Saturday, February 6, 2021

Ice Cream Adventures: Cereal Milk

Tim loves watching food shows and one that caught his eye a while back was Chef’s Table, a Netflix documentary series which follows a different chef each episode. He urged me to watch Christina Tosi’s episode because he felt that it would resonant with my love of desserts and ice cream. 

I will give that the show was beautifully shot with lots of Instagram-worthy creations. It certainly inspired me to experiment more with different desserts. However, the main thing that captured my attention was Christina’s cereal milk soft serve ice cream. It was so highly touted that I was skeptical about whether it was truly as good as advertised. Since a visit to New York is unlikely to happen in the near future, Tim and I decided, last weekend, to attempt whipping up a batch of cereal milk ice cream ourselves. If you type in ‘cereal milk ice cream recipe’ into Google, you will discover just how popular Christina’s creation is: there are pages and pages of copycat recipes. Although there is an official cookbook from Christina Tosi’s Milk Bar available at the library, I was unlikely to get it any time soon since I was sitting at position 21 on the hold list. So we decided that if it could not be authentic, then it could at least be simple which is how we settled on a recipe from Lovely Little Kitchen

It all starts with making the cereal milk base. We toasted the corn flakes to bring out the flavour and then poured it into the milk and cream. The mixture was left sitting in the fridge overnight to allow for a good steep. 

The next morning was when the doubts began. The soaked cereal was now a sludgy mass and there was an alarming paucity of liquid left to pour into the ice cream maker. We strained the mass; we pressed and coaxed as much liquid out as possible out. As we stared at the small volume, we debated whether we should veer from the recipe and add our usual egg yolks and cook the custard. Our previous egg-less attempts had been rather icy and so we were doubtful about the final texture. After stirring the mixture a few times and seeing how thick it already is, we decided to risk keeping things as is (Any more reduction and we would barely have anything left!) We tossed in the remaining ingredients then poured the custard into the ice cream maker. 

Freshly churned ice cream straight out of the maker has a wonderful fluffy texture that always satisfies - the true test would be after freezing it for several hours. 

We were greatly surprised with how soft and creamy the ice cream was! We both agreed that this was the closest that we had ever gotten to the scoopable-ness of store bought ice cream when taken straight out of the freezer (most of our other ice creams needed to thaw for at least 15 mins before we could easily scoop them). The flavour was delicious - I will conceded that this ice cream lives up to the hype. (Tim absolutely loves it!) The main downside to this recipe was that we only managed to yield a small batch. We will definitely be making this again! (And in a larger quantity too!) 

Saturday, January 23, 2021

So Many Mini Pies!


The first time I attempted lemon curd was a complete disaster. I ended up with a sour scrambled egg looking mixture and a lot of laughs with my friends (so maybe it was not ALL bad).  Eight years later, I happen to have five extra egg yolks on hand and a much better idea of how to navigate around a kitchen so I decided to try again.

I settled on this recipe from the Food Network mainly because it called for 5 egg yolks, which meant that I did not have to do any math. I made a few adjustments like using bottled lemon juice instead of fresh lemons and using less than a stick of butter (I am actually not sure how much I ended up using; I just eye-balled it until I got the desired consistency). It was delicious! And also much easier than I thought. 

Is it not beautiful? The perfect combination of sweet and tart. 

Having finally achieved a successful lemon curd, I did not know what to do with it. (I am not that good at planning ahead when it comes to working in the kitchen...)  I had first considered making macarons as a sort of “redemption” for that first sad attempt from eight years ago. (Clarification: the lemon curd was sad; the other macarons we ended up making turned out very nicely!).  However, macarons use only egg whites and I did not want to produce more left over egg yolks (a never-ending cycle!). Instead, I settled on making mini lemon curd pies.  

Fresh from the oven! (I tend to bake in the evenings so the lighting is never ideal for pictures...sigh...)

Surprisingly, even though I filled my mini pie crusts to the brim, I STILL had extra lemon curd (I guess it was a generous recipe?). I cubed some cake I had lying around (baked by my cousin, not me), layered the pieces with lemon curd, dolloped whip cream on top and made myself a cute little parfait. No pictures – sorry, it was just too yummy to wait.

The recipe that I used to make my mini pie crusts was enough for 16 mini pies or 2 regular pie shells. I had only used up half the dough at this point but for the second half, I wanted a little variety in my pies. So I dug out a nearly expired can of No Name apple filling from the back of our pantry (that is what happens when you buy things on whim...) and whipped up some mini apple crumble pies. 

