Friday, June 28, 2013

It's Rainy Season...

It's rainy season right now, which means (obviously) a lot of rain, heat and humidity, but also hydrangeas!! Due to their timing, many people here think of them as kind of sad flowers, but I always think they are so beautiful. Last week, a neighborhood friend invited me and another mom friend over for lunch on Monday and I said I would bring some dessert. I would have loved to do a big, beautiful cake, but a cake for three is kind of difficult to deal with - how are the leftovers split? So, I decided on either cupcakes or cookies. Then I came across these cupcakes and regardless of the fact that I don't have the right piping tip, I couldn't resist.

I started with the same vanilla cake recipe that I made for K's birthday cake. In that post, I decided that this would be my go-to vanilla cake recipe and this time solidified that for me. I think the cake is delicious and simple - perfect! I ended up halving the recipe, as the last thing I need in this house is a million cupcakes. And I baked them for about 18 minutes, if I remember correctly, and ended up getting 14 cupcakes out of the half recipe.

The cupcakes rose a bit higher than I was hoping for as I was pulling them out of the oven.

But, as they cooled, they shrank a bit, which I was pleased with.

Then I made up the cream cheese frosting that was listed in the original hydrandea cupcake post. It seemed a bit soft to me before even adding the heavy cream, but I ended up adding 1 tablespoon anyway. I'm not sure if the frosting was super soft due to the weather situation, or if we just have softer cream cheese and butter here. Who knows.

Once it was mixed up, I divided it into two bowls and dyed about 1/3 of it a lavender and the remaining 2/3 blue.

Into the piping bag it went. I added a bit of purple and then some blue to top it off. Mind you, I didn't have the proper piping tip, but one that was similar enough that I figured would work.

Then I got to piping. The first one (the top cupcake in the photo below) was a complete mess. It didn't look anything like those from the original post. I was so bummed. I figured part of the problem is that my tip is different - that I would just have to deal with. I also assumed, however, that maybe the frosting was too soft. I popped the piping bag into the freezer for about 10 minutes, pulled it out and piped a second one. This was much better. Not super hydrangea-y, but would have to do.

It was a really, really long process. After I finished a cupcake I rushed it to the refrigerator as the frosting would start to melt. Then I would pop the piping bag back into the freezer for about 10 minutes and finally move onto the next one. To decorate the 14 cupcakes took about 2 hours. It was ridiculous. Luckily, I was talking to my mom on the phone the whole time, so the time passed quickly. It was so late however, that by the time that I finished I was exhausted.

Boxed up, they looked pretty cute. My next worry was transporting them to the friend's house the next day. I knew it would be hot and it is about a 10 minute walk. I put tons of little icy pouches in a mini cooler and hoped for the best. Luckily, it ended up just fine.

And they were pretty tasty to boot! Happy rainy season, Japan!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Bento Thursday - Rocket Edition

Today is the last bento day for a while since K will be on summer break from the middle/end of July, and until that point there is either weird scheduling or half-days on Thursdays.

Recently K has been watching "Little Einsteins" and is in love with the characters, as well as the rocket. For today's bento he requested a yellow, not red, rocket with Leo's face on it, as well as the little girl's face. To be honest, these faces look nothing like the kids in the show, but that didn't seem to bother K. What did bother him, however was that they started out with ears. I showed him the finished bento and he didn't look too stoked. Crap. I asked him what was wrong and he hesitated, but finally responded with, "But mama, I asked for circle faces." "Ummmm, so you want me to cut off the ears?" "Yep!" Done and done.

The rocket is an onigiri with egg on top. Just below the bottom of the rocket are broccoli sprigs that I was hoping would resemble rocket smoke - I don't think K picked up on it. I also made some tiny fried chicken bites and finished it off with star-shaped carrots. I was pretty surprised to find that I don't have a small star cookie cutter, so I had to free-hand it; some ended up cuter than others.

The rocket looked a lot more like a rocket before I added the star carrots. The faces were made of ham and the hair of cucumber. K also requested apples in the mini bento. Once the kids were void of their ears, he seemed pretty stoked on the whole thing. Wahoo!!

