Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Grilled Cheese Sandwich and Peanut Butter Cookies

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I was at Rustan's supermarket and saw Stonewall Kitchen's sampler of jams and condiments.  Not sure when and where to use them, I bought the lot anyway.  I was most intrigued by the red pepper jelly - made from sweet red peppers - so I tried it in a grilled cheese sandwich.
In itself, the jelly strikes the perfect balance between sweet and spicy.   In a grilled cheese sandwich, it's reminiscent of home made cheese pimiento spread but sweeter and a bit spicy.  Nice.
Inspired by my love of Reese's peanut butter cups, I made chocolate and peanut butter cookies.
I've always liked the union of rich chocolate flavor and creamy, salty peanut butter.   In this cookie recipe, instead of incorporating both ingredients, I placed the peanut butter in the middle of the chocolate cookie dough.
From the outside, it looks like the usual chocolate cookie until you bite into it to discover a hidden center of smooth peanut butter.  


Chocolate and Peanut Butter Cookies
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup vegetable shortening (or lard, which is what I used in this recipe)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups packed brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Line baking sheets with parchment paper.  Sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and baking soda.
  2. Using an electric mixer, beat together butter, shortening (or lard), sugar, and 1 cup brown sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy.  Add eggs, one at a time, mixing until fully combined between additions.  Add vanilla, beat to combine.  Gradually add the dry ingredients; mix on low speed until fully combined.  Fold in chocolate chips.  Cover bowl with plastic wrap and chill until firm, about 1 hour.
  3. In a small bowl, mix the peanut butter and remaining 1/4 cup brown sugar.
  4. Drop 1 tablespoon of dough at a time onto baking sheet.  Make a thumbprint in the center of each cookie.  Fill thumbprint with 2 teaspoons of peanut butter mixture.  Top with a second tablespoon of flattened dough.  Mold dough to cover peanut butter filling.
  5. Bake the cookies for 12 minutes, or until firm.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Spring in Winter

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I finally got to eat the quintessential Pekingese food that is the Peking duck at Hong Kong's popular restaurant, Spring Deer.  Open since 1969, the restaurant is still in its original location along Mody Road in Tsim Sha Tsui.  Low ceiling, florescent lighting, unpretentious decor, I doubt that the restaurant has changed at all throughout the years.  The wait staff - men with graying hair, speaking only basic English - are probably the same staff from over 40 years ago.  Every time we'd ask something about the food they would answer, "oh-kay".  Hand gestures barely worked.
It was the usual busy weekend and since we had no reservation, we went at 6.  Pretty early, yes, but the place was already starting to fill with diners, both local and foreign.   As soon as we sat down, we ordered duck since we knew it would take a while to cook.  In the meantime, we ordered other dishes that were served quickly: Pekingese noodles, steamed dumplings, fried noodles with chicken, sweet and sour pork, quick-fried vegetables.  I like that their servings aren't that big so we could have a go at other dishes.  The fried noodles with chicken had a nice smoked flavor and the noodles were firm in every bite, just the way I like it.  The sweet and sour was so good - tender pork coated in a light, crisp batter with a great balance of sweetness and tang.
We were almost finished with everything and by this time the restaurant was already full.  The duck was still nowhere in sight.  We started to worry that they might have missed our order until I saw someone pushing a cart with ducks on it.  We stared and watched with anxiety as the chef started carving expertly.  Could one of them be ours?  
Succulent, crisp skin with just the right amount of fat in between skin and meat.  The flavor was amazing.  The warm flour tortilla was dense and soft.  Now I know why this place is always packed.  At Spring Deer they serve good food and of course, amazing Peking duck.  Best of all, it won't break your wallet.

Spring Deer
2/F, 42 Mody Road
Tsim Sha Tsui
Hong Kong

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

...more Holiday Baking and first post for 2012

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For New Year's Eve, I made more cookies.  No more sugar cookies, as I had no more time to spare for decorating.  I made hazelnut cookies instead, with a jam filling.  You can use any flavor; experiment to find a combo you like.  I still had some of that strawberry peppercorn jam left from a previous post so this was the perfect cookie recipe for it.
 I love the dusting of confectioners' sugar on the cookies, it makes everything look so festive.
Hazelnut Cookie recipe (from Martha Stewart):

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup ground hazelnuts
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 Large egg yolks
  • 2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • confectioners' sugar, for dusting
  • desired filling
1. In a bowl, whisk together flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, salt and cinnamon.  In a food processor, pulse hazelnuts and the flour mixture to combine.  Add butter and pulse until the mixture resembles a coarse meal.  Add egg yolks and vanilla and pulse until dough just comes together.  Form dough into 2 disks, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate 30 minutes.

2. Preheat oven to 350°F.  Working with 1 disk at a time, roll out dough between floured parchment paper to 1/8-inch thickness.  Stack dough in parchment on a baking sheet; refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes.  With a lightly floured 2 1/2-inch fluted round cutter, cut out dough.  Place cookies on parchment-lined baking sheets.  With a 1-inch cutter, cut out dough in centers of half the cookies.  Bake until cookies just begin to brown at edges, 10 to 12 minutes.  Transfer cookies to wire racks and let cool completely.

3. Lightly sift confectioners' sugar over cutout tops.  Spread filling on bottoms of remaining cookies and sandwich with sugar-dusted tops.

Since the oven was already fired up I might was well make pies, too.  Savory this time, since there's enough sweetness in the cookies to last us for the coming year.  I wanted to serve the pies as hors d'oeuvres so I made bite sized goodies.  
I pre-baked the pie crusts (recipe here) in a mini muffin pan at 350°F for about 15 minutes, and when they cooled down, I put the cheese filling.  For the cheese filling, combine diced tomatoes, chopped mozzarella cheese, chopped basil leaves, about a tablespoon of olive oil, and some salt and pepper.  Put the pan back in the oven and bake until the cheese starts to brown. 
Better make a lot of these as they are very addictive.

Here's wishing everyone good health, prosperity, and good eats for 2012.  Happy New Year!