I was just making things up as I went along. 

I tossed together the crumble topping using the first recipe that came up on my google search. This allowed me to dig into the ancient bag of rolled oats that had also been languishing in the back of my pantry (there is a lot of stuff back there...). I baked them at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for about 30 minutes - the house smelled so good. 

Tim loves all things apple and surprisingly, my brother was also a big fan of these. It is always nice to have an audience base for one's baking. 

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Quiche - First try!


Practise. Practise. Practise.

That is the standard advice when it comes to mastering any skill. For me, achieving the buttery, flaky perfection that is the pie crust has become my latest culinary ambition. The only way I know how to make pie crusts is how Evan Kleiman taught it in her Craftsy class, Perfecting the Pie Crust. She has a copy of her recipe freely available online but as a novice, I found watching the videos of her actually making it very helpful. In her class, Evan suggests multiple possible variations of her core recipe but for me, this is the one that I have stuck to:

·         12 ounces all-purpose flour

·         2 ounces of shortening + 6 ounces of butter (ie. 8 ounces of “fat” in total)

·         4 – 5 ounces of ice cold water

·         2 tablespoons of sugar

·         1 teaspoon of salt

It has not failed me yet.

Each time I have attempted a pie crust, I have mixed the dough with my hands. It is messier than using a pastry cutter but I feel like I have better control over what I am doing. I toss the dough in the fridge or freezer for a few minutes every few steps; it is probably just paranoia on my part but I am constantly worried about my butter becoming too warm. It may be overkill but at least all my crusts have been consistently flaky.  

I have changed up the filling each time so I cannot really assess my progress for that part of my pies. My most recent iteration was quiche on the request of Tim. This was a joint project where I was in charge of the crust and Tim took care of the filling. We referenced two different sites for our instructions:

For the Love of Cooking: Broccoli, Extra Sharp Cheddar, and Bacon Quiche  (This particular recipe was chosen to deal with the sadly yellowing broccoli that had been sitting in our fridge for far too long)

Sally’sBaking Addiction: How to Make the Perfect Quiche 

I chose to blind bake the crust, which is definitely a skill I need to work on as evidenced by the overbrowned (ie. Burnt) edge that you can see in the picture. 

For a first attempt, we were quite happy with how our quiche turned out. It made for a very tasty brunch!

Saturday, January 2, 2021

First Steps into Brushlettering


An encouraging verse to start the new year! 

In 2019, I made my first post on Instagram announcing that I was taking up some new hobbies: calligraphy and handlettering. Despite those bold claims, I made pathetically little progress in this ambition during that year. Every once in a while, I would pick up the brush pen that I had impulsively bought and try to form a few letters. Inevitably, I would become discouraged with how lopsided and uneven my letters looked and then abandon the project. Of course, my discouragement had not stopped me from pinning endless pictures of pretty projects on Pinterest and wishing the writing in my planner was more stylish.

Finally, last summer, with a shiny new subscription to blueprint (now Craftsy) in my hands, I decided to take this ambition more seriously. Fortunately for me, there were several classes on brush calligraphy and lettering and so I binge-watched course after course while procrastinating from my studies (For the record, I still passed my exam!).  It was useful to get a sense of the different approaches and styles to brush calligraphy. I discovered just how attached I am to my own style of handwriting when I found myself feeling surprisingly uneasy copying someone else’s lettering. I ended up picking and choosing the techniques I felt most comfortable with from the various instructors and cobbled together the lettering style that I am quite happy with.

Practise. Practise. Practise.

 This has become my favourite size to write - I find my lettering looks more natural. 

Like any new skill, I still need a lot more practice but I can definitely see myself continuing this. 

If you are flirting with the idea of trying brushlettering yourself but do not know where to begin, then these are the two courses that I started with:


Brush Pen Calligraphy Workshop by Sharisse DeLeon

Sharisse’s course was a short, breezy overview. She covered the basics from how to hold the pen to walking through the fundamental strokes (“thin up, thick down”). Her most useful segment, for me, was when she demonstrated the difference between brush calligraphy and cursive writing; in brush calligraphy, you are constantly lifting your pen to prevent the strokes from becoming too heavy. That was a revelation because I finally understood why I had been so dissatisfied with my early attempts – I had approached brushlettering like it was cursive writing using a fancy pen. Once I learned to give my letters “breathing room”, my attempts looked much more balanced. She ended the course with some neat techniques on how to do some basic flourishes and blend inks. I have not gotten around to trying them yet but I like the effects.