As per usual, Y got a bento as well and as per usual, it was BORING (but he called and said it was delicious, so I guess that is what counts). Y had rice topped with salmon furikake, fried chicken (normal sized - not the bite-sized ones like K), broccoli, Japanese-style omelet, and a carrot, cranberry and ginger salad. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Maternity T-Shirt - Take 2

A while back, I posted about a maternity T-shirt that I made since I was getting a bit bored of my current clothes. The excitement with that shirt has run it's course and I was ready for a new one. I am just over 33 weeks now and everything is looking good (medically, anyway). I haven't been gaining much weight recently, but my stomach is getting huge! The doctor was quite surprised when I went in for my appointment this week given that I technically lost weight, but my stomach grew by 5 centimeters. Eeeks! The baby doesn't seem all that huge either, so he was at a bit of a loss trying to come up with a reason for my massive growth.

Anyway, I started with some grey jersey fabric that I realized didn't have much stretch to it. So when I was cutting the pattern, I added about a centimeter or two to the outside of the shirt so it would actually fit me when I put it on. I also added a bit of length since I realized I didn't love where the original shirt hit me in back.

Same as the last shirt, this was really fast to cut out and put together. I think that it took less than 2 hours in total. The first step was to ruche the waistline of the front. Once that was ready, just sew it to the back using a ton of pins to keep the ruching where you want it. Then just sew up the shoulders and add the sleeves.

Once the shirt was made, I decided to switch things up a bit and added bias tape to the neckline instead of just folding it under and sewing. A grey T-shirt just by itself seemed it needed a bit of sprucing up to me. I folded the sleeves and bottom hems under and sewed as usual.

Since I was already on the sprucing up kick, I cut out a little pocket and hand-sewed it on for a little extra fun. I made it a real pocket, but now that I think about it, I don't know why I did that. It looks the same as if I had just made it a faux pocket and I am certainly not going to stick anything in there. At least it is fun for K to poke at and pop pebbles into.

Just a few weeks left and we will get to meet the little one - I am so excited!!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Bento Thursday - Dr. Yellow...Again

Last week I had no "Bento Thursday" post because K had a half day. In the morning the parents were invited to see the class and how things were run, then the kids came home with us just before lunch time. It was so stinking adorable! All the kids in K's class are so teeny tiny (only a handful of them are 3, most are just 2) and so sweet in their little uniforms. I was so proud of K - he sang all the songs, did all the hand motions, listened to the teachers and followed directions (copied the others, perhaps??). Regardless, he was much more involved than I had imagined. At the end of the day, the teacher calls out each kid's name and puts their going-home-hat on them. When she called out K's name he responded with a super loud "HAI!!!" It was so cute and the teacher told him that he had a great response. Ahhhh, mama pride!

Anyway, today we are back to bentos! K, once again, requested Dr. Yellow, the Shinkansen. We have (possibly?) come to the agreement that we can do Shinkansen-themed bentos every other week. The other week gets to be something else. I just don't think I can handle Shinkansen bentos every time. As before, Dr. Yellow is an onigiri (rice) in the form of the Shinkansen, covered in egg and nori. The bento also had sausages, brocolli, heart-shaped carrots and corn. For dessert, he requested apples.

Y told me on Monday that he would probably take a day off this week. He chose today, which meant we had the whole day together - just the two of us! We ended up doing nothing. We just lazed about after K was off on the bus, then ate lunch, went to the grocery store and I got ready for dinner while Y read the newspaper. It was a crummy, rainy day - I blame the rain for us doing absolutely nothing! Since I didn't make him a bento today, I put some leftovers in his bento box for tomorrow - cream pasta with roasted chicken, corn, and komatsuna (kind of like spinach) with tofu. Since it's already in the bento, I can sleep in tomorrow morning. Wahoo!!!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Cheesecake with Chocolate, Caramel and Hazelnuts

Yesterday I posted about Y's Father's Day gift. The very idea of it cracked me up, which is precisely why I went down that path. I actually wasn't planning on baking him anything, for no other reason than that I am feeling pretty lazy (just over 7 weeks until the little one is due). But, Father's Day morning rolled around and I felt kind of bad for not baking him something. So, I asked what he wanted and he asked for a cheesecake. He said I could pick, either chocolate or plain, which ever would be easier - I chose plain. Then I asked what he wanted on top, and he said that nothing, just plain, would be fine. Uhhhh...unacceptable. I tempted him with fruits - no, fruit sauce - no, chocolate, caramel and hazelnuts - ok!

