Sunday, December 28, 2008

Bring On 2009

Every year, when the holidays roll around, I inevitably hear people talk about how the holidays are too crazy. Too much going on. People taking too much on themselves. That with all the hustle and bustle we lose sight of the true meaning of the holiday season.

I'm here to admit that I am one of those people who overloads their schedule with projects and parties and people. But I LOVE it. To me, thats what makes the holidays so fantastic... for one whole month I lose myself thinking about other people, thinking about how I can show my love for friends and family and co-workers. By the end of the month I'm completely exhausted and ready for the new year to roll on in. But by the time the next December rolls around, I get excited all over again, thinking about all the fun stuff I'm going to make and do for the people in my life.

This year, December felt even more chaotic than usual, and it has been a true relief to spend the weekend putting all of my Christmas stuff away, cleaning my closet (and kitchen and bathroom and quilt room), catching up on the many neglected emails in my inbox, etc. etc.

I've decided to use today's post to provide all and sundry with a quick recap of my life this past month... Maybe it will inspire you to forgive my sporadic posting.

With my siblings at Thanksgiving. I cooked a turkey, corn bread stuffing (made the corn bread from scratch, yeah baby), roasted sweet potato cheesecake, and cranberry sauce. Yum!

The Saturday after Thanksgiving my sisters and I decided to do a Top Chef cook-off. I ended up making dessert. This is my attempt at Richard's Banana Scallops (season 4). For the record, this is a winner. So good. But I decided not to make the banana guacamole that went with it. That was a little too strange, even for me.

The first week of December, Primary Children's Medical Center in Salt Lake has a huge fundraiser called the Festival of Trees. Individuals and companies donate decorated trees (or wreaths or gingerbread houses) to the festival. Before the festival officially opens to the public, people can purchase a ticket for the bidding night. I went with my sisters and my aunt that night because this year my mom's close college friends decorated and dedicated a tree to her. I had planned to bid on her tree, but with a starting bid of $675 it was a little out of my price range. I bid on a wreath instead and won! Very exciting.

This shot is also from Festival of Trees. I took this for JB. A gingerbread airplane and hangar! Awesome! If they had only had a NASCAR gingerbread house the night would have been complete.

I was in San Diego from the 12-14th for a friend's wedding. Highlights include an amazing Italian meal at a great restaurant in La Jolla, the wedding (of course), driving the Pacific Coast Highway from Laguna Beach to San Clemente, Trader Joes, Balboa Park, and best of all, a long, leisurely walk on the beach. Sometimes I really do miss southern California.

This is me, looking a little windblown, on Torrey Pines State Beach.

Balboa Park

Every year at Christmas I make homemade granola for my co-workers. I made the above batch with dried cherries and blueberries I picked up at Trader Joes.

Then I make little gift bags out of fabric for the granola. Above is the finished product. Cute, eh! It gives me such a thrill to make this every year. It's really easy, and everyone loves it.

This is my cute mom on the train on our way to see Neil Diamond on the 19th. I would have taken a picture at the concert but I ended up having to sneak my camera in, and as we were in the handicapped section, there were lots of ushers around and well, I didn't want to get in trouble. If you haven't yet had an opportunity to see Neil Diamond in concert, I highly recommend it. He sang all my favorite songs. During Sweet Caroline I closed my eyes for a moment and pretended I was back at Fenway Park. If only....

This photo is from 2 nights ago. My sisters and I were playing Sorry (obviously). Notice all the little green men, sitting in the Start bubble. Yeah, those are my guys. Then observe how my opponents have all of their little guys on the board. We had already gone through the cards 1 1/2 times, and I hadn't moved any guys out of start. None. It was thoroughly depressing.

Fast forward to another time and a half through the cards. Triumph was mine! Ahhh, winning is sweet.

Earlier today, trying out my pizzelle maker for the first time. I've wanted one of these for years, and then one of my good friends surprised me with it for Christmas. She is probably the only person on the planet I have ever confessed wanting this to, so it was a total and complete surprise. I was giddy the day she gave it to me. After making my first batch this afternoon, I OD'ed on pizzelles. They are so addictive. Can't wait to share them with the folks at work tomorrow, although come to think of it, most of our staff will still be out on vacation.

And finally, the recipe you've been waiting for... OK, you probably haven't been waiting for this, but this is the recipe that has caused me months of torment. I tried it again on Saturday and I now have both sisters' stamp of approval, so even though I think it could still be perfected, I figure its good enough to post.

烧饼 (Shao Bing)

These little babies are called shao bing. They're a Chinese flat bread. My favorite way to eat these is to grind peanuts and sugar together and then stuff that into the shao bing right when they come out of the oven. The hot bread melts the peanut/sugar mixture just a bit and it is so tasty. If that's not your thing, you can also whip up a basic stir-fry and stuff the stir fry into the bread instead of eating it over rice. Hopefully soon I'll have a stir-fry recipe on the blog specifically for shao bing. In the meantime, try the peanuts. I think you'll love it as much as I, and my sisters, do.