Brush Lettering: Cards, Envelopes & More by Krislam Chin

Krislam’s course was much longer, mainly because she took the time to demonstrate how to form every single letter in both upper and lower case. She was also more technical, explaining the different parts of letters (ie. Ascenders, base-line, x-line, etc.) and discussing elements of designing compositions (eg. spacing, hierarchy). Interestingly, in contrast to Sharisse’s teaching, Krislam tried to reassure the audience by saying that brushlettering is very similar to cursive writing. Krislam’s lettering style did have a more cursive writing “look” (if that makes sense) while I found Sharisse’s style more clean and open. However, I liked Krislam’s final projects better than Sharisse’s. They were bolder and more fun.

Of course, there are many, many other tutorials and resources out there (this is such a trendy thing nowadays) including many free videos on youtube. A quick peek around Pinterest will show you drills and worksheets galore. 

One of my goals for 2021 is to experiment with more styles and different techniques. It will be interesting to see how my lettering evolves. Onwards to a creative new year! 

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Ice Cream Adventures: Vegan Pina Colada

When it comes to ice cream, nothing matches the luxurious smoothness of full fat dairy milk and cream. Unfortunately, when you’re Chinese and most of your friends and family are of Asian descent too, the issue of lactose-intolerance can really put a damper on things. Logic tells me that delving into dairy-alternative desserts is the smart thing to do but a part of me still balks at the thought of ice cream without milk. Fortunately, another part of me is always up for a challenge.

With hot summer weather upon us and COVID19 restrictions continuing to drag on (and on, and on, and on…), I started longing for backyard BBQs, cold drinks and friends. Since that dream seemed elusive, I decided to try my hand at a cocktail-flavoured ice cream to try and capture that carefree spirit of summer even if the current reality was less than ideal. I have always liked pina coladas and as something that is supposed to taste of coconut, it appeared to be the perfect flavour to start experimenting with a coconut milk-based ice cream. 

After browsing multiple blogs for recipes, I was drawn to this one in particular:

Ready to go!

I figured since we were experimenting with non-traditional ice cream, we might as well make it vegan! It was quite the experience since my husband and I had never worked with coconut cream before. We were not off to a good start when we dumped the coconut cream out of the package and then tried to blend the solid and liquid parts together to create, what we were hoping, would be a smooth cream base. We panicked when it started to curdle. Good thing we had a friend who likes to bake on speed dial! She coached us through warming it up and stirring the mixture back into something that looked edible. Crisis averted!

This stuff is rather alarming to work with....

The rest of the recipe went as outlined but unfortunately, the end result was rather underwhelming. Maybe it was the brand of coconut milk and cream that we used (Aroy-D) but we found that it tasted surprisingly bland. We also found the end result rather icey and nothing near the smooth creaminess you would expect from a dairy-based ice cream – I feel that perhaps we had the wrong expectations to start. The toasted coconut flakes and fresh pineapple chunks provided most of the flavour.

At first, we were disappointed. We really could not bring ourselves to call our creation ice “cream”. But as we sat on our back deck in the summer sun, scrapping into our icey desserts, we discovered that after a while, the dessert grew on us. Overall, it tasted refreshing and light. It reminded us of bingsu (ie. Korean shaved ice) and we realized that if we “rebranded” it and thought of it as a shaved ice instead of ice cream, it was actually delicious. Soon, we were making plans to add an ice shaver (at some point) to our eclectic collection of kitchen appliances.

This may be the start of another line of desserts for us!

An alternative way of serving (when you are too lazy to scrape it out of the tub...😜)

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Amino Acids Thank You Cards

Nerdy is the new cool. I don’t know when it happened but at some point, it became trendy for science-related themes to be represented in crafts and hobbies. Maybe it’s because so many of us draw strict lines between work and leisure that it becomes a pleasant surprise to see a blending of the two in a fun way. I am certainly not complaining because I have always adored my knitted DNA fingerless gloves (thanks, sis!).

When it comes to work though, there isn’t often the occasion to be giving out crystal beaded animals or origami stars. However, the working world can never have too many thank you cards. I especially enjoy giving one with a science theme because there is the added sense of comradery that comes with sharing an in-joke.   

