“Everyday” Caramelized Onion Muffins

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First came the Smile Biscuits, then the Sesame Sticks, and now, the Onion Muffins! I can’t tell you how much I’m enjoying the “everyday” cookbook series by Shiho Nakashima. They’re definitely two of my favorite book purchases of 2014.

The Onion Muffin recipe is in the book, “Mainichi (everyday) Tabetai (want to eat) Gohanno (meal) Youna (like) Keiki (cake) To (and) Maffin (muffin) no (of) Hon (book) まいにち食べたい”ごはんのような”ケーキとマフィンの本.” Instead of cookies and biscuits, this book focuses on cakes and muffins.

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So, savory caramelized onion in sweet muffins, you might ask? I was a little confused at first too, and even more confused that the author named this as her “basic” recipe. I would think the basic would be something like blueberry or chocolate chips, but she wrote that she chose this particular recipe because it just tastes fantastic. I guess that’s a good enough reason!

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I must admit that I didn’t love the muffins. I liked the lovely balance of sweet and savory, and they were actually delicious (and fluffy, considering there’s no eggs in them), but they tasted more like cornbread than a muffin. I think I might like to serve these on a side of soup or salad, and not necessarily eat them as dessert with a cup of tea.

Oh, and I actually tried the banana muffins from the book and those were pretty awesome. They were so good, they disappeared even before I had the chance to take photos. Maybe it’s a good thing so I don’t have to change my blog name to “Baking My Way Through the ‘Everyday’ Bake Books.” :)

Magic Words: Bea Bea’s

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The surest way to get me out of bed before noon on the weekend is for my husband to yell, “Bea Bea’s!” from the other room. I don’t usually see a day light until well past 10:00 a.m., (Saturday and Sunday are my days off from the toddler) but with those two magical words, I’m up, dressed, and ready to go.  Time is crucial since the only way to get a table at this super popular breakfast / lunch joint in Burbank without having to wait five hours is if we get there before 9:00 a.m.

The food there is worth it, especially the yummy smoked salmon plate. And I can always go back to bed. And I did.

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Here’s Kevin’s Sicilian Omelet with corned beef, pastrami, mushrooms, basil, tomato, and parmesan cheese.

“Everyday” Sesame Sticks

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Another recipe from the “Every Day book. Another big success. I can’t stop eating these sesame sticks and neither can my 21-month old toddler!

I didn’t have black sesame seeds so I replaced them with white.  It’s so nutty, subtly sweet, and the crunch is irresistible.  My daughter is begging me for another one while I type this … and I don’t blame her. The batch I just baked is almost gone now.

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Black Sesame Sticks

黒ゴマスティック(「まいにち食べたいごはんのようなクッキーとビスケットの本」から。)

80 g cake flour
20 g whole wheat flour
20 g cane sugar
20 g black sesame seeds
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 tablespoons soy milk (you can substitute with water)
A pinch of salt

Here’s the detailed information on how to make these yummy sticks. It’s in Japanese but there are plenty of pictures to help you along the way!

Smile Biscuits

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It’s so ironic.  Japanese tourists would drop hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars gobbling up American goods when they’re visiting the states on a holiday, while we Japanese living in the states would spend three times as much to get Japan-made products online or at local Japanese stores!

I love Japanese book and I can spend hours browsing through Amazon Japan to check out fun cookbooks and craft books. I usually resist the urge to purchase anything since it’s more expensive to buy it here and the shipping fee is pretty ridiculous, but once in a while, especially when I’m tired and lacking the willpower, I push the “click to purchase” button, which immediately follows by a buyer’s remorse.  But most Japanese books are so well written and practical, I’m always glad to have ordered them when they arrive at my doorstep three to five business days later.

My latest purchase was this baking book titled, “Mainichi Tabetai Gohan no Youna Kukki to Bisuketto no Hon,” (まいにち食べたい“ごはんのような”クッキーとビスケットの本), which translates loosely to, “Book of cookies and biscuits you want to eat every day like a meal.” The author, Shiho Nakashima, cleverly and quite accurately titled the book as such, because all the recipes included here are so healthy (maple syrup instead of white sugar; a tiny bit of canola oil instead of butter, and no eggs, for example), one won’t experience an ounce of guilt even after eating these baked snacks every day.

