Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Xi'an Style Pork Stuffed Chinese Pancakes and a 26th Birthday

A birthday cake this isn't; but a cake this is none the less. It seems fitting that on the day my children are turning 26,  there must be some way to celebrate. Yes, I know we will soon be lighting candles together or perhaps setting off fireworks, but it is still hard for me to let this day go without recognizing this momentous occasion. Each year I tell myself I can't possibly be getting any older and then THEY have a birthday.

Reflecting over the years lets me remember how far we've come; how far they've come; how they truly have become more than what we had imagined, 26 years ago today. Venturing into parenthood was not something we took lightly. It took us 8 1/2 years to become pregnant and at the time we were even exploring adopting. I was already 10 weeks along before I knew; so you might say I was feeling funny. Not being able to buckle my ski boots was the first indication that led me to schedule an appointment with the doctor. I know that sounds totally crazy, but I really could not believe that I would actually be pregnant.

It took us awhile to come up with names. We even went to Hawaii as our "last" vacation to calmly discuss this. Coming up with four names is no easy task and not knowing their sex before they were born, made this quite challenging. In Jewish tradition it is common to use names of those that have died. It is traditional to have a Hebrew or Yiddish name and a common name. This meant we kind of had to come up with 8 names; but who's counting? I actually found the name list that we worked on in Hawaii! How I found that I truly do not know, as I still can't find their birth announcement, which means I better add this to the list of chores for winter!

We quickly ruled out Hannah Leah, which sounded a bit to Hawaiian to us when we got home. Noah reminded me of a ship and I get seasick. Manservant really wanted Satchel and Paige, but there was no connection except of course to the great Satchel Paige. It's a good thing we didn't name Zoe Whitney because that's what her good friend is named and Alex sure doesn't seem like a Zachary, but then Clay was on there also. Max was a possibility and so was Joshua, along with Sasha and Tillie and Kali. I  laugh at these now.

Truth is I have learned that one grows into a  name. In the end I think Zoe's great grandmothers would be proud of who she has become. Zoe Bryn was named after her great grandma Fanny on my mother's side. And though I would have named her Fanny, someone else objected. My Grandma Fanny whose Yiddish name was Faigele, translates to little bird. Zoe's Hebrew name is Zipporah, which also means little bird. Zoe did remind me of a little bird when she was born, as she was constantly eating! Now though I see other traits that remind me of my grandma. My Grandma Fanny was independent. She was loving. She told it like it is. Nothing slipped by her. She worked as a dietician, when women didn't traditionally work. Fanny would be proud of what Zoe has become and Zoe even has her blue eyes. Well, I like to think they came from her.

Alex was named after my Grandpa Alex, on my father's side. Just as I adored my Fanny, I adored my Papa, too. My Papa Alex came from a shtetel in Lithuania in 1938, with his wife and three young kids in tow. They arrived in August and within a month after he left, his entire village was wiped out. My Papa had courage and good timing. He wasn't afraid of hard work, and I don't think he ever looked back; though he always seemed wistful. Everyone liked my Papa and he had a twinkle in his eye, just like my Alex. He was an educated man, loved to eat my Bubby and Ilse's cooking, and he always brought mini Hershey's chocolate bars when he stopped over Sundays to see his grandchildren. My Papa would love Alex. And he would adore Zoe.

I could tell more, because I haven't even gotten to their middle names, but some things are for keeping. At least until next year when I reflect again and remember all that they've become and imagine all that they will still be. So far they've made me incredibly proud that I'm  part of this wondrous journey. On their birthday, I thank them for reminding me of  those that I loved and those that loved me. What memories I had. What memories I will have. Today I say Happy Birthday to my two totally incredible kids, with such incredible names, that remind me each and every day that life is for living.


On that note, as I wipe away tears...I  felt compelled to make a Chinese pancake. It may not be birthday cake, but it can hold a candle. It seemed kind of fitting, given our upcoming journey. Though we are choosing not to go to Xi'an-home of the Terracotta Warriors-we are choosing to take the road less traveled. In my family, that sure seems to be the path.

