New shortbread recipes for Chinese New Year

Happy Chinese New Year!

I dreamed of some new shortbread for the Chinese New Year inspired by Asian flavors, just in time to celebrate the Year of the Dog!

All recipes are based on the basic shortbread recipe in this post.  Add-ins are indicated in red below:

Black sesame shortbread
(Basic shortbread recipe adapted from Lucy Ross Natkiel’s Classic Shortbread III recipe in The gourmet shortbread book)

1/2 cup butter, cold
1/3 cup powdered sugar (unsifted)
1 cup flour, minus 2 Tbsp. (unsifted)
2 Tbsp. rice flour*
2 1/2 Tbsp. toasted black sesame seeds

Matcha black sesame shortbread
Add 1 tsp. matcha powder to above

To toast the black sesame seeds, see this post on the China Sichuan Food blog.  I was so happy to find this post!  Prior to using this method, I always burned the black sesame seeds–they start smoking and burning within seconds.  You cannot toast black sesame seeds in the same way as white sesame seeds and toasting them is necessary to get that distinct nutty flavor.  They just don’t taste good raw…

Using a food processor, grind toasted black sesame seeds until they resemble a coarse powder (fine powder is also okay but my food processor doesn’t get it that fine).  Add all other ingredients and pulse the mixture until it resembles coarse crumbs and the butter is fully incorporated into the flour.  Spray the ceramic shortbread pan very lightly with a non-stick vegetable oil spray.  Pour the shortbread “crumbs” into the shortbread pan, and working out from the center, firmly press the dough into the pan.  Prick the entire surface with a fork.  Bake at 325 degrees for 35 minutes, or until it is lightly browned.  Be sure that the middle is thoroughly cooked and doesn’t look slightly opaque or the shortbread might stick in the pan.

Let the shortbread cool in the pan for about 10 minutes before you flip the pan over onto a cutting board.  If the shortbread does not come right out, put a cutting board on top of the pan (the cutting board should be bigger than the pan) and while holding the pan against the cutting board, turn it upside down and firmly tap one edge of the pan against the board.  This should loosen the shortbread and it should drop out.  Cut the shortbread into serving pieces while it is still warm, otherwise the edges will not be clean.

*You can skip the rice flour and just use 1 c. flour, if you wish.  The rice flour makes a flakier cookie.


Almond sesame shortbread
(Basic shortbread recipe adapted from Lucy Ross Natkiel’s Classic Shortbread III recipe in The gourmet shortbread book)

1/2 cup butter, cold
1/3 cup powdered sugar (unsifted)
1 cup flour, minus 2 Tbsp. (unsifted)
2 Tbsp. rice flour*
1/4 c. almond flour (optional, may omit)
1/2 tsp. almond extract
1/2 c. to 3/4 c. toasted white sesame seeds

To toast the sesame seeds, heat them in a pan over low-medium heat until they start to turn golden brown.  Watch them carefully because they can burn quickly, turning from white to dark brown in the blink of an eye.  If they turn dark brown, toss them because they will be bitter.

Using a food processor, add all ingredients except the sesame seeds and pulse the mixture until it resembles coarse crumbs and the butter is fully incorporated into the flour.  Spray the ceramic shortbread pan very lightly with a non-stick vegetable oil spray.  Pour the shortbread “crumbs” into the shortbread pan, and working out from the center, firmly press the dough into the pan.  Spread the sesame seeds over the surface, pressing them into the dough.  Add more if needed to cover the surface completely.  Turn the pan over gently to release any loose excess sesame seeds.  Prick the entire surface with a fork.  Bake at 325 degrees for 35 minutes, or until it is lightly browned.  Be sure that the middle is thoroughly cooked and doesn’t look slightly opaque or the shortbread might stick in the pan.

Let the shortbread cool in the pan for about 10 minutes before you flip the pan over onto a cutting board.  If the shortbread does not come right out, put a cutting board on top of the pan (the cutting board should be bigger than the pan) and while holding the pan against the cutting board, turn it upside down and firmly tap one edge of the pan against the board.  This should loosen the shortbread and it should drop out.  Cut the shortbread into serving pieces while it is still warm, otherwise the edges will not be clean.

*You can skip the rice flour and just use 1 c. flour, if you wish.  The rice flour makes a flakier cookie.