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The basic, and perhaps the most popular among the cult followers (Nakashima has published several more books on this “every day” series, including everyday muffins, crackers, and chiffon cakes, which are equally impressive), is the Smile Biscuit, which you see here. It’s made out of the combination of whole wheat and cake flours, maple syrup, and canola oil. I was pretty hesitant at first (how can something with virtually nothing in it possibly taste good?) but I was surprised when I took the first bite of the super dense biscuit.  It was absolutely sensational!  It was so simple but not plain, and so gentle but not flavorless.  It reminded me of snacks I grew up eating in Japan in the early 80s, before all the artificial sweets began filling up the grocery store shelves.

You can’t really think of this as a substitute for a regular, butter and sugar cookie but think of this rather as something completely new to our taste buds. Sure, it tastes nothing like the cookies that we’re accustomed to, but it brings a wonderful, fresh flavor and texture (and so much comfort) that would sure to satisfy any adventurous and open-minded cookie lovers out there. I am absolutely in love with these cookies / biscuits and I will, in fact, bake them and eat them every day as part of my daily dining ritual.  (Confession:  I received this book a week ago and I already made four batches of it.)

Here’s the video of the author making the Smile Biscuit!

Happy Blending: Original Perfume Oil

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Of all the five (or six) senses, I’m most fascinated with the sense of smell at the moment. It used to be taste, of course, but now, olfaction brings me lots of satisfaction!

My first encounter with real perfume was in Paris back in 2004.  Prior to this, it was all about more age- and budget-appropriate body splashes and scented lotions from The Body Shop and Bath and Body Works.  My friend who accompanied me on the trip went on a mission to find the perfect pair of shoes at the City of Light, while I went on a hunt for the perfect bottle of perfume.  (Paris just does that to girls.)  She ended up finding quite a few “sole” mates (would have been more if she had a bigger suite case) and I found the one in Stella, which I ended up wearing for the next 10 years.

The other day, while my husband, our bebe and I went window shopping at South Coast Plaza, I went into a perfume specialty store on a whim. I wasn’t planning on purchasing anything but walked away with a large bottle of this floral-scented fragrance that I fell head over heels the moment I strayed it on a sample strip. I don’t think we were in a store for more than five minutes before I decided that this would be my new signature scent for the next decade.

I think my serendipitous meeting with my new signature scent, coupled with this wonderful post from Sweet Tea Apothecary, opened up my eyes to the world of perfumery, and became interested in learning how to create a one-of-a-kind fragrance that cannot be purchased at a department store. There’s something very special about knowing that I’m wearing something that’s truly, truly original, where there’s no other concoction in the world exactly like it.

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I recently made two blends using the Essential Oils that I already had from my soap-making inventory, and a few that I picked up from a local Whole Foods. And may I say – I’m in love.

Something amazing happens when you mix your favorite Essential Oils and let them sit for a month total in a bottle quietly in the dark (yes, it takes that long, but the wait is worth it). The scent changes literally every day. I already loved the way everything smelled when I initially blended the oil but it smells 100 times better now that the time has worked its magic. Imagine Audrey Hepburn. She was already beautiful in her younger days but she was even more stunning later in her life, like a finely aged wine.

It’s very ladylike to keep her signature scent a secret but I will share the Essential Oils that I used on the one that I shall call “The Original Blend.”  (I’ll come up with a more fitting name later).  It’s very floral with a subtle hint of citrus and mint.  I will keep the other one a secret because it’s a gift for my friend and I want her to keep her air of mystery.
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The Original Blend

Base Note (lasts the longest): Grapefruit, Chamomile Roman

Heart Note: Rosewood, Ylang Ylang II, Bergamot, Frankincense, Palmarosa, Citronella Java

Head Note (explosive at fist then evaporates quickly): Peppermint

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If you’re interested in making your own perfume oil, here’s what you’ll need to get started:

    • Read this article, “How to Make Your Own Perfume Oil” by Sweet Tea Apothecary.  It’s well written and it has verything you need to know to begin.
    • Purchase several bottles of roll-on reusable perfume bottle for 1/3 oz.  I purchased mine at Amazon.com.
    • If you don’t already have Essential Oil(s), go to your local Whole Foods, Sprout Farmer’s Market or any health food stores that sell good Essential Oils.  I don’t recommend purchasing them online unless you know what each oil smells like.  For instance, if you want a lavender EO and you already know what it smells like, do purchase it at an online store like Bramble Berry, Rose Mountain Herbs, From Nature with Love (just a few of my favorite online venders), etc.
    • I used a cotton pad to blend the scent first before committing in a bottle.  I put a few drops of EOs on a cotton ball and smelled it as I layered.  It’s amazing how the amount and order in which you put the oil changes the personality of the entire blend.
    • You’ll need a bottle of Jojoba Oil to use as a carrier oil.

Happy blending! :)

What Can I say … I’m Addicted

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I knit up a bunch of seed-stitch cowls using Blue Sky Worsted Cotton yarns while binge-watching “Scandal” last two weeks. The show makes me want to dress up in smart pant suites and carry Prada bags around town like Olivia Pope, although the only scandal these days around the house is figuring out who drank the last Whole Foods ginger ale in the fridge, or who didn’t fill up Brita. (I’m guilty of both, but please don’t tell my husband.)

Well, one can knit up a whole lot when she’s spending four hours a night after the baby and the husband are asleep watching television. But now that my Scandal fever has subsided (it got pretty stupid after the whole B613 plot line), I regret for being so unproductive and shaving off previous sleep time while indulging in guilty pleasure, but I’m glad I at least have a rainbow of cozy cowls to show for!

I think I become equally obsessed with knitting these cozy neck warmers as I got with watching the show. I just couldn’t put down the knitting needles.  They knit incredibly quick just like the show’s plot, and the pattern is timeless like all the chic wardrobe worn by stunning Live, Abby, Quinn and Mellie, my absolute fave.  I think Blue Sky Worsted cotton is my favorite yarn at the moment.  And I love the fact that you can toss them in a washer because it’s 100% cotton.

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Because I didn’t know what to do with all these cowls, I decided to extend them to my friends. I was going to sell them on Etsy but wanted to reach out them first to see if any of them was willing to support my knitting addiction. I’m so happy to report that many contacted me immediately after posting the photo on Facebook and these cowls are almost sold out! (Updated on 12/4/14:  All the cowls have been sold! Insert happy dance here!)  Yipee!  That totally made my day!  I get so excited when things I make find a new, loving home.  I hope they enjoy the cowls as much as I enjoyed knitting them.

For more information about the cowls, including the pattern, please see here and here.

Thanksgiving 2014

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This year’s Thanksgiving dinner took place at my parent’s house, with five couples who are most important in my life: my parents; my parents-in-law; my sister and her boyfriend; me and Kevin; and Audrey and Minnie (the house dog). I didn’t want my mother to tire herself out by cooking such a large meal, so I volunteered to cook the meal for everyone this year, with my mother setting the table, my in-laws bringing the dessert and my sister bringing the wines. I was the official catering lady of the evening, with disposable tin containers and all!

Since I was transporting the food and they were destined to get cold, I decided to prepare everything the night before (except for turkey) and store them in the fridge until we were ready to hit the road. I’m glad I did this because I was able to just relax and play with the kid during the day, completely stress free!

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It took me about four hours total to prepare the stuffing, mashed potatoes, roasted root vegetables, braised red cabbage, and Greek salad. Kevin whipped up the haricot vert at the parent’s house right before all the guests arrived.

I also prepared a charcuterie plate (not pictured), with prosciutto, salami, smoked salmon, and some goat cheese, brie, and colby jack, with cucumber slices and assorted crackers. My in-laws brought giant pumpkin pie and apple pie (and whip cream!) what were heavenly.

I think everything turned out pretty decent, but I must admit that I’ve cooked a better Thanksgiving meals before.

Here’s the menu for the evening!  Each recipe makes enough to fill the 9 x 9 pans.

