Saturday, June 20, 2015

Coconut Macaroons




I recently came to realize that I form a lot of food association--of food and people anyway.  Whenever I think of my maternal grandma, I think of kumquats and how lovely the scent of kumquat oil saturated her kitchen when she made kumquat preserve every Tet.  Or my paternal grandma and her love of chicken and cellophane noodle soup.  She loved it so much that it was served at every family gathering and Vietnamese celebration, much to my disgust that I have boycotted this dish for years.  Or my mom and her sponge cake obsession.  I can’t remember a morning when she would have her cafe sua da without a piece of sponge cake.  Even before she finishes a loaf, she’s already whisking up another one.  And then, there’s my dad, who I would never in a million years form a food association between him and coconut macaroons.



My dad is probably the easiest eater you’ll ever meet.  Having been a prisoner of war and living in a concentration camp for a number of years, he learned to eat almost anything and wouldn’t complain about it either.  He survived eating bugs, plants, and what not!  Some of his food stories in the concentration camp are quite spectacular and somewhat crazy.  Growing up, I noticed that he didn’t have any affinity for sweet so imagine my surprise when he brought home the saddest looking macaroons from a Vietnamese supermarket.  Not exactly the best place to buy pastry by the way!  Vietnamese supermarkets are notorious for selling old pastries and desserts that probably sat there for goodness knows how many days.  


Unbeknownst to me, his Achilles’ heel is coconut macaroon.  I was curious and decided to give them a try.  They were dry and a bit salty.  My dad definitely deserves more than those awful tasting macaroons so I threw together some egg whites, sugar, almond flour, and coconut flakes to make a fresh batch for him.  They turned out better than I expected, crunchy on the outside, chewy in the center with a hint of sweetness!  I couldn’t be happier when my dad gave me his nod of approval!  He now has a large Weck jar of endless macaroons on our kitchen counter.  These macaroons are my way of thanking him for everything that he does.  Deeply etched in my memory, my dad and macaroons are now linked forever.    



Coconut macaroons (makes about 18 small macaroons)
2 egg whites
½ tsp cream of tartar
6 tbsp of superfine sugar
¼ cup of almond flour
3 cups of unsweetened, shredded coconut

1. Preheat the oven to 325˚F.  Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. In a bowl of a stand mixer, whisk the egg whites until frothy.  Then add the cream of tartar and whisk until soft peaks start to form (it should resemble shaving cream).
3. Slowly add the sugar and continue whisking until the peaks hold their shape and the whites are shiny.
4. Remove the mixing bowl, use a spatula and fold in the almond flour and coconut.  Stir until the coconut is evenly moistened. 
5. Use your hands and shape the coconut mixture into small lumps, about one inch in diameter.  Space them about an inch apart.
6. Bake the macaroons for about 12-15 minutes or until they start to turn golden.
7. Remove them from the oven and transfer to a wire rack and let them cool completely.  Store in an airtight container for up to a week.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Capture the Moment: The Modern Photographer's Guide to Finding Beauty in Everyday and Family Life



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Capture the Moment is absolutely stunning.  Broken into six main aspects of photography: natural light, composition, storytelling, fine art, black and white, and low light, this book gives you all the tools you need to capture the beautiful moments you want to cherish.  Within each chapter, the author included many tips and examples that will inspire your own photography.  Each tip is paired with an image along with the photographer’s name, camera info, lens aperture, shutter speed, and ISO employed in picture.  I was so happy to get this photography guide in time for Father’s Day to prep for a photoshoot that I’m planning on doing for my husband and son.  Capture the Moment is a beautiful photography guide that will inspire and help you look through your camera lens in a different light.


*I received this book to review complementary of the publisher  

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Yogurt with Cherry Compote and Pistachios




Sometimes the simplest things taste the best—like a bowl of yogurt, topped with our favorite fruits, and nuts or seeds to add some crunch.  Vu and I have been obsessed with Noosa yogurt since our friend introduced us to this brand, mainly because it’s the closest in taste to the Vietnamese yogurt that we grew up with.   