Since the cake would have chocolate on top, I decided to go with an Oreo crust. I put about 12 Oreos in a bag and smashed them up.

Then I put the crumbs into the tin and pushed them down. With that, the crust was ready!

Next was the actual cheesecake batter. As always, I used Emeril's recipe, but  halved it. It is always perfect.

I didn't have too much time, as I made the cake in the morning and K wanted to eat it after lunch, but I baked it in a water bath because I wanted it to look pretty. Before pouring the batter in, I covered the bottom and sides of the tin with tin foil and set it in a bigger cake tin. Then I poured the batter in and finally added water to the big tin. The water went about halfway up the cheesecake tin.

While that was baking, I got to work on the toppings. I started with the chocolate sauce. I came across this recipe and it seemed super simple - equal portions of cocoa powder, sugar and water. Put them in a saucepan and turn on the heat while whisking.

Everything starts to dissolve.

Let it simmer for a few minutes and you have your chocolate sauce. Done. I tasted mine and it had a bit of a bitter taste to it. I figured it would be fine since everything else was quite sweet. Next time, I will probably add a tiny bit more sugar. That being said, I did use dark cocoa powder, not the regular kind, so that could have something to do with it as well. Also, as I was pouring it onto the cake, I found it a tad runny. I think I will let it simmer a bit more next time.

With the chocolate sauce ready, next was the caramel. I used my old stand-by. It is so simple; put 130 grams of sugar and 1/4 cup water in a sauce pan and bring it to a boil over medium heat.

Swirl it around as it is boiling until it is a tan color. I have had issues in the past by letting it get too dark at this point, so you have to be a little careful. Then add 1/4 cup of heavy cream and whisk it in. Finish it off with some sea salt and a teaspoon of vanilla.

Soon after I had finished that, the cheesecake was done to perfection. I baked it for 60 minutes, turning it with 15 minutes left, and I am pretty sure this is the best it has ever turned out.

While the cake was cooling, I roasted a handful of hazelnuts - 180C (same as the cake) for about 9 minutes. Once they were cooled, I chopped them up.

With that, all of the toppings were done, I just had to wait until the cake was cooled.

Because K was begging to eat it, I didn't end up chilling it for too long and it was a mistake. The top was fine, as were the sides, so I figured it would be okay.

I popped it out of the tin and plated it. I started with the chocolate sauce first and very generously drizzled it over the cake. I used a bit much, but I think this was due to it being a tad runny.

After that was the caramel.

Then I topped that with the hazelnuts.

I decided that a bit more caramel on top of the nuts would be nice, so I did that as well.

Then we cut into it. The very middle was still slightly soft - I really should have made K wait until after dinner before eating. It still was very good, but it was much, much better that evening.

I am pretty sure Y was stoked on it. Lord knows I was! There is still one final piece sitting in the refrigerator and it is taking all my strength to let Y have it when he gets home from work tonight.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Y's Father's Day Gift

Y is an amazing father and husband. He works like crazy to make sure that I can stay home with K and when he gets home at night, he is always willing to help with anything I might need. Weekends are filled with "boys' days," trips to the park so I can relax, playing with K, carting me around to doctor's appointments or shopping since I don't drive, help with cleaning the house and doing laundry, just about any task I could imagine. He is one of the least lazy fathers I know, which is why for Father's Day, I figured I would make him a gift that would let him relax. I came across this tutorial and knew it was the winner!

I started with a white shirt and put some old chair cushions under the back so that the marker wouldn't bleed onto the front.

Then I pinned the shirt to the cushions to make sure it wouldn't move all around while I was drawing. Using a ruler and fabric markers, I drew out the streets making sure they were wide enough for one of K's cars.