Oolong tea shortbread
(Basic shortbread recipe adapted from Lucy Ross Natkiel’s Classic Shortbread III recipe in The gourmet shortbread book)

1/2 cup butter, cold
1/3 cup powdered sugar (unsifted)
1 cup flour, minus 2 Tbsp. (unsifted)
2 Tbsp. rice flour*
1 Tbsp. Oolong tea leaves (loose)
or
contents of 1 Oolong tea bag

Using a food processor, add all ingredients and pulse the mixture until it resembles coarse crumbs and the butter is fully incorporated into the flour.  Spray the ceramic shortbread pan very lightly with a non-stick vegetable oil spray.  Pour the shortbread “crumbs” into the shortbread pan, and working out from the center, firmly press the dough into the pan.  Prick the entire surface with a fork.  Bake at 325 degrees for 35 minutes, or until it is lightly browned.  Be sure that the middle is thoroughly cooked and doesn’t look slightly opaque or the shortbread might stick in the pan.

Let the shortbread cool in the pan for about 10 minutes before you flip the pan over onto a cutting board.  If the shortbread does not come right out, put a cutting board on top of the pan (the cutting board should be bigger than the pan) and while holding the pan against the cutting board, turn it upside down and firmly tap one edge of the pan against the board.  This should loosen the shortbread and it should drop out.  Cut the shortbread into serving pieces while it is still warm, otherwise the edges will not be clean.

*You can skip the rice flour and just use 1 c. flour, if you wish.  The rice flour makes a flakier cookie.

May these shortbread cookies bring sweetness and joy to the new year!

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New Year’s Tea 2016

As promised, the 2nd of two New Year’s posts!  Happy new year!

You are cordially invited to the 4th annual new year’s tea!

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This napkin fold is called The Crown. It works really well for showing off napkin rings.

This napkin fold is called The Crown. It works really well for showing off napkin rings.

DSC06069 DSC06044Henni’s black bean soup
(original source: Cooking light)

2 14 oz. cans of black beans, drained and rinsed (or 3.5 cups of cooked black beans)
3 carrots, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 onion, chopped1 cup of canned or frozen corn kernels
3.5 cups of your favorite stock (or 2 14 oz. cans of chicken broth)
1 Tbsp. ground cumin
1/4-1/2 tsp. ground chipotle powder (optional)

Sautee the carrots, celery, and onion until onions are translucent.  Add everything to the pot and cook until vegetables are soft.  Puree half of the soup.  Garnish with chopped cilantro, chopped avocado, sour cream, sliced radishes, crushed tortilla chips, and/or cotija cheese.

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Mini quiche Lorraine (heart shaped and round!) by N.

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Roasted eggplant sandwiches by S.

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Roasted eggplant sandwiches and chicken salad croissant

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Fresh fruit with saffron custard by Henni

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Cranberry white chocolate scones by Henni

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Chocolate chip walnut hazelnut cookies by A.

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Tea favors

Last but not least, tea fashion!

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Headband with succulents by N.

At the conclusion of every new year’s tea, we share the following highlights in order to learn about ourselves and set intentions for the new year!

What a year it’s been!  Highlights from 2015
Favorite new food: ____________________________________
Favorite activity: ______________________________________
Favorite new place visited: _____________________________
Favorite book: ________________________________________
Favorite movie: _______________________________________
Greatest lesson learned: _______________________________
Hardest thing I had to do: _______________________________
Favorite memory: _____________________________________
What I love most about 2015: _________________________­__

Looking forward to 2016
What I want to learn: __________________________________
What I want to get better at: ____________________________
Biggest goal: ________________________________________

Happy new year!

‘Year’s end is neither an end nor a beginning but a going on, with all the wisdom that experience can instill in us.”
–Hal Borland

New Year’s tea 2015

NOTE: Since I am still catching up on my blogging, you will get to read about not one, but two New Year’s teas!  Here is the first of two posts …

nyinvite2015For our 3rd annual New Year’s Tea, I hosted a candlelight tea.

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dsc04343-smallThis year, we decided to try some blossoming teas from the Red Blossom Tea Company, a tea company out of San Francisco specializing in Chinese tea.  “Blossoming teas” (as they’re called at the Red Blossom Tea Company) are also known as “flowering teas” or “blooming teas.”  Produced in Yunnan province, China (also home to puerh tea), flowering teas are bundled tea leaves that are wrapped tightly with flowers into a ball and dried.  When the tea balls are infused in hot water, they unfurl and blossom like flowers.  They are best appreciated in glass teapots or tea cups to better admire the effect of the flowers.  Thank you N. for your gift of flowering teas!