We usually stock up on the plain one since it complements seasonal fresh fruits or fruit compote very well.  Honestly, you don’t need a recipe to tell you how to spoon yogurt over fruits, add some honey or agave, and throw in some nuts or granola.  Below is a variation that we have enjoyed while cherry is in season.

Yogurt with cherry compote and pistachios
1/2 cup plain yogurt (we love Noosa)
¼ cup of balsamic cherry compote (recipe here)
1 tbsp roasted, unsalted pistachios, crushed
2 tsps of honey (optional)

In a small bowl, add the plain yogurt, top with cherry compote, and sprinkle the pistachios on top. Enjoy!

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Bostocks



Today’s post will be a bit long but please bear with me.  

We were looking forward to last weekend.  The weather was glorious and we had activities planned for both days, starting with a trip to the Little Italy farmers market on Saturday to pick up fresh fruits and vegetables for a beach picnic on Sunday.  But as you know it, plans never go accordingly when you have a toddler in tow.

I was so excited to head to the Little Italy farmers market after skipping many weeks.  My first stop was at the bread stall because I had a special treat planned for Vu and Aiden.  While I was picking out a loaf of brioche, I heard a high screech followed by hysterical wailing.  It was coming from Aiden.  As I turned around, I saw his face streaming with tears and blood dripping down his right hand.  Apparently he was trying to pet a dog and it had bitten him, a seemingly cute King Charles no less.  I didn’t even hear a bark or any scuffle.  Panic ran through my body as Vu and I rushed him to the nearest first aid station.  We washed Aiden’s wound and luckily a nice volunteer who also happened to be an EMT bandaged up his hand.  

Having worked in the ED and caring for enough patients who presented with dog bites, I knew it was not mild.  Unfortunately, his pediatrician’s office was closed for the weekend so we took him to an urgent care.  After a long hour of waiting, we were finally seen.  The dog bite was serious and warranted antibiotic with regular wound care but not a trip to the hospital.  I breathed a sigh of relief knowing his little hand could have sustained a lot more damage if it had been a bigger dog.  


We drove to the pharmacy to pick up his antibiotic and Murphy’s Law was in full effect.  The pharmacy tech told us that our insurance didn’t cover Aiden’s medication.  Whaaaaaaat!  I was beyond frustrated at that point.  After trying to explain things to the tech and getting him to re-run my insurance, he finally realized that the medication was filled under the wrong Aiden.  I was told to come back in 15 minutes so they can re-process it.  

To kill some time, I took Aiden to a supermarket a few feet away.  As we were about to leave the supermarket and head back to the pharmacy, Aiden had a complete meltdown and started crying screaming, and kicking.  From pain? Hunger? Irritation? Normal toddler tantrum?  Who knows! I tried calming him down but he was inconsolable, causing a scene right in front of the supermarket’s entrance.  GREAT!!! Everyone was now staring, enjoying the showdown between the terrible TODDLER and his mama.  

I was about to throw my hands in the air and break down too.  But I refused to have the universe play it’s Murphy’s law on me.  Without hesitation, I picked Aiden up and positioned him on a stack of newspaper nearby to calm him down and put his shoes back on.  Then a tiny voice echoed from behind me, “Excuse me, can I grab a newspaper?”  Good grief, I couldn’t catch a break!!  I muttered all the strength left to not scream at the oblivious lady and throw a newspaper at her.  Aiden finally stopped crying and we made it back to the pharmacy.  They were still not done with his prescription.  I was sooooooooo ready for this day to end but we eventually made it home.