I can’t take any credit for the innovative use of amino acids in this card design. I was inspired by seeing these cards being sold on Etsy: The clean, precise design is a brilliant reflection of the exactness of science. As much as I admired the tidy graphic quality of the image though, I thought it lacked sparkle (everything can be improved with a little glitter!).

The oxygen and nitrogen molecules were obvious spots to add rhinestones which completely changed the entire look of the cards. Another big change was that I hand sketched all the lines. Printing the cards would have given more exact lines but I was happy to live with the more organic feel of hand-drawn (reminds me of my university biology notes). I was able to reproduce the same design multiple times with a little innovation of my own: a makeshift light table using a lamp placed under a glass coffee table.

I experimented with different sized pen lines and was impressed with how dramatic a difference 0.15 mm can make.

The thin lines looked significantly more professional.

For those of you who can't remember your amino acids from undergrad, they are (T)hreonine, (H)istidine, (A)lanine, (N) Asparagine, (K) Lysine, and (S)erine. I like that this card idea is adaptable to multiple other occasions since the amino acid letters can be used to spell a variety of messages. Of course, that is just as long as you do not need to use B,J,O,U,X, or Z – now that is the real test of creativity.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

bluprint: Free Access Binge Watching

Thanks to COVID19, everyone is spending a lot more time at home. bluprint is one of many companies offering free trials of their content in hopes of enticing viewers to become one of their regular subscribers. In the past, I have occasionally considered signing up but never really found the time to make a subscription worth it. Finding out that they were offering temporary free access had me really excited. There was so much content that I barely knew where to start! After spending an hour just browsing the library, I finally semi-randomly picked one and started watching.

(Just a note: The free access only allowed me to watch the videos. The class notes and other extra resources were only available if you bought a regular subscription. My main, overarching criticism is that measurements were not provided with any of the food classes… but one can hardly complain about free stuff. )

Over the last few months, Tim and I have been experimenting with homemade ice cream and so this class seemed like the natural one to start with.

In general, the class was an overview of a large variety of frozen desserts. It covered ice cream, gelato, sorbet, diary-free ice cream and ice cream cake. First, she walked through the step-by-step basics for making ice cream and then repeated and reinforced those steps and principles for all the subsequent desserts. Since Tim and I already had a few batches of ice cream under our belts, (both figuratively and literally – all that cream we are eating has to go somewhere…) the class provided a good review and reassured us that we were doing things right.

One change we plan on making after watching this class is to try and use 2% milk instead of whole milk. Since starting our ice cream making adventures, we have switched to using whole milk for everything else we make (eg. lattes, soups etc.) because it did not make sense for us to have two types of milk in the house. In the long run, if lower fat milk works in ice cream, I feel it will be better for both of our waistlines.

I raised my eyebrows when I saw that she was using both vanilla pods AND vanilla extract – both of which are not cheap. I am not sure that I can shell out that kind of money for vanilla ice cream at the moment. I was intrigued by the Tovolo ice cream tubs that she used. Their slim design and variety of colours were attractive but when I looked them up on Amazon, the customer reviews did not seem impressed. Tim and I have been reusing the Kawartha ice cream plastic tubs but they are bulky and some are cracking. We will have to explore alternative ice cream storage solutions soon.

Of the many recipes she showed, there are a few that I am especially interested in trying:

  •       Stracciattella – I have finally learned what this actually is!  She started by making a vanilla gelato. She then melted chocolate, placed it in a small ziplock bag, cut a tiny hole in the corner and then piped thin strands of chocolate into the churning gelato mixture. It looks simple but sounds delicious.
  •       Pistachio – Her recipe involved using roasted, salted pistachios which she blended into a fine powder first before adding the cream and milk. She cooked the mixture to make an infusion and then let it chill overnight before straining out the pistachios. Pistachio is one of those flavours that you only ever seem to find in ice cream shops. My mother and I both love nuts and so this one will definitely be on the to-try list.
  •      Dairy free ice cream – Although I have never been a fan of dairy free ice cream, so many of my family and friends are becoming lactose intolerant these days. Exploring dairy free desserts seems to be a must if I plan on inviting people over for dinner. Gemma’s recipe involved whole raw cashews, which she soaked overnight and then blended, and coconut milk. I will probably have to do more research before jumping into this one.
  •       Missippi mud pie ice cream cake – I love ice cream cake but they can be very expensive and since Dairy Queen is the go-to place for them, the flavours can be somewhat limited at times. This very chocolatey cake looked delicious but I am also inspired to try making a tea-flavoured ice cream cake. Oh the possibilities….