That is when I called K in to help. I asked him to draw something and he wanted to draw a slide in the park. You can kind of see a few yellow lines behind the swingset in the big box in the middle - that's the slide. At that point, he was over drawing and instead decided he would tell me what to draw. We have a tall building for a helicopter to land on right next to the "treasure" - I have no idea what he wanted, but he seemed pleased with what I drew. There is a bank, a taxi stand, a supermarket, a gasoline stand, a pond, a park, a train station, a bus stop, a condominium, a parking lot, a police station, a convenience store, a dentist and a fire station. He did a pretty good job, in my opinion, of determining a city's major landmarks.
On Father's Day morning, Y donned the shirt and K played with cars on his back. Y improvised and made sure there were a few earthquakes - I am telling you, he is not a lazy dad!! Unfortunately, K was over it in a few minutes. He said he just wanted to play with it without Y wearing it. Ah well...
Happy (belated) Father's Day to all the dads out there, but especially my own and my wonderful husband - I am lucky to have such wonderful men in my life. I love you!!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Chocolate Cake with Salted Dulce de Leche and Hazlenut Praline

This is actually a cake that I made months ago! I don't know why it took me so long to post about it, but here it is and if my memory serves, it was AMAZING. Just by the title, you can see it was a good amount of work. While it is not a cake I will make all the time, it was certainly worth the time and effort, and will be made again one day.

I can not imagine that I would be able to find dulce de leche (component #1) anywhere in this country, and so I made it. This is super simple to do and so delicious. I kind of want to make this again so I can just snack on it. Maybe I will wait until after the baby is born - I can imagine the doctor wouldn't be too pleased with me snacking on sweetened condensed milk. Bummer.

Anyway, that is pretty much all dulce de leche is - sweetened condensed milk. I put about 200ml of sweetened condensed milk into a glass pan, put that into a square pan, and add water to the square pan to form a water bath.

Then cover it with foil and set it in the oven for about an hour at 220C.

Once it is browned, I probably could have let mine get a bit more caramelized, pull it out of the oven until cool. Then whisk it. It starts off looking chunky and really gross and like you just wasted delicious sweetened condensed milk, but...

keep stirring and it turns smooth and delicious looking. Then let that sit until you need it for the cake. By "let it sit" I mean snack on spoonfuls of it while working on the cake.

Next up is the hazelnut praline (component #2). A while back a good friend of mine gave me some raw hazlenuts. To be honest, I didn't know what to do with them, which is why I decided on this cake in the first place - it called for raw hazlenuts! The first step is to toast and cool the hazlenuts.

Then you work on the brittle - melt the butter, then add all of the good, sugary bits.

Once it is all carmalized, add in the baking soda and salt. Then the hazlenuts.

Spread it on a cookie sheet lined with parchment and let it cool.

Once it is ready, chop it up a bit and eat it. Not all of it, but seriously it is so delicious that you will not be able to resist having a few pieces.

Throw it in a food processor and pulverize it. I decided I didn't want mine too powdery, so I left some bigger chunks in there.

Finally, you get to make the cake (component #3). The cake does take a bit of preparation, but nothing too difficult.

It was a super moist, delicious cake and I think just this cake as a base for about any topping would probably be a winner.

As per one of the comments, I baked mine in two, 8-inch pans instead of one, 10-incher and it worked beautifully. I did lessen the baking time, but that is always a plus in my opinion!

Now that the three components are done, it is time to get cracking on the assembly. Plate the cake and then get your dulce de leche ready.

I started by piping out some in a square pattern. In the end, I didn't really like how this looked and probably would have free-handed it if I were to do it again.

Then I piped some more around the edge for the hazlenut praline to stick to.

Then sprinkle with the praline. Since I didn't like how the pattern in the middle looked, I dropped a few little chunks of the praline in the middle as well. Finally sprinkle with some sea salt. I didn't measure how much I used, just sprinkled it.

One of my oldest friends from when I first arrived in Japan is starting a cooking show. He is an amazing, talented man and I am sure the show will be a huge success. He invited us over to his house for lunch and to discuss the filming of the show. I brought this as dessert. Lunch was amazing! He said it will be a featured recipe on his show, so be sure to keep checking out Michael's Chubo until it is up.

After his delicious lunch, we cut into the cake. I thought it was really good, but it would be difficult to declare a winner from this lunch.

That being said, we all ate it!