Osmanthus (white tea that tastes like dried apricots)

Osmanthus (white tea that tastes like dried apricots)

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Chrysanthemum and green tea

Jasmine

Jasmine and green tea

Jasmine

Lily and green tea

The girls suggested an Italian menu for our New Year’s Tea as a send-off for my upcoming trip to Italy. 🙂  Yum!

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Ribollita (Tuscan bread and vegetable soup by Lady S. from the Barefoot Contessa)

Ribollita (Tuscan bread and vegetable soup by S.)

Ribollita
(recipe from the Barefoot Contessa)

1/2 pound dried white beans, such as Great Northern or cannellini
Kosher salt
1/4 cup good olive oil, plus extra for serving
1/4 pound large diced pancetta or smoked bacon
2 cups chopped yellow onions (2 onions)
1 cup chopped carrots (3 carrots)
1 cup chopped celery (3 stalks)
3 tablespoons minced garlic (6 cloves)
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 (28-ounce) can Italian plum tomatoes in puree, chopped
4 cups coarsely chopped or shredded savoy cabbage, optional
4 cups coarsely chopped kale
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
6 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
4 cups sourdough bread cubes, crusts removed
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan, for serving

In a large bowl, cover the beans with cold water by 1-inch and cover with plastic wrap. Allow to soak overnight in the refrigerator.Drain the beans and place them in a large pot with 8 cups of water, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer uncovered for 45 minutes. Add 1 teaspoon of salt and continue to simmer for about 15 minutes, until the beans are tender. Set the beans aside to cool in their liquid.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large stockpot. Add the pancetta and onions and cook over medium-low heat for 7 to 10 minutes, until the onions are translucent. Add the carrots, celery, garlic, 1 tablespoon of salt, the pepper, and red pepper flakes. Cook over medium-low heat for 7 to 10 minutes, until the vegetables are tender. Add the tomatoes with their puree, the cabbage, if using, the kale, and basil and cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, for another 7 to 10 minutes.

Drain the beans, reserving their cooking liquid. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, puree half of the beans with a little of their liquid. Add to the stockpot, along with the remaining whole beans. Pour the bean cooking liquid into a large measuring cup and add enough chicken stock to make 8 cups. Add to the soup and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes.

Add the bread to the soup and simmer for 10 more minutes. Taste for seasoning and serve hot in large bowls sprinkled with Parmesan and drizzled with olive oil.

Mushroom risotto Shiitake, maitake, crimini, Parmesan cheese, and white truffle oil

Mushroom risotto (shiitake, maitake, and crimini mushrooms with Parmesan cheese and white truffle oil drizzle) by Henni

See my new glass tea caddy from Ikea?  I love that it’s clear glass, has 3 tiers, and is small enough that you can still carry on a conversation across the table without having to peek through the tiers to make eye contact.  The only drawback is the one-piece construction (plates are not removable) but you can disassemble it for storage which can be desirable since bigger caddies take up a lot of room.

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Italian club sandwiches with Proscuitto, cheese, and tomato, by Lady A.

Italian club finger sandwiches with prosciutto, cheese, arugula, and tomato, by A.

Italian club finger sandwiches
(adapted from recipe by Rachael Ray)

6 slices thin cut white bread
1 cup soft, spreadable herb cheese (recommended: Alouette)
8 slices prosciutto di Parma
12 leaves fresh arugula or basil (spicy vs. sweet)
2 plum tomatoes, thinly sliced

Trim all crusts from bread. Spread 4 slices with herb soft cheese. Top each cheese covered slice with 2 slices each of prosciutto, 3 leaves of arugula, thinly sliced tomatoes seasoned with a pinch of salt.

Italian club sandwich with Penne salad with eggplant by Lady N.

Italian club sandwich and Penne salad with eggplant by N. (penne, olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper, lemon juice, red pepper flakes, and eggplant)

Dessert: Earl Grey shortbread and chocolate caramel covered pretzels

Dessert: Earl Grey shortbread and chocolate caramel covered pretzels

Thank you ladies for a wonderful send-off and for sharing your hopes and aspirations.  It was a great start to the new year!

Happy new year!

“Honestly, if you’re given the choice between Armageddon or tea, you don’t say ‘what kind of tea?”