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Roasted Turkey:

It takes about 4 hours per pound to defrost the turkey in the refrigerator, and it takes 20 minutes per pound to roast the bird in the oven. As long you know these two things, you’re good to go! We roasted two, 13 pounds turkeys this year to feed 9 people. It turned out that that was WAY too much, since 4 out of 9 were our parents with small appetites, and another one was a toddler. We only got through one, and everyone took pieces from the other one home.

Pat the turkey with paper towel to dry. Take out all the giblets out of the caucus. Rub the turkey with a mixture of finely chopped rosemary and thyme, grated garlic, salt and pepper, and olive oil. Place the turkey on a roasting pan and roast the turkey in a 375 degree F oven for about 4 hours, or until the internal temperature reaches 165 degree F. Take out the turkey every hour and baste the skin with the mixture or the dripping from the bottom of the pan. Make sure to do this quickly to maintain the oven temperature.

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Braised Red Cabbage:

Chop 2 heads of red cabbage into half inch strips. In a very large pot, sauté the cabbage in olive oil until slightly wilted, about 10 minutes. Add sliced apples (2 medium – I used Fuji for its tang and crispy texture) and sauté for another 5 minutes. Add 2 cups apple cider vinegar, ¼ cup maple syrup, sprinkle salt and pepper to taste, and cook until the cabbage and apples are completely wilted. Add dill for garnish. Serve hot or cold. Personally, I love letting this sit overnight and serve it cold.

Sauté Haricot Vert:

Boil about 2 pounds of haricot vert in a large pot of boiling water for about 3 minutes, take care not to overcook (This is optional. You can do all the cooking in the pan. Boiling them first speed up the cooking process). Drain the beans and add them to a large frying pan. Sauté them in olive oil, in medium high meat, until you reach the desired consistency. We like ours slightly crunchy so we don’t overcook it. Add ¼ cup white wine, 1 tablespoon butter, salt and pepper to taste, and cook until the liquid evaporates. Add ¼ cup lemon juice, ¼ cup almond slices and toss. Garnish the plate with lemon wedges.

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Roasted Root Vegetables:

Chop 5 medium size unpeeled red potatoes (more, if you’re using the small ones), 2 large onions, and one head of cauliflower into bite size, and add them in a large roasting pan. Also add one bag of ready-to-eat baby carrots and 5 cloves of peeled garlic to the pan. Toss the vegetables in ¼ cup olive oil, making sure that each vegetable is well coated with oil. Sprinkle salt and pepper to taste. Bake in 375 degree F oven for about one hour, or until the veggies are tender. Stir occasionally to prevent burning.

Mashed Potatoes:

Peel and cut 10 Russet potatoes and add them in a pot of cold water. Bring the water to a boil in high heat and cook the potatoes until fork tender. Drain the water and return the potatoes in the same pot. Using the handheld blender, mash the potatoes until smooth (I like mine a little lumpy so I went easy with the blending). Add 1-1/2 cups milk, 10 grated garlic, finely-chopped rosemary and thyme, slat and pepper to taste, and cook in medium heat until fluffy. Do not over mix, as doing so will turn the potatoes into a paste.  Garnish with herbs.

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Stuffing:

I used the boxed stuffing this year! I just sauted 2 large onions, 10 stalks of celery, and 5 cloves of chopped garlic in a large pan.  I added, to the vegetables, 3 boxes of cornbread stuffing mix and poured in 2 boxes of vegetable broths. I’m actually not too crazy about cornbread stuffing but Kevin insisted on his favorite so I compromised, like a good wife that I am.

Greek Salad:

Chop 10 medium size tomatoes into cubes. You don’t need to remove the seeds. Half one large English cucumber lengthwise and scrape out the seeds from the middle. Chop the cucumber into bite-size cubes. Toss the tomato and cucumber cubes in a large bowl. Add 5 cloves of grated garlic, ½ cup olive oil, crumbled feta cheese, handful of finely chopped parsley, salt and pepper to taste, and toss. Cover and let the salad sit in a refrigerator overnight.

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My mother- and father-in-laws made these two lovely dishes – pumpkin salad (like potato salad but with pumpkin) and roasted Brussels sprouts! These two were probably my favorite dishes of the night!

I think everyone’s top three dishes were: Haricot vert, pumpkin salad, and braised cabbage.

I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving!