Sunday, December 29, 2013

Christmas Dessert Buffet

Chocolate and almond sugar cookie trees.

My family came over from Vancouver and Victoria for a few days to spend their Christmas with us. There were ten of us in the house and although I pulled off another Christmas dinner and dessert buffet, I can't help but feel even more victorious at the fact that we never once ran out of hot water. How awesome is that?!

It was nice to see the family again and my 5 year old got to play nice with his two little cousins. Thank goodness. He's starting to adjust a lot better to our new life here in the USA. Christmas dinner was a bit different this year. I tried a few new dishes which had good potential. I bought myself another dutch oven so I was able to bake two dutch oven breads on the same day. TWO! One white bread for dinner and one fig anise bread for breakfast the next day. They both turned out great!

White round bread in my new dutch oven.

Below was our lovely menu, in case you are interested. There are a few links to the recipes as well. Sorry, I didn't take any pictures :( I was way too busy serving everyone. All the dishes went quite well together and there was a good variety for everyone. The leftovers fed us for a few days. Guess we got way too full on the wine.

Christmas Menu

Dessert Buffet
Displayed here is only about 1/3 of all our desserts.

I love cooking for Christmas but it's the baking that actually takes more time. All the cooking was done the day of but I started baking a couple of days before. I had to finish frosting the cupcakes Christmas morning. It seems like I made a lot of food but I actually wasn't overworked. I think it's because I have a bigger kitchen now and that makes it easier to organize and multitask.

Giant Santa cookies for the kids.

Glittery pearl airbrushed Christmas trees. I love these!

New York Times chocolate chip cookies.

Brown butter rice krispies.

Trader Joe's peppermint candies for the topping.

Chocolate cupcakes with peppermint ganache and peppermint swiss meringue buttercream.

It was fun but I'm ready to leave Christmas behind. Lol. I'm gearing up for New Year's and my birthday now. Is it just me or is Christmas way too close to the New Year's celebration? Luckily, it will only be a three-course meal for New Year's :)

Hope you all had a great Christmas and winter holiday!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Homemade Vegan Pho

It's freezing here in Redmond. I'm actually typing this post with fingerless gloves on and an infrared heater turned on in the room. All I can think about these days is sipping hot tea and eating hot soup. Everyone north of us would be laughing since we have a temperature high of 4C today and not a single flake of snow on the ground. It was about 5 degrees colder yesterday though. I hear Vancouver, BC is white with snow and I'm actually thankful not to be there right now.

One of my all time favorite noodle soup dishes has got to be Phở. It's probably the noodle soup that I make most often since it's the simplest one. We also go out for Pho a lot because it's fast and cheap comforting food. But of course I like to make my own since I can control what I put in my food :) I also want more than just two meatballs in my soup.

My husband asked me to veganize Pho a long time ago and I refused to. There is no way a Pho could be "a Pho" without meat and meat products. Now that I have tried vegan Pho at a restaurant and have reproduced it at home, I can tell you I was right! Pho is just not Pho without the meat and bones. The vegan broth definitely tastes different. However, what they call vegan Pho is still passable as a good alternative to Pho. It's tasty and it's spiced in the same way so it does smell like Pho. It's more like a Pho-spiced hot pot with noodles. Like most soups, it tastes better the next day as well.

Pho is easy to make. Vegan Pho is more complicated. But the good news is that Vegans can still satisfy their craving of Pho with this homemade soup :) And if you live in the Redmond, WA area, you can find vegetarian meat balls or mushroom balls that are made from taro root powder and potato starch. They taste alright and were less than $3 a pack :)

My favorite Pho noodles.

Homemade Vegan Pho
Serves 5

Soup Broth:

4 quart of water
7 whole dried mushrooms, rinsed
1 bunch broccolini, sliced (save leafy ends for serving)
4 carrots, thick slices (save a few for serving if you like)
2 cups, snap peas (save 1 cup for serving)
1 small handful of rinsed shredded kelp or dry seaweed

Soup Spices:

2 tbsp ginger, sliced
7 whole cloves
3 star anise
1 big piece or stick of cinnamon
few peppercorns
1 tsp coriander
1 tsp crushed garlic

Soup Seasoning:

3 tbsp of light soy sauce
1-2 tbsp salt
1 tbsp sugar

Bowl Contents:

1 bag Pho noodles
1 bag of bean sprouts, about 2 cups
1 small onion, thinly sliced
handful of basil, washed
2 green onions, thinly sliced
fried garlic and oil
lemon wedges, optional
sriracha sauce, optional

Boil water and add the mushrooms, stems of the broccolini, carrots, 1 cup of snap peas, and kelp. Add all the spices and bring to a boil. Simmer on low for at least 1 hour to make the broth. Remove and discard all the vegetables in the soup. They won't have much flavor anymore. You can keep the mushrooms though. Once they are cool enough, you can cut off and discard the stems and then slice the caps.

Cook the noodles according to the instructions on the bag. Be careful not to overcook the noodles. Five minutes before serving, add seasoning to the broth and raise the heat to medium. Add the broccolini, snap peas, the sliced mushrooms from the broth and whatever other vegetables or veggies balls you want to serve in the soup. I also added a pack of enoki mushrooms to my soup. Boil and cook this for just a few minutes.

For each large serving bowl, add some bean sprouts, then noodles, some onions, then add broth and vegetables. Top with some basil, green onions, garlic oil, and sriracha sauce. Mix and enjoy!

Note: if you are serving veggie balls and want dip for them, I spotted vegetarian Hoisin sauce at the Asian Food stores here. I didn't read the ingredients so I'm not sure if it is vegan. Worth checking out though ;)

Monday, November 18, 2013

Ironman Birthday Party with Ironman Themed Cake and Cookies

My little boy turns five this week so this past weekend we threw him a birthday party. FIVE is a huge milestone and it seemed like a good time to have a superhero party. Since his favorite superhero is Ironman, I decided just to focus on Ironman.

The Invitations.

We're in Redmond now so this year we had a completely new group of people attend his birthday party. We invited everyone in his new daycare class but only one person accepted the invitation. This was quite the change from last year, where everyone but one accepted the invitation. In comparison, this year's party was very calm and relaxing. I actually got to socialize a lot, which was a luxury :)

We decorated the house with lots of balloons and focused on using gold, red, yellow, and black for colors. We bought a helium tank to inflate the balloons too so that was a lot of fun. Thanks to Pinterest, we decided to surprise our birthday boy by filling his bedroom with balloons before he woke up that morning. However, we missed his reaction when he actually woke up. I couldn't believe it! Dang.

The balloons and decorations were great but we didn't exactly do what I had in mind. We totally toned it down because we didn't want to tire ourselves and we didn't want our new friends to think we're too crazy. Lol. I bought all the stuff for the decorations but when I described what I had in mind to my husband, he just laughed and said "no wonder people never want to invite us to any of their parties!" Yeah, okay. It was just a cool idea. I have a whole board of cool birthday ideas from Pinterest! But yeah, okay.

Simple decorations. It worked nicely actually.

Ironman Birthday Party Menu

  • Tortillas, Veggies
  • Dips: Spinach/Artichoke, Avocado/Yogurt

Main Lunch
  • Hawaiian island fried rice
  • Ham/cheese sliders on Hawaiian sweet rolls
  • Cranberry Juice, Water
  • Fruit

  • Ironman cake
  • “5” cupcakes
  • Ironman cookies

In fact, we had just the right amount of food. For once I didn't go overboard. The table wasn't even filled with food. Shocking, right?! Everyone seemed to have liked the food.

After eating lunch, we played some games. We had three games initially but then we decided just to do two. In the first game, kids had to attack the Ironman villains with their weapon of choice. I printed out six Ironman villains and taped them onto empty water bottles. We had a nerf gun, bow and arrow and small bouncy balls. We placed the bottles throughout the room and the kids had to take turns trying to hit over the villains. At least that was the idea. It just didn't happen. For the game to work, ALL the kids had to cooperate and take turns to attack. But they all wanted to attack right away and at the same time. Fail. It's too bad since I spent quite a bit of time preparing for the game. I even got my boy to dress up in costume and do some target practice days leading up to the party. Oh well. We ended up just drawing for a prize.

Ironman villains.

In the second game, we tested their super senses. We placed four objects in a paper bag and got each of them to feel the objects and guess what they were. We used lego, crayon, toilet paper, and a sticker. We also tested their sense of smell. We blindfolded them and let them smell four things and again, they had to guess what they were. We used lemon, banana, chocolate, and cheddar cheese. This game went along better and we only involved the bigger kids. Partial success and we got to give away another prize!

Then came the desserts. I had fun making the bakes. My boy had fun baking along side me too.  He used to only have patience for about 30 minutes when it came to rolling, cutting or decorating cookies. Now that he's a bit older, his attention span is longer. He was at it for over an hour. Maybe even a couple of hours. How exciting!

I used my boy's hand as a stencil. What big hands he has!

Fact: sugar cookie decorating takes time.

Completed chocolate sugar cookies with royal icing.

"Chubby" Ironman cake. But check out that GOLD!

Chocolate cake with chocolate chunks inside & topped with Nutella Swiss Meringue Buttercream.

My Ironman cake turned out alright. I should have shaped him more but I got lazy and I didn't want to waste more cake. I say "more cake" because I miscalculated how much cake I needed and made WAY too much. Oops. My husband called the cake a "chubby" Ironman. Lol. I totally agree! The cake I pictured looked better of course but in the end, it was the best I could do. I was a bit worried about things turning out since I haven't baked much for awhile and I was using a new kitchen and all. I did screw up here and there and things took me longer than I expected. There were plenty of imperfections but the taste of the cake made up for it, I think. It was my standard chocolate cake with chocolate swiss meringue buttercream, covered with marshmallow fondant. The best compliment I received was from one of the moms who said the cake tasted "awesome!" She was like "this is just chocolate cake? Nothing more? Wow." I don't think she ever ate a homemade cake made from scratch before. Lol. That totally made my day :)

Thanks to the Ironman cake, I now know how to color food gold :) I love the gold color I achieved on it. I started by adding yellow to my fondant. Then I added just a tiny bit of brown. That alone made a pretty nice gold. I took it further by spraying it with gold Wilton color mist. After that dried a bit, I painted it with Americolor gold sheen airbrush. I used the Americolor gold sheen airbrush on my chocolate sugar cookies as well and that turned out nice too. I'm looking forward to using it again next month to make my Christmas cookies shine with gold and pearl glitter!

Take away loot bags for the kids.

I can't believe my boy is turning five. He's growing up way too fast! I want him to grow big and independent but at the same time I miss the little baby him. He's no baby anymore. Turning five is such a milestone because it's also the start of school. That, of course, also makes me sad because he is not in school right now:( All because we moved from BC. Had we known he couldn't start school here because of his birthday, we probably wouldn't have moved honestly. I personally feel bad having made this mistake but we can only move forward and concentrate on the positive things. I have to believe that things will get much better. Speaking of positive things, it was SUPER nice to be able to throw him a birthday party in a bigger living space. A bigger house definitely eases the pain of relocating here :)

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Redmond Saturday Farmer's Market

Surprise! Although it does feel like a vacation, we're not on vacation right now. I wish this was a vacation post but it isn't. We left Vancouver and moved to Redmond, WA! For good :( Crazy, right?!

My husband got a good job in Washington State and we decided to all move. To be completely honest, I wasn't thrilled about going to the US. I still have mixed feelings about this whole thing. I really like living in Vancouver and I like Canada. But if the situation was reversed, I know I would want my husband and son to move for me. Who knows? Maybe there will be great work opportunities here for me later on too. That is, if I can get a company to sponsor me and upgrade my Visa so I can work in the country.

We're only three hours away from Vancouver but it feels worlds apart. That's because it's a different country and everything seems so different here. At least the weather, language, and biota is the same. When I moved to France after I got married, that wasn't the case. This may be hard but it could definitely be worst.

On the first Saturday after we moved here, we went to the Redmond Saturday Farmer's Market in the town center. It was amazing! It was so much bigger and better than what we were used to in Vancouver. Farmer's markets are numerous back home but they are all very small. This market had such a cool vibe to it too. The vegetables and fruit looked great and were presented beautifully. You know you are at a great market when you see this kind of quality among every vendor. It's not as great as the one in Portland but for little Redmond, I was quite impressed :)

We bought delicious peaches, apples, golden beets, green onions, corn, bunch of carrots, giant blackberries and even pizza! They had wood-fired pizza for sale and it looked and smelled so good. So good that we ended up buying a whole large pizza for an early lunch. We actually had breakfast just before heading to the market too! We chose the three cheese pizza and took it home to eat. It tasted like a pizza from France. Seriously. And just $16.

Overall, prices were a bit on the pricey side for things but then again you are paying for the quality. $3/lb for honey crisp apples and $2.50/lb for peaches. Some things were cheaper like $2 for a big bunch of beets or carrots. There was so much variety in their produce. For instance, I saw a vendor selling what looked like at least four different types of eggplant. And flowers! The bouquets of flowers were gorgeous and cheap! Huge bouquets for just $10 and $5 for simpler ones. I wonder if I can buy some flowers and take them over to Victoria. You think?

There were crafts too. One vendor sold superhero clothes such as capes, masks, and utility belts. It looked like an Etsy-type store. There were lots of people at the market. The market runs from May to October. We're definitely going to try to make it every Saturday.

Oh gosh. It's been a bit of a roller coaster and crazy few months for us. When we decided to move over here and got approved for our Visas, we sold our home in Canada, bought a home in Washington State, gave up our car and coordinated with a gaziilion people in order to make this relocation possible. It has been insane and it still will be for the next couple of months.

So there you have it! Now you know why I have been missing in action.

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