― Neil Gaiman

New Year’s Tea 2014

Last year, I hosted a New Year’s Tea party for my friends, A., N., and S.  Collectively, we are the 4 Musketeers, among other things …  Our first New Year’s Tea was such a success that we decided to make it an annual tradition.

new year

You are invited to a New Year’s Tea!

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Bird of paradise napkin fold

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White beans bring good fortune and greens, good wealth!

White beans bring good fortune and greens, good wealth!

 Tuscan white bean soup with kale
(from the kitchen of N.)

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely diced (about 1 cup)
2 medium carrots, finely diced (about 1 cup)
2 ribs celery, finely diced (about 1 cup)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
1 quart chicken broth
2 (15-ounce) cans white beans (cannellini or great northern), with their liquid
4 6-inch sprigs rosemary, leaves finely chopped and stems reserved
1 (3-4 inch) chunk parmesan rind (optional)
2 bay leaves
3 to 4 cups roughly chopped kale or Swiss chard leaves
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Parmigiano-Reggiano for serving

Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add onions, carrots, and celery and cook, stirring frequently, until softened but not browned, about 3 minutes. Add garlic and dried red pepper flakes and cook, stirring constantly until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add chicken broth, beans and their liquid, rosemary stems, Parmesan rind, and bay leaves. Increase heat to high, and bring to a boil. Reduce to a bare simmer, add kale, cover and cook for 15 minutes.

Discard the bay leaves and rosemary stems. Use a hand blender to roughly puree part of the beans until desired consistency is reached. Alternatively, transfer 2 cups of soup to a blender or food processor and process until smooth (start on low speed and increase to high to prevent blender blow-out). Return to the soup and stir to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Ladle into bowls, sprinkle with reserved chopped rosemary leaves, drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil and a grating of Parmigiano-Reggiano, and serve with crusty toasted bread.

DSC02919 (Small)I served 3 teas: Jasmine pearls (green), passionfruit black tea, and hazelnut chocolate truffle (black).

Curried egg salad croissant and cucumber cream cheese by A.

Curried egg salad croissant and cucumber cream cheese by A.

Red pepper pinwheels (Round and round, we (will not) go!)

Red pepper pinwheels (Round and round, we (will not) go!)

Left to right, clockwise from top: Curried egg salad croissant, Red pepper pinwheel, Gourmet sourdough grilled cheese (English farmhouse white cheddar with black truffles), Cucumber cream cheese

Left to right, clockwise from top: Curried egg salad croissant, Red pepper pinwheel, Gourmet sourdough grilled cheese (English farmhouse white cheddar with black truffles), Cucumber cream cheese

To usher in a sweet and uplifting year …

Blueberry scones by Henni

Blueberry scones by Henni

Even though it’s an integral part of afternoon tea, I decided to forgo the fruit course to make things easier for myself.  As a compromise, I combined the fruit and scones courses by making blueberry scones.  Sometimes it’s better to go with simple rather than perfection.

Mock Devonshire cream, Lingonberry jam, and vegan lemon curd

Mock Devonshire cream, Lingonberry jam, and vegan lemon curd

Lemon bars by S. (out-of-this-world good!)

Lemon bars by S. (out-of-this-world good!)

I have always liked lemon bars … the idea of them, the taste, and presentation … but I have never truly liked any of the lemon bars I’ve ever tasted, including my own.  I don’t even have a standard for what a good lemon bar should be.  But, stop the presses!  I have finally encountered the perfect lemon bar!  I officially proclaim S. to be the Queen of Lemon Bars!  Her lemon bars were out-of-this-world delicious!  Not too tart, not too sweet, and the texture was, in a word, sublime!  First of all, you can see that these are even shaped like lemon bars.  Not lemon squares, but lemon BARS.  These were bars of gold as far as I’m concerned!  🙂  I’m not sure how it was possible for that soft creamy lemony custard to sit atop a thick crisp crumbly shortbread crust (which was a work of art in itself) without falling apart.  The powdered sugar was the perfect amount of sweet to counterbalance the tart.  I shamelessly ate 2 bars in one sitting and still dream about them … 🙂  Long live S., Queen of the Lemon Bars!

Teapot sugar cookies with passionfruit black tea

Henni’s teapot shaped sugar cookies with passionfruit black tea (ending on a sweet note!)

We ended our tea party on a sweet note, sharing our aspirations, hopes, and goals for the new year (see list below).  We learned a lot from each other and as a result, we are now ready to tackle the new year. 🙂

What a year it’s been!  Highlights from 2013
Favorite new food: ____________________________________
Favorite activity: ______________________________________
Favorite book: ________________________________________
Favorite movie: _______________________________________
Greatest lesson learned: _______________________________
Hardest thing I had to do: _______________________________
Favorite memory: _____________________________________
What I love most about 2013: _________________________­__

Looking forward to 2014
What I want to learn: __________________________________
What I want to get better at: ____________________________
Biggest goal: ________________________________________

Happy new year!

“The new year stands before us, like a chapter in a book, waiting to be written. We can help write that story by setting goals.”

— Melody Beattie

A New Year’s Tea Party

NY invitationI hosted a New Year’s tea party for a few friends.  It was small and intimate, the way a tea party should be!

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Cute things--tea serving utensils

Cute tea things: Tea time serving utensils, drip catchers, and small serving platter

More cute tea things: Tea bag caddy with lemon slices for tea

More cute tea things: Tea bag caddy with lemon slices for tea

All the dishes on the new year’s tea menu were chosen with attention to reflect with our intentions for the new year.

CaptureEggplant was featured on the menu because my friends and I bonded last Christmas over our love for eggplant!  I love eggplant but don’t have many good recipes for it.  This is my tried and true eggplant recipe, Couscous crusted aubergine stuffed with herbed goat cheese, which I adapted from The Cafe Paradiso Cookbook by Denis Cotter.  The Cafe Paradiso is an award-winning Irish restaurant located in Cork, Ireland.  I had the pleasure of dining there in 2006, an experience I still relish to this day.

Couscous crusted aubergine

Eggplant, the vegetable that forges friendships

It’s time to “cap” off 2012 and look to 2013 … add some green stuff for wealth!

Stuffed mushroom cap with mesclun herb salad

Spinach, artichoke, and Parmesan stuffed mushroom cap with a mesclun herb salad and black truffle vinaigrette

Every great meal (and new year) begins with Antipasto (at least in Italy it does!)!  And a “toast” to a cool and refreshing new year!

Cucumber sandwiches and Genoa salami sandwiches

A.’s cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches and N.’s Antipasto sandwiches with Genoa salami and manzanita olive cream cheese

There will be no fishy business in 2013!

Tuna salad croissant sandwiches and fresh fruit course: grape bunches

N.’s tuna salad croissant sandwiches with Genova tuna, celery, and oregano.  S. brought the beautiful grapes for the fresh fruit course

Spanish custom: Eat 12 grapes at midnight (one for every chime as the clock strikes midnight) for good luck all year long!

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Sandwiches!

Sandwiches: Antipasto, tuna salad croissant, and cucumber/cream cheese

Aren’t these scones beautiful?  Who needs to make scones from scratch when you can save yourself some work and make them from Sticky Fingers English Scone Mix?  Just add water!  These scones are better than a lot of homemade scones I’ve had.

Plain scones

Plain scones

Plain scone with vegan lemon curd and mock Devonshire cream

Plain scone with vegan lemon curd and Lady B.’s mock Devonshire cream

Henni’s vegan lemon curd
(Note: this recipe is a work-in-progress and is subject to change without notice)
Yield: 1/2 cup

1/2 c. water (or 1/4 c. water, 1/4 c. non-dairy milk)
2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice (add 1 more tsp. if not lemony enough)
2 Tbsp. sugar (or your favorite sweetener)
1 tsp. lemon zest
1Tbsp. cornstarch
1 drop yellow food coloring (optional)
1 tsp. dried buttermilk powder (optional for non-vegan)

Whisk ingredients until cornstarch and sugar are dissolved.  Cook in the microwave or in a pot on the stove until thick and bubbly.  Remove from heat and serve warm or chill before serving.

Mini chocolate souffle

Mini chocolate souffle

Finally, a dessert to make the coming year a sweet one!  Souffles are not my forte but this recipe makes it seem like I know what I’m doing. 🙂  This chocolate souffle is from Mollie Katzen’s Vegetable Heaven.  Although the souffles deflated before they reached the table, the ladies still declared them “Delicious!”  I am grateful to have very kind friends! 😉

Time to relax

Time to relax …

Happy new year!

“Teapot is on, the cups are waiting,
Favorite chairs anticipating,
No matter what I have to do,
My friends, there’s always time for you.”

— Unknown

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