbage.

For the assembly;
You will need large shallow mixing bowl to do this job.
Hold the cabbage quarter upward with your left hand and release the outside leaf to be flat in the bowl. With you right hand take some of the chili filling and spread all over the leaf, put down another layer one at a time and repeat. Don't put too much of filling on each leaf, just enough to cover. When all the layers are spread with chili filling, fold the leafy part of the cabbage toward the stem holding them together and wrap with the reserved rough green leaves tightly. Place each cabbage quarters in the air tight container. Add 1 cup of water to the mixing bowl and swirl around to rinse the filling residue in the bowl, pour it over the cabbage in the container. Seal the container and let it sit in a room temperature for 1-2 days depends on the room temperature or the fermentation level you desire. Keep your Kimchee in the fridge after that. It can store for several month to enjoy.

Note: The filling amount is perhaps more than enough for 2 heads of cabbages. I always keep the leftover in the fridge and make Bean Sprout Kimchee with it.

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