When Friends Hand You Lemons

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From 4th grade (April 2000, which was when I first moved to America) to my senior year of high school, I lived in Venice, California in a small house with a huge front yard. Our front yard was easily twice the size of our actual house (albeit it was a tiny house), thus it allowed my grandma to grow numerous plants from seeds that she snuck into America illegally. Some of the plants on that yard included a guava tree, a mango tree that never quite grew past three feet tall or bore any fruit, a pomelo tree, an apple tree and of course the quintessential American home plant, the lemon tree. Because our trees produced bountiful fruits, I have never had to buy a single lemon (or guava) in my life. Thankfully lemons are not that expensive, which eased the pain of losing a lemon tree when I came to college.

Like many things in life, I took that lemon tree for granted. I am only able to appreciate it now when I actually utilize lemons almost daily and frequently use it in baking and cooking. Not once did I make lemon curd or use lemons in my baking (aside from the occasional lemon zest) when that lemon tree was just outside my house. So I told myself that if I ever had such an abundance of lemons ever again, that I would make sure to use them creatively. Well, it didn’t take long for the plethora of lemons to arrive! During this winter season, I received so many lemons from friends with lemon trees (some that I still haven’t used!). I didn’t realize how eager people are to give away their lemons because if you have a tree, it’s not likely for you to use all of the fruit it bears! I promised myself that I would finally try making lemon curd and that I would somehow use that lemon curd for something pretty darn cool. And that’s when I remembered this Lemon Meringue Cookie recipe from Joy the Baker that I remember starring on my Google reader a long time ago. I believe that the lemon curd recipe she used is actually from David Leibovitz (whose blog I also admire and follow) and it was delicious!

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I made sure to bust out my bright yellow, lemon-colored bowl for my egg whites to be mixed in.
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I always love the way egg whites + air = this fluffy white substance called meringue.
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I took out my piping bag and some of my piping tips and tried to find one that was closest to a star tip. Unfortunately my only star tip was rather small and so my meringue cookies really didn’t look like stars, but whatever because they were still cute and delicious. I do confess that I had a bit of trouble piping the meringue batter onto my baking pan because it seemed kind of wet.
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They did bake just fine though! Note that this was my first time baking meringue cookies (I’ve only incorporated it into a batter for cake) so it was an exciting experience!
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And that lemon curd was just seriously plain delicious. I may have had spoonfuls of it before I was able to get them on the cookies. But don’t worry, I washed the spoon!
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Aren’t they just the cutest things ever?! I followed Joy’s suggestion to freeze them before serving, except I actually just stored them in the freezer in an airtight container. It was like eating a light ice cream sandwich…but homemade and obviously better. They kept in the freezer for about a few days until I noticed a decline in the quality of the cookies. Easy, fun and delicious! Oh and there was plenty of lemon curd leftover to my stomach’s delight :)

Christmas Cookies

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We live in a time when food is all over the media, from magazines to cooking channels and shows about food constantly airing throughout the day. When I try to recall how I first fell in love with baking and cooking, I can never able pinpoint a specific instance. However, one thing that I am sure of is that the Food Network channel and hand-me-down Gourmet magazines definitely helped cultivate in me a fascination for cooking and baking.

During the wintertime of my sophomore year of high school, I somehow got my hands on a December issue of Gourmet magazine which featured pages and pages of cookie recipes for the holidays with appetizing pictures that really caught my eye. The cookies looked so festive and tasty and I desperately wished to be able to create such beautiful edibles to give away as Christmas presents. I’m not sure what my thought process was, but that winter, I decided to undertake the task of making a bag of (4 or 5) different kinds of cookies for some friends. It was my first significant personal baking “project” and mind you, the recipes in Gourmet magazine are not the easiest! It was the winter when I first bought a rolling pin and acquired my 100 cookie cutters from a set I bought at Bed Bath & Beyond. I’ve since forgotten all the cookies I made that winter but it included raspberry linzer cookies, spoon cookies with brown butter (I’m so thankful to have discovered brown butter so early in life!), sugar cookies with royal icing and black and white cookies. Okay maybe I just can’t remember one of them. I stayed up until 5am baking on a school night, decorating and packaging cookies for the next day. I was so exhausted, but it was so worth it! I went on to do it for the rest of high school and gradually incorporated mini cheesecakes and other cookies. But once I got to college, I just…stopped doing it completely. It was a bit harder for me to manage my time in college, with finals procrastination, planning winter events, etc. BUT this winter, I am no longer in school and had a fair amount of time to plan and execute my Christmas cookie plates!

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This year’s cookies included: gingerbread snowflakes, saltine caramel chocolate almond bark, lemon crinkles, raspberry thumbprints and mocha chocolate chip. I wanted a combination of chocolate, caramel, fruity and buttery and I think I successfully accomplished that!

Gingerbread Snowflakes
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This was the same cookie recipe that I used for my gingerbread men cookies because I loved it and everyone else did too! It’s not too sweet and is just the right texture. The batter looks like poo though.

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Thankfully I still had leftover spices! I don’t know what else I would use these spices on.

