Tag Archives: baking

Holidays in Monterey

I spent the holidays in Monterey, California visiting with family and friends. It felt wonderful to be home for a couple weeks and enjoyed the home cooking, baking, trying new restaurants, watching movies, shopping, going to the aquarium/downtown/Fisherman’s Wharf, catching up with friends and getting into the Christmas spirit of joy, love and wonder.

Here are from scenes from around the town of Monterey.

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Seasons Greetings from Fisherman’s Wharf

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Boats at Fisherman’s Wharf

Christmas Tree at Del Monte Shopping Center

I also enjoyed home cooking. One of the first meals I had back home was pork chops with onion, fried rice (made with purple rice), salad and a medley of colorful vegetables: Carrots, mushroom, celery. Everything tasted fresh, flavorful and wonderful.

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Another one of my favorite meals was made at a family friend’s place. We had Filipino style noodles with chicken, shrimp, carrots and lettuce. Then we made some fish with onions and shrimp with celery. For dessert, an assortment of cookies (some of them made by me!)

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I loved the homemade lamb chop dish that I helped make. The lamb was seasoned perfectly and tasted tender and delicious. We also added onion and potato, which paired beautifully with the lamb.

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On Christmas day, some family friends came over and we made Chinese steamed dumplings. We created the filling of sticky rice, mushrooms, meat and green onion from scratch and wrapped it in the dumpling skins. After that, they were steamed and they came out a bit soft but still very tasty, especially with some spicy soy sauce.

 

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I made some baked goods as well… The classic chocolate chip cookies and also Christmas cookies with nuts and raisin filling, which we make every holiday season.

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We had fun getting into the holiday spirit by decorating the house with stockings over the fireplace, poinsettias and other flowers, mini Christmas tree…

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Since we didn’t have an actual Christmas tree, we visited family friends who did.

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On Christmas Eve, I had a chance to go to Candy Cane Lane (yes, that is an actual street name) and each house has to decorate on the outside so there is are tons of beautiful lights, displays and a center area with sleigh, reindeer, life size gingerbread house and more. It’s like a magical Christmas Winter Wonderland!

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Below was one of my favorite decorated houses. I just loved the sparkling lights, the bits of blue and red in between the white and the reindeer going up to the chimney! I thought it was both sophisticated and adorable at the same time.

Monterey2014_lightsChristmas morning I made French toast then we opened presents.

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We had dinner at Benihana, where I had a $30 gift certificate for my birthday. We had a great time and great meal there, as usual. It is always fun to watch the chef prepare our meals with finesse and skill. I ordered a passion fruit smoothie with strawberry swirls which was sweet, refreshing and delightful. I would have liked a bit more strawberry flavor though. For my meal, I had Filet Mignon and shrimp, which came with a multitude of sides and appetizers including soup, salad, chicken fried rice, shrimp and vegetables: Mushroom, zucchini and onion. Everything was well made and delicious. I also had chocolate ice cream which came with a lit candle in it and one of the servers played the drums and sang Happy Birthday!

Monterey2014_benihanaSoon after Christmas (2 days), it was my birthday! A friend of mine took me to Carmel for exploring, shopping and lunch at Cypress Inn, a super cute place owned by Doris Day, where they allow dogs. I had the fish and chips, which came with garlic french fries and it tasted amazing. The fish was fried to perfection with great flavor and the french fries were crispy and well seasoned.

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Afterwards, I came home to a lovely surprise party! It was filled with amazing friends, great food, wonderful gifts and a delectable ice cream cake.

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Below are some presents that I received: Clothes, money, scarves, accessories, chocolate and more. Some of my favorite gifts: A gorgeous gold heart necklace with diamonds and a scrapbook of Memories/my life that was made with love and care.

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I had a wonderful holiday back home in California and hope that all your holidays were also beautiful and filled with love, family, friends, spectacular food and fun!

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French Macaron Baking 101

Over the weekend, I took a Macaron Baking 101 class, of the French variety (not the coconut kind) through Skillshare, taught by the very sweet and very knowledgeable Kristen Joerger. It was a bit of a long and involved process, but I love these cookies so much that it didn’t seem like it.

We started with making the filling, splitting up into two groups. I was on the chocolate ganache team, while the others made a blackberry buttercream filling. The chocolate filling was the easier of the two – We weighed out the chocolate (we used grams in this particular recipe, because Kristen believes it’s more accurate), poured the hot heavy cream a little at a time into the chocolate, gently whisking in between. After letting the chocolate mixture cool to a comfortable temperature, add the butter and let cool in the refrigerator. And voila, you have your chocolate ganache!

Then we started on the French Macaron shells. For this we combined almond flour, powdered sugar, egg whites and cocoa to color the shells brown. We had to sift through the mixture to ensure there were no large clumps. Then for the meringue, we whipped egg whites (on high speed) in a mixer, and quickly added hot sugar water to it. It was kind of cool to watch the mixture thicken, and transform into a marshmallow-fluff consistency.

The next step was to fold the meringue (1/3 at a time)  into the almond/powdered sugar mixture in big sweeping motions. It is ready when everything is completely incorporated and the batter runs in a slow, thick ribbon off the spatula.

Fill a pastry bag with the macaron batter, and line baking sheets with parchment paper. Then start piping the macaron shells, by holding the pastry bag at about 90 degrees to the sheet and pipe straight down, cutting off the shell when your circle is about an inch. Below, are the purple macaron shells for the blackberry buttercream filling.

Let the piped macaron shells rest until they no longer stick to your finger when you lightly touch the top of them, which takes about 10-20 minutes. Next, bake them in a pre-heated oven, at 325 F for about 12 minutes. Make sure to turn the pan halfway through. They are done when you lightly tap them and they don’t move too much. Once out of the oven, carefully twist the macaron shells off the parchment and let the shells cool completely before filling.

 

Here is a recipe for the Macaron Shell, taken from Gourmet or Gourmand:

  • 1 1/4 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 cup almond flour
  • 3 egg whites at room temperature
  • 3 Tb. granulated sugar
  • pinch of cream of tartar
  • coloring: only powder or gel
  1. Blend the confectioner’s sugar and the almond flour in a food processor.
  2. Begin to whip the egg whites in a stand mixer until they start to froth. Add a pinch of cream of tartar, and as they foam up more gradually add the granulated sugar. Beat until stiff.
  3. Add the almond mixture to the egg white mixture and fold until the mixture begins to flow “like magma”. I would say this will take about 40 – 60 turns of the spatula.
  4. Fill pastry bag fitted with 1/4 ” tip and make 1 inch mounds on cookie sheets lined with parchment. Let sit for at least 20 minutes.
  5. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 12 minutes.

And the recipe for Chocolate Ganache Filling, from Chow:

  • 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter (1/4 stick), at room temperature and cut into cubes
  1. Place the chopped chocolate in a large bowl.
  2. Warm the cream in a small saucepan over medium heat until it just starts to boil. Stir it into the chocolate without creating bubbles. Let sit for 1 minute.
  3. Add the butter and stir until smooth.
  4. Chill in the refrigerator until thickened but still spreadable, about 30 minutes.

To assemble:

Pair macarons of similar size. Remove the ganache from the refrigerator. If you choose to pipe the ganache, transfer it to a resealable plastic bag and snip about a 1/2 inch off a bottom corner. Squeeze or scoop the ganache to about the size of a cherry (about 1 teaspoon) onto the center of a macaron half.

 

Our French Macarons came out wonderfully. We got to take home a bunch of French Macaron cookies to enjoy later, and of course I sampled some on the spot. Delicious, perfectly chewy and sweet with great flavor!

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