1/2 c. vegetable oil
2/3 c. All-Purpose Flour

Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat until very hot. Add the flour and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until the flour is nut-brown and very fragrant. Remove from heat and let cool while you make the shao bing dough.

4 1/2 c. self-rising flour
1 1/2 t. salt
3 T. sugar
3/4 c. very hot tap water
1 c. very cold tap water

Sesame Seeds
Spray bottle with tap water (or you can use a pastry brush and a bowl of water)

Combine dry ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. With the mixer running on low speed, add the hot water and the cold water in quick succession. Knead in the machine until smooth and elastic, approximately 4 minutes. Place dough on a lightly floured surface, knead briefly, form into a ball, and let rest under a kitchen towel for 10 minutes.

Divide the dough into 20 pieces. Let rest for 5 minutes on a floured surface under a kitchen towel.

This is where it gets a little tricky....
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Take a piece of dough and roll it into a 6-by-3 inch rectangle. With a pastry brush, brush a generous amount of the roux over the dough. Fold the dough into thirds, rotate the dough packet by 90 degrees, and roll it out a second time to make a 6-by-3 rectangle. Fold the dough into thirds again and roll it out briefly to make it about 2-by-4 inches. Spritz or brush the top of the dough with water. Fill a bowl with sesame seeds. Press the top-side (the side with the water) of the dough into the sesame seeds then place sesame seed side down on a baking sheet. Repeat with all the remaining pieces of dough.

Bake for 12 minutes, then take out the tray and flip the breads over. Bake for another 12 minutes.

Peanuts and Sugar Mixture:

2/3 c. roasted, unsalted peanuts (I buy mine at Trader Joes)
1/4 c. sugar

Place in a mini food processor/chopper. Mix until finely ground. Store in an airtight container.

Sunday, December 14, 2008


Hey kids. I'm back baby, back! I know, I know - you thought you had seen the last of me. You thought, That's it. She gave up on the blog. She got bored, distracted, busy. No more Chinese food a la Shannon.

And then you stopped by the blog today and got yourself a little holiday surprise: me. Here. Blogging. It's a Christmas miracle, almost too good to believe. But hey, it's the holiday season and I wanted to do what I could to spread a little cheer.

I can't take full credit for this post however. I have to give a quick shout out to Erin and Amri for gently (at least in Erin's case) nudging me back in the direction of the blog. Many many thanks ladies for the extra, and highly needed, dose of motivation.

I feel like I can't let my two month absence pass without an explanation of some kind. This is what happened - I got a bad case of extreme stubbornness. This happens to me sometimes, but this year has been worse then most. Earlier this year, I avoided my quilt room for 6 months because I didn't want to work on this one nightmare quilt I had started, but I refused to start another quilt until I had finished that one.

In the blog's case, I had one specific recipe in mind for my next post. It's one of my favorite things and I was so excited about sharing it with all of you. Unfortunately however, the recipe is, well, complicated. And a tad tricky. I made it twice (this was months ago) but felt the recipe still needed a bit of work before it would be blog worthy. I posted instead about my trip to China and shared another recipe I had ready to go. Then I was done, and I needed to figure out the recipe I was now dreading. I couldn't face the thought of going through the whole process again, making a few changes, and then (perish the thought) having to possibly make it again! So rather than do the rational thing, and just make something else, I stalled. And stalled. And stalled some more.

This past week, due to an unexpected case of the flu, I hit upon another recipe I wanted to try: egg drop soup. Growing up, whenever I got the flu, my mom would feed me the following easy to digest items: soft-boiled eggs, white rice, chicken broth. As I was laying in bed feeling miserable on Wednesday night, I got to thinking about how none of the above sounded appetizing. However, if I combined two of them as an egg drop soup, I might have something. The perfect sick girl's food; something with enough flavor to actually be appealing, but still easy enough on the system to not cause alarm. If you, like me, manage to catch a case of the flu this winter, give this baby a try. I'm quite pleased with it. So much so that I'm almost looking forward to my next bout of the flu so I can test its efficacy as healing food.

Egg Drop Soup
Adapted from this recipe.

3 cups low-sodium chicken stock, plus 2 tablespoons
1" chunk grated fresh ginger
1 T. soy sauce
1 T. corn starch
3 eggs, lightly beaten
3 green onions, chopped
7 oz. soft tofu, diced (optional)
Salt and white pepper, to taste

In a small bowl, make a slurry by combining the cornstarch and 2 T. of the chicken stock. Stir until dissolved.

Combine the remaining chicken stock, grated ginger, and soy sauce in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Slowly pour in the cornstarch mixture while stirring the stock. Stir until thickened. Reduce heat to a simmer. Pour in the eggs slowly while stirring the soup in the same direction. The egg will spread and feather. Turn off the heat and add the green onions. Season with salt and pepper and serve immediately.