Xi'an Style Pork Stuffed Chinese Pancakes
Time to make: About 60 minutes
Makes: 8
Recipe from: Woks of Life (love this site!)
2 1/4 c flour
3/4 c water
1/2 t salt
1 c ground pork or your favorite ground meat
1/2 t 5 spice powder
1 T soy sauce
Pinch of sugar
1/4 t salt

1 c finely chopped green cabbage
1/2 c chopped cilantro
2 scallions finely chopped
1/4 t garlic powder
1 t sesame oil
Pinch of white pepper

Sesame Seeds
About 1/2 c Oil for frying

Make dough: Combine flour, water and salt in a mixing bowl. Mix until it forms a ball. I do this by hand. Knead for 5 minutes. Set aside and cover with a damp paper towel.

In a small bowl combine pork, 5 spice powder, soy sauce, sugar and salt. Mix well.

In another small bowl combine cabbage, cilantro, scallions, garlic powder, sesame oil and white pepper.

Now your dough is ready to be shaped. I did this by shaping the dough into a cigar shape. Cut into 8 equal pieces. Keep in bowl, covered by the damp cloth until ready to use.

On an oiled wooden cutting board, shape each piece of dough. I do this one at a time. Roll into a thin rectangle, about 4 inches wide. Lightly brush oil on the rectangle and then smear 1/8 of the pork mixture over it. Take 2 T of the cabbage mixture and place this at one end of the rectangle. Roll away from you to form a coiled cigar shape. (Like a jellyroll) Now stand this cigar on one end and smash it down with the other to form a round or flattened pancake, about 3/4" thick with a diameter of about 4 inches. Sprinkle one side with sesame seeds. Set aside and finish the rest of them.

Now pour oil into a large heavy skillet. I used my cast iron. Heat over medium high heat until oil reaches about 300 degrees. Place pancakes into the pan. I was able to fry 4 at a time. Fry for about three minutes until the bottom is golden and then flip and fry about three minutes more. Drain on paper towels and serve warm. I like these dipped in a mixture of soy sauce and chili paste!

More to eat and more birthdays:
Chocolate Lava Cake for your birthday
Blueberry Pancakes on the day of your birthday
Chocolate Fudge Cake and an 81st Birthday

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Monday, August 22, 2016

Thai Style Non Dairy Pesto with Basil, Cilantro and Coconut Oil

Unlike this awesome Thai pesto which is exploding with flavors, my life feels lately like it is just exploding. Planning a trip for three weeks with 4 people in a very large foreign country is not for the faint of heart. I can see why people book tours. This is work, especially when one is on a budget. Between at least 4 different flights, a possible 11 different hotels, and two train rides, this is a huge undertaking. Not to mention the fact that getting everyone's input from 4 different time zones takes time; which is something we are quickly running out of. 

Needless to say, I haven't been focusing on food. However my garden is dictating what needs to happen and I am so behind posting it all. I made 8 batches of applesauce from our tree, that may be dead next year. Somehow though it keeps surprising me and just keeps on giving. My basil has gone crazy this year-hence what you see below. I also tried for the first time to make pickles as I have a lot of cukes that have been blessing me too. I'll let you know how those are in 2 weeks! And my eggplant. OMG. They are going crazy. I counted 18 on one plant. Good thing I only planted two.

To say my mind isn't focusing well is an understatement. I leave in three weeks and still have a huge to do list. I've been a very rude blogger, I admit. I've hardly visited anyone and I apologize for that. I just have to hope you are really my friends and that I will be forgiven. Once this trip is planned and I figure out how to get all my belongings in a carry on wheelie, I'll feel a bit more prepared. I still have to find some good walking shoes, as walking in Zoe's old marathon running shoes feels a little lumpy. Trying to get my 10,000 steps in, until Alex Odie San China Boy said I should make it 20,000. Well, that's just not happening here! Maybe there! I also need a good travel purse, and I hate shopping.

So that's it. No more apologies and certainly no promises. Except for this. This pesto is mind blowing. Cosmic; which I know our trip will be...once I get there!

Thai Style Non Dairy Pesto with Cilantro, Basil and Coconut Oil
Makes: About 2-3 cups
Time to make: About 15 minutes
1 c fresh cilantro
2 c fresh Thai basil or regular
1/2 c coconut oil
2 T brown sugar
2 T minced garlic
1 minced shallot
Juice of 1/2 a lime
1/4 c peanuts
1/2 t Sriracha or to taste
1 t fish sauce
1/4 c peanut oil

Place all ingredients in a blender and process until pureed. If you want more texture, add the peanuts after you have pureed everything else. If you prefer a more oily pesto, feel free to increase the peanut oil. This will solidify in the fridge, so if you want this to drizzle, make sure you bring it to room temperature first. This is perfect dolloped over hot rice noodles. It will melt right in. It is also great as a chicken or seafood marinade and I love it as a dipper for veggies. I've even spread it on tortillas and it made great Asian quesadillas.

Ingredients for noodle bowl:
Rice or Udon noodles or rice
Sliced Coconut Chips
Cubed Mango
Shredded or Julienned Carrots
Lime wedges
Leftover roast chicken, shredded or pulled
Basil and Cilantro
A good dollop of Thai pesto

Choose from ingredients above and make up your own bowl. Feel free to add what ever you want, but the above is what I used in mine.

More to try:
Thai Coconut Peanut Pork Dip
Larb or Thai Chicken Salad
Vietnamese Meatball Noodle Bowl

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Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Chocolate Sandwich Cake with Cream Filling

This may not be the prettiest cake, but then pretty things don't always deliver. So yeah, this may not be a pretty cake, but it is a happy cake. And who doesn't like a happy cake?  This cake appeals to the kid in me. It may appeal to the kid in you AND the kids. It sure did mine. After all it is hard to resist a fudgey, brownie like cake with a huge center of creamy, buttery, vanilla filling. This cake satisfies chocolate lovers, cookie lovers, cake lovers and those who have a strong affinity to frosting; even if it is really filling because it is in the middle. It is a cake that works both sides of the aisle, which is a skill that would be quite useful to many in today's world.

I found this recipe on the back of a Williams Sonoma box that contained two cake pans embossed with the Oreo cookie stamp. My parents gave it to me awhile back at the holidays. As a fond lover of Oreo cookies, they thought this would appeal to me. They were not wrong. However, try as I might, I could never get the cakes to come out of the pan. With all the crevices in the pan, I apparently couldn't get the grease into them to sufficiently release the cake, after it was baked. After trying this several times and loving the recipe, I did what any red blooded American would do. I put the cake pans in my box for Good Will  and placed the box in the driveway. I strongly apologize if you were the one to purchase these pans and tried to make a cake in them.

Though I did do one thing right. I kept the recipe and the recipe was worth the price of the pans. But then I didn't buy the pan, so I'm not sure how much the recipe is really worth. However I can assure you that I have made this cake countless times and it has made a lot of people happy. Which makes this cake a happy cake. It is simple to prepare. The batter does not require a mixer, but you do need at least a hand held mixer for the frosting/filling. If you want you can smash a lot of Oreos and mix them into the filling. Or not. I wish I had had some Oreos to mix in, but Oreos beckon me to eat them and I can never stop at one.  You could even put ice cream in the middle of the cake, but I'm a frosting girl. So I wouldn't do that. Just sayin'.

It seems the world could use a little happy. So it goes without saying, (even though I'm saying it) that a happy cake would make anyone smile. It's worth a try.

Chocolate Sandwich Cake with Cream Filling
Serves: 10-12
Time to Make: About 25 minutes active
From: the back of a Williams Sonoma box
1/2 c cocoa plus more for dusting cake pans
7 oz bittersweet chocolate/ chopped
14 T unsalted butter, at cut into cubes and at room temperature
1 c flour
1 t baking powder
3/4 t salt
1 3/4 c sugar
4 eggs
1 3/4 t vanilla
4 1/2 c powdered sugar
12 T or 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
3 1/2 T milk, plus more if needed
1 1/2 t vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
Smashed Oreos (optional)
Preheat oven to 350. Grease 2 9" pans with cooking spray or butter, and dust well with cocoa. Tap out the excess.

Place chocolate and butter in a microwave safe bowl and heat until melted. I usually do this on power 7 for 1:20 and then stir and do it again as needed. Make sure you use a whisk to incorporate the butter into the chocolate. Let the mixture cool slightly.

Whisk flour, 1/2 c cocoa powder, baking powder and salt until combined.

In a large bowl, whisk the sugar, eggs and vanilla together until well combined. Add the chocolate mixture and whisk well. Now stir in the flour mixture and stir until combined.

Divide the batter into the two prepared pans. Gently tap the pans on the counter to release any air bubbles. Bake for 35 minutes or until the tops of the cakes are shiny and glossy and a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out with a few crumbs attached. Do not over bake.

Let cakes cool for 15 minutes in the pan, then invert onto a cutting board.

Buttercream Filling:

In a large bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the flat beater or using a hand held mixer, combine powdered sugar, softened butter, 3 1/2 T milk, vanilla and salt. Beat on low speed until combined, about 1 minute. (You may want to cover the bowl with a towel so you don't have white dust everywhere.) Stop the mixer and scrape sides of bowl. Increase the speed to medium and beat until fluffy-about 3 minutes. If the frosting is dry, add more milk, but it should end up creamy and holding soft peaks. At this point, you could stir in a lot of smashed Oreos, or not.

Place one layer on a large serving plate and pile that filling on. Top with the second layer. You could dust this with powdered sugar or cocoa or Oreos, but I'd just hurry up and eat the damn thing.

Other Great Chocolate Cakes:
Quick Chocolate Cake
Texas Chocolate Sheet Cake
Chocolate Lava Cake
Black Bottom Chocolate Bundt Cake
Chocolate Fudge Loaf Cake

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Friday, August 5, 2016

Summer Tomato Lasagna

I don't think I ate lasagna until I was 16 years old. I remember eating it at my best friend's house. Her mom was Italian. I remember her saying I had to come over because her mom, "WAS MAKING LASAGNA!" I'd heard about lasagna. I'd even eaten it in skillet dinner form. You know-the kind from a box? The hamburger helper kind. My mom did that. However, I never remember my mom making lasagna; but in all fairness my mom is Jewish and not Italian, and I can assure you her mom probably did not make lasagna-even the hamburger helper kind! The only pasta dish I remember in our home that my mom made on a regular basis was spaghetti with meat sauce; which now that I think of it is pretty funny, because my mom loves pasta. I mean really loves pasta. No lie.

Well, I learned to make lasagna in college. It feeds a lot and was always a hit. I don't remember having a recipe. And when the kids were born I remember making a lot of other pasta, too. Zoe especially loved pasta so we had it  once a week. Under the age of five they ate a lot of mini tortellinis and raviolis. And then it was beloved spaghetti with real Italian sausage in the fall. We all loved linguini with clam sauce. The kids even requested it for their birthday when they were 7 years old. Ziti al Fresco is a huge fave and I still make it at least once a year. It contains cream and we try to avoid that so I don't make it as often as I wish I could. Fettucine Alfredo is Zoe's favorite and that also contains cream, but oh my, it is worth it at least once a year. I did lots of buttered noodles in shapes of every kind to make Zoe happy. I made spaghetti with garlic, because that is my fave. And often enough I just took left overs from the fridge and came up with a pasta dish. Tomato sauce or that enemy, cream, ties everything together.

 Manservant likes pasta. But he doesn't like it all the time. Either does Alex Odie San China Boy. But I guess that doesn't include Chinese lo mein of which they both eat a lot.  Noodle bowls and pot stickers are pasta, are they not? We even used to do a lo mein bar. I'd put out all the toppings and sauces and let the kids choose what they wanted. I would then throw it in a wok and we were all happy campers. Individualized, easy meals!

But back to lasagna. I didn't make it often when the kids were young. I don't know why. Maybe because I was used to making such a big pan and we didn't eat it all. Whatever the case, I did make a mushroom lasagna that was so rich and luscious we had it for special meals. It did contain porcinis and I rationed those out with an iron fist. I still always request a bag of porcinis when friends go to Italy. Receiving porcinis is like a gift from the gods!

And so it is that my friend gave me a bag of porcinis from Italy. I invited them for dinner while Manservant was home. (Well, I think he was home, but 2 weeks flies by fast. If I figure it right he will be gone 50% of this year. And that's another episode!) I knew she loved my mushroom lasagna but I was ready for something a bit lighter-more summery. Something I could use fresh tomatoes in. The bounty of summer-so to speak. And so it is, I came up with this. No, it isn't full of gobs of gooey cheese. This is a more healthy lasagna-if one can deem lasagna healthy. This one only contains Parmigiano which also falls into the gift from the gods category. I do love real  Parmigiano.

Have a bounty of tomatoes ready to come in? This lasagna is perfect for them. I used Marcella Hazan's easy tomato sauce which is killer, if you haven't tried it. You can also use canned tomatoes. Either way, you will love this sauce. It is superb on any pasta. Add some white sauce and a layer of mushrooms-or not. Mushrooms are not essential, but I knew my friend loved porcinis; and after all-she gave them to me.

A few last words. If anyone says to you, "My mom is making lasagna!" just dash over. Lasagna is so worth it!

Summer Tomato Lasagna
Time to Make: 45-60 minutes
Serves 6-8
1 recipe of tomato sauce:
3 1/2 lbs fresh romas or plum tomatoes or 1 28 oz can good Italian tomatoes
12 oz or 1 1/2 sticks butter
1 1/2 medium onions, peeled and halved
1 1/2 t salt
1/2 t sugar

1 recipe bechamel sauce:
6 T butter
4 T flour
1 t salt
Fresh ground pepper
2 1/2 c milk, warmed in microwave for about 1 to 1 1/2 minutes
Pinch of nutmeg (optional)

1 c fresh grated Parmigiano Reggiano
1 lb fresh mushrooms (optional) cleaned and sliced or chopped
3/4 c dried porcinis (soaked and liquid reserved) (optional)
3 T butter
1 box no boil noodles

Directions: Tomato Sauce
Wash tomatoes in cold water. Cut in half, lengthwise. Cook in a covered stockpot or saucepan until they have simmered for 10 minutes. Puree the tomatoes through a food mill back into the pot. If you are using canned tomatoes, start at this point. (Canned tomatoes should also be run through a food mill or use an immersion blender.) Add butter, onion, salt and sugar and cook at a slow, but steady simmer, uncovered for 45 minutes. (I bring this to a slow boil on medium and then reduce my temperature to the lowest possible setting that keeps it simmering.) Remove onion and slice into half moons and reserve for lasagna.
Directions: Bechamel Sauce
Melt butter in a medium saucepan. Add the flour as butter melts and use a whisk to blend flour into the butter. When mixture is golden and velvety, slowly stir in the warm milk, stirring constantly with a whisk. Stir for about 15 minutes or until sauce is thickened and of smooth consistency.Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg until this tastes so good you can eat it from your spoon.

While Bechamel and tomato sauce are going, start the mushrooms if using. Heat butter in a large skillet. Add fresh mushrooms and cook on high heat until mushrooms release their juices. Let that simmer away and then stir in strained and reserved liquid from the dried porcinis along with the chopped porcinis. Cook for a few minutes. Let liquid simmer away until the mushroom mixture is fairly dry. Season with salt and pepper. 

Soak 1 box of no boil lasagna noodles in very hot water. While these are soaking, prepare your baking pan. I used  a 9 x 11  deep pan. Grease with 1 T butter. Spread a thin layer of tomato sauce on the bottom of the dish. Top with 1 layer of lasagna noodles.(I dry my noodles by running them between two fingers. This usually removes enough water.) Spread with tomato sauce, some of the reserved onions and then some Parmigiano. Now another layer of pasta and some Bechamel. Sprinkle with cheese and add half of the mushrooms. Now another layer of pasta and some tomato sauce and onions. Sprinkle with cheese. More pasta, Bechamel sauce, mushrooms and cheese. One more layer of pasta with tomato sauce and onions, and cheese and finish with pasta and Bechamel sprinkled with cheese. You can always use more cheese if needed. I try to reserve some tomato sauce for pouring over while serving and you may also have some lasagna noodles left over.

Bake at 450 for 15 minutes or until top is light golden and sauce is bubbling.

More To Try:

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