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Ta da! Aren’t they pretty? Each one of them is totally unique too :) You can find the recipe here

Lemon Crinkles
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This was probably the recipe I was most disappointed with. It didn’t have enough of a lemon flavor for me, even though I doubled the lemon juice and zest contents because I was trying to get rid of my lemons. It was still soft and good though! Recipe here.

Raspberry Thumbprint Cookies
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Thumbprint cookies will forever remind me (and probably many others who devoured these cookies) of the summer before senior year of college when I worked at INNA Jam, a local artisan jam company that makes jam from locally grown, seasonal fruit. I used to be a jam maker! It was a fun summer job that paid well and though I might be biased, they make the best jams that highlight the natural flavors and sweetness of the fruit. A little pricey per jar, but if you have the cash, it’s totally worth it! Anyways, that summer I frequently made these thumbprint cookies that are extra buttery and tasted good with the sweet and sometimes tart jam. I tried using both INNA Jam jam and store bought jam and found that the store bought jam tended not to explode all over the cookie but the INNA Jam jam did. Perhaps it’s because there’s so much preservatives in the store bought jam that it held together better. I’m not sure what I’d rather have. But this time I just used some organic raspberry jam from Sprouts and it was fine! Recipe here. Do not fear the butter content! It’s what makes these cookies!

Saltine Bark (w/ Caramel, Chocolate and Almonds)
I’m not even sure what this bark is really supposed to be called, but all it has is saltines, caramel, chocolate and almonds! My friend gave these away during fall finals season of senior year and I loved them so much that I had to get the recipe! It’s VERY easy!

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Lay out some saltine crackers on a pan like so. Then make caramel by heating one cup of butter and one cup of brown sugar in a small pot until the sugar starts to brown a little and it thickens a bit. Pour this over the saltine crackers and bake at 350F for 15 minutes or less.

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Pull it out of the oven and spread chocolate chips on top (you can use any but I prefer semi-sweet or dark) and spread it evenly.

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Then sprinkle some chopped almonds on top (you can roast the almonds too if you’d like!) and let it cool and harden. And voila! Easy, right? Plus, doesn’t it kind of look like a Pollock piece? hehe

Mocha Chocolate Chip
This recipe was interesting because it had no eggs. But while I was mixing the batter, I couldn’t help but add an egg because it just wasn’t combining well (in my opinion). It was a decent recipe but not as good as when someone else I know made it (hers tasted wayyyy sweeter!) so I’ll probably tweak it until I like it because I love coffe flavored things and I want to perfect this! Recipe here.

These recipes are all pretty simple and I wanted to keep it that way! I also wanted cookies that would last for a while, in case I wasn’t able to deliver them to people right away. Overall, it was a pretty successful cookie plate :)

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Until next Christmas!

Gingerbread Fellas

This weekend, I trekked to the 626 area to visit my good friend Michelle in Arcadia. We both share a genuine love of food and its creation and consumption so I knew that we would be doing a lot of both. To get some inspiration for what to do, we watched his slightly dumb and mildly funny video about the 626 (click at your own risk). Unfortunately we didn’t end up at any of the places mentioned in the video (except for a crappy Half & Half Tea House in San Gabriel Valley) and decided to get Pho instead. Read my Yelp review later!

Before we left for dinner, we decided what to bake that night and threw out ideas like French macarons (which is simple ingredients, all technique like leaving out egg whites for 24 hours), apple pie, bûche de noël (yule logs!), creme brulee, pot de creme, gingerbread cookies, and other things we had never made before. (Yes we both have never made apple pie or gingerbread cookies before). We decided to make gingerbread cookies and a chocolate bûche de noël! Two indecisive girls deciding what to make took an hour, and finding recipes for two things took another hour. Whenever I bake, I take my sweet time brainstorming for what I’m about to make and come up with a plan of attack. I browse various sites and read and compare each recipe I find for nuances and how those small differences affect the end product. Someone said this once but I agree that anyone can bake (I don’t know about cook) with the right recipe and a very basic knowledge of technique! Okay enough of my storytelling – if you’ve read this far, kudos to you! Anyways, Michelle and I found this gingerbread cookie recipe on foodgawker  and chose it because it was simple and had a reasonable combination of spices. The blogger also mentions that this cookie is of a gingersnap taste and sugar cookie softness which sounded perfect.

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All of these spices + salt & pepper are in these gingerbread cookies!

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This is one of those doughs that you have to refrigerate for an hour before rolling out, so plan accordingly. Also, be forewarned that this dough smells really funky and looks like a lump of poop upon refrigeration. But fear not for these cookies taste great!

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Everything is much more adorable in miniature form!

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Our different cookies before baking.

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I made a royal icing for us to decorate the cookies with. Royal icing is just sifted powdered sugar, meringue powder (or egg whites) and a liquid (water, lemon juice, milk – depends on your taste).

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This turned out to be a wonderful recipe!

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And I shall end this post with my favorite gingerbread fella, lil’ French painter. He is French because I say so. Au revoir!