After five days of wound care and antibiotic, the swelling in Aiden’s hand finally went down and started to heal.  It’s hard for any parents to see their child hurt but we were incredibly grateful that the incident was serious but not severe like those you often see on TV.  We have a dog at home, and Betsy loves him but it doesn’t mean that other dogs would be as tolerant.  Both Vu and I realized that in our moment of panic, we rushed to the nearest first aid station without asking the owner about the dog’s vaccination status and other important info which the providers at the urgent care needed.  Through all of this, Aiden’s spirit was unbreakable and he wasn’t traumatized by the experience.  Somehow children are a lot more resilient than we give them credit for and they bounce back very well.  Instead of heading to the beach like we originally planned, we spent the whole weekend indoor letting Aiden recover and giving him lots of love and cuddles.  


Well, thank you for making it this far!  Since this is a food blog, I’ll get to the “bostocks” which titled this post.   At the beginning of the story, I mentioned that I was picking out a loaf of brioche while the dog bite incident went down.  I was buying the brioche to create a special treat, bostocks, for Vu and Aiden.  In case you haven’t heard of bostocks, you’re at the same place I was before I discovered them from the Seven Spoons cookbook by the amazing Tara O’Brady.  


Bostocks are French pastries made of brioche slices soaked in orange syrup, slathered in almond cream, and baked until the edges are crispy and caramelized but the center custardy. Think of them as children from a marriage between almond croissants and French toasts.  If you like either of them, you’re in for a treat. 


In France, bostock is traditionally enjoyed as a decadent breakfast or brunch pastry, but we have had it as a dessert right out of the oven a la mode.  They’re perfect for anytime of the day!  Both Vu and Aiden really enjoyed them.  



At this point, I have lost count of how many times I have made them and am completely convinced that bostocks, or almond toasts, are the best pastries I have had this year.



Bostocks (adapted from Seven Spoons by Tara O’Brady)

Orange Syrup
½ cup of water
½ cup of orange juice
¾ cup of sugar
¼ cup of orange zest (you can use a combination of orange, lemon, and grapefruit zest)
1 tbsp orange liqueur (Grand Marnier)

Frangipane cream (almond cream)
1 cup of almond meal
¾ cup of icing sugar
½ cup of butter
1 egg
pinch of salt
seeds scraped from a vanilla bean
1 tbsp rum
1 tsp almond extract

For the bostocks
8-10 slices of brioche, about ¾ to 1 inch thick (use one day old brioche loaf)
orange syrup from above
frangipane cream from above
1 cup of sliced almonds
icing/powdered sugar for dusting

1. Preheat the oven to 350˚F
2. To make the orange syrup, combine water, sugar, orange juice, orange liqueur, and orange zest in a heavy saucepan and boil over medium-high heat until sugar dissolves.  Lower the heat and let the syrup simmer until the volume reduces to two thirds.  Set aside and let it cool to room temperature. 
3. To make the frangipane cream, in a food processor, combine ¼ cup of icing sugar and almond meal and process until well combined.
4. In a bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until creamy and fluffy.  Add the remaining icing sugar and beat until well combined.
5. Mix in the almond meal/sugar mixture and continue beating.
6. Add in the vanilla, salt, rum, almond extract, and egg and beat until well combined.
7. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and arrange the brioche slices on the paper.
8. To assemble the bostocks, brush about 2 tablespoons of orange syrup onto the brioche slices. 
9. Using an offset spatula, spread about 2 tablespoons of frangipane cream on top of the syrup.
10. Scatter about 2 tablespoons of sliced almonds on top of the cream.
11. Repeat the with remaining brioche slices.
12. Place the baking sheet in the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes until the sliced almonds are golden brown, the frangipane cream set, and the edges of the toast caramelized.  
13. Remove from the oven and let the bostocks cool for 5 minutes.
14. When ready to serve, sift a light flurry of icing sugar over the bostocks.

Cook's note: The recipe calls for removing the zest before use but I found it added flavor to the bostock when a few strands of zest are added.  Both the syrup and frangipane cream can be keep in an airtight container for up to a week.