Watching her make sorbets with frozen fruit using a food processor has tempted me to buy one – on my Black Friday shopping list, I guess?

One recipe I probably will not be trying is the no-machine ice cream using condensed milk. A friend of mine made some once and although it was tasty, I found the taste of the condensed milk too strong.

Thanks to this class, I made my very first pie!

This class was a general overview of some principles of pie making. As a complete pie-crust making newbie, I found the class easy to follow and I liked that she demonstrated multiple methods of making pie. Even though I did not have all of the tools she showed for pastry making, I was still able to try making a pie crust with what I had on hand. (Given the social distancing recommendations for COVID19, any hobby that does not require me to leave the house to get new supplies is already half way to being made.)

She discussed different flours, fats, and liquids to use. The biggest take away I got from all of that was her basic pie making ratio: 12 ounces of flour, 8 ounces of fat and 4 ounces of liquid (plus some salt and sugar). She had an engaging way of instructing and had a warm, almost elementary school teacher feel about her. Some other interesting tips I learned included:

  •      If you do not have a pastry cutter, you can actually mix the flour and fat by hand. You are trying to achieve “a mixture of cornmeal, peas, walnuts and almonds”.
  •      Adding some apple cider vinegar will help relax the dough
  •      Using apple juice for the liquid will add an extra depth to the flavour of the pie crust. It is a convenient mixture containing water, sugar and acid.
  •      You need to let the pie crust cool completely before putting in a wet filling mixture. If you pour in the mixture while the pie crust is still hot, it will get soggy.
  •      Putting a heavy cream wash on the dough will give it a professional finish.

My first pie crust was made with a mixture of butter and shortening and turned out surprisingly well. It was supposed to be a cherry meringue pie. Unfortunately, although it looked quite pretty coming out of the oven, my filling and meringue were…less than stellar. I will tell the full story in another post once I actually have a presentable pie under my belt!

After watching two food making classes, I decided to switch things up with something completely inedible. I have only arranged flowers a few times in my life (the main time was when I was helping to decorate for my friend’s wedding) and know very little about how the pros do it. This was a very short class which showed you how to make a hand tied bouquet and then turn it into a centrepiece. It was pretty basic but I did come away with a few key points:

  •      When choosing colours for a bouquet, a good guideline to use is to pick three types of colours: an accent colour, a muted colour and a neutral colour
  •       40 blooms will make a full bouquet. A good ratio is 20 “thriller” flowers, 10 “spiller” flowers, and 10 “filler” flowers.
  •       Prepping the blooms are crucial for longevity of the bouquet and preventing bacteria growth in the water. All leaves and foliage below the water line must be stripped.
  •      Centrepieces should be less than 12 inches tall so that when people are seated, they can still see over the centrepiece. (I remember attending a wedding once where the homemade centrepieces were an awkward 2 feet tall. A lot of people just ended up taking the centrepieces and putting them on the floor during dinner.)

The most useful thing I learned from this class was how to make my own plant food from the following recipe: 1 gallon of water, squeeze of lemon, half a tablespoon of bleach and 2 tablespoons of sugar. If I ever receive another bouquet, I am now ready to make sure they stay gorgeous for as long as possible.

This class was a lot more extensive and covered multiple different types of arrangements. If flowers were not so expensive, I would be tempted to try some of them out! Maybe I will have another friend in the future who will need help decorating her wedding…. Anyway, her class covered tablescapes, floral crowns, spiral and flat bouquets, submerged bouquets and various arrangement styles. Some tips and tricks that I picked up were:

  •      Use vase tape to make a grid when using a wide mouthed vase; it will help hold the flowers in place better.
  •       Flower arrangements should not be longer than twice the height of the vase, otherwise, it will look unbalanced.
  •       Using greens to create a collar will make the whole arrangement look more professional.

Sadly, I only made it through 4 classes during the free access period. There were so many other classes that I was planning on watching! Bluprint was offering a deal though where an annual subscription was 50% off for the first year. I was lured in… their devious marketing plan worked. Just like people who sign up for gym memberships, I convinced myself that if I pay for a subscription, I will be motivated to do more crafts. We shall see how well that works… 😉