Coconut Shortbread Cookies

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 Can someone please come over to clean our apartment and do our laundry????? I'll pay you in cookies and real money. 

Reuben and I are currently in manic cleaning mode this week because his parent are flying into town on Friday. What I really mean is that I am just shuffling things around and Reuben is actually deep cleaning the whole place. I'm a bad cleaner. My mom probably laughed her butt off as she read that. Reuben is really a saint though. 

Anyways, Reuben's folks are flying into town from New Jersey for the holidays and I'm excited! I love having visitors in San Francisco. It means that we get to eat at all of our favorite restaurants, see our favorite sights, and get some quality family hangout time. I feel stuffed and happy just thinking about it. They visit this time every year and I feel like their arrival always signifies the beginning of Christmas vacation for me. I normally get a few days with them before I jet home to Ohio. So, I have one more holiday party, some San Francisco touring, a few days of a work, and a quick red eye flight until I'm all cozy with my own family in Ohio. I. CAN'T. WAIT. Before I leave for Cleveland, I'm planning on cooking some of Cho Momma's best dishes (sticky rice and her secret fried chicken recipe) for Reuben's parents so they get a little taste of a Cho Family Christmas! I'll have to figure out a way to make Reuben watch Love Actually with me........

You should see the google doc I have going with all the recipes and ideas that I want to test out. It's crazy. But I'm hoping that my time at home will allow me some quality time in the kitchen and a dishwasher to help me clean my tornado level mess. I have buns, a birthday cake for my grandma, homemade noodles, and of course Christmas cookies on the agenda. I like to make a ton of cookies every Christmas. They either go to Mom's coworkers or sit out on a pretty platter at one of our family dinners. It's nice to have family around to help eat my experiments!

With all the sugar flying around this month, I've been attempting to be more mindful about the amount of sugar I'm putting into my baked goods. I've mentioned it before, but I reduce the amount of sugar in all my recipes. I want it just perfectly sweet! Not "ah, I feel a cavity coming in" sweet. Lately, I've been researching and experimenting with alternative sugars. I'm really into coconut sugar. It's naturally nutty, slightly malty in flavor, and works as an awesome substitute for brown or white sugar. It's also lower on the glycemic index than sugar, which is definitely a perk when you have some diabetic loved ones.

I've swapped out all the sugar in the actual cookie with coconut sugar and it gives them a pretty light brown color and delicious malty flavor. To keep the coconut train going, I also added some unrefined coconut oil in the cookie, coconut milk in the glaze, and some toasted coconut as a topping. I can't get enough of the coconut! Seriously though. I'm finding myself trying to work in some coconut flavor into everything. Coconut buttercream. Coconut Curries. Coconut Chicken. Coconut Rice. Coconut Pizza??? Reuben would hate that idea. 

The colorful cookie toppings are crushed pistachios and freeze dried strawberries. They are my way of avoiding to buy basic red and green sprinkles. Nothing wrong with them if that's your thing! I just had some laying around and thought they would be pretty. If you squint your eyes a little, they sort of look like flower petals. Spring time cookie too?!

The cookies are not super sweet on their own because you're about to pour more sugar on top of it. So if you're going to not glaze the cookies, I would up the sugar to 3/4 cup of coconut sugar. These shortbread cookies are really delightful after a few hours. It allows the glaze to set and the shortbread to reach it's ideal soft yet crumbly texture. I found myself sneaking a bar or two in the mornings to enjoy with my tea and it was such a cozy experience! 

Happy baking!!!


Coconut Shortbread Cookies

makes about 28  1"x2.5"cookies

cookies:
12 Tbsp unsalted butter - softened
1/2 coconut sugar
3 tbsp melted coconut oil (unrefined)
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cup flour

glaze:
2 cups powdered sugar
2 Tbsp coconut milk (regular milk works fine too)

toppings:
toasted coconut flakes
crushed pistachios
crushed freeze fried strawberries

step:

1. Preheat your oven to 300 degrees.

2. Cream together the softened butter, coconut sugar, melted coconut oil, and salt until smooth. Stir in the flour until combined.

3. On a lightly floured surface, lightly knead the dough for 1-2 minutes. Dough should be smooth and consistent. Divide the dough into 2 equal parts. Pat into round discs and wrap is plastic wrap. Place in the fridge for 30 minutes.

4. On a lightly floured surface again, roll out one dough disc until it is about a 1/4" thick. Dust the dough or the rolling pin with flour in case it starts to stick. Lightly flour your cookie cutter and punch out your cookies. Place cookies on a parchment lined baking tray. Repeat with other half of dough. Poke the cookies a few times with a fork.

5. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes until golden brown. Allow to completely cool on a cooling rack. If your cookies are bigger they may need to cook a little longer.

6. Prepare your glaze by whisking together powdered sugar and coconut milk until smooth. Add a little more milk or powdered sugar to get your desired consistency.

7. Once the cookie on completely cooled, pour the glaze over the cookies. Top with toasted coconut flakes, crushed pistachios, and freeze dried strawberries. Allow the glaze to set up and enjoy!

* I think they are best after a few hours!

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Chinese Baked BBQ Pork Buns (Char Siu Bao)

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This is Kristina from late-ish Wednesday night. I just had a few friends over for a weeknight dinner party that would make any New Jersey Housewife proud. We feasted on eggplant parm, baked penne, kale salad (with homemade yogurt ranch dressing, OMG), red wine, and famous chocolate chip cookies and milk. I'm so full and happy. I'm super sleepy, but for some reason I felt like it was a good time to write. I'm also alone tonight. Reuben is away on a little business trip in Tahoe. It's weird to be alone in the apartment at night, I get spooked by every random thud and the tree branches scratching up against windows. But I'm taking advantage of my alone time. Meaning I'm going to write, stay up late, listen to annoying pop music, and binge watch crappy TV. It reminds me of the time before Reuben and I moved in with each other. Tonight, I'm catching up on Riverdale! Reuben hates it so much, but I can't get enough of it.

Have you started listening to Christmas music yet? How many times have you heard "All I Want For Christmas Is You"? Not enough? Me too.

I feel like the internet has been exploding with holiday cookies and eggnog flavored things lately. And I'm over here thinking about all the buns that I want to make. Typical. I think I'm just getting ahead of myself and jumping to my next holiday, which is Chinese New Year. I'm planning waaaaaay in advanced this year because I have big ambitions of throwing a huge Chinese New Year party in February. I envision endless and multiple dumpling options and a table covered in buns. However, both buns and dumplings take time and are pretty labor intensive. So I'm preparing and practicing 3 months early. 

Don't get me wrong, I have some Christmas cookies to share with you next week! And I'm working on a Christmas Red Velvet Cake this weekend. The holiday spirit is alive and well with me, but I'm just trying to break up the sugary sweetness with some BBQ Pork Buns!

I've ate approximately 209,248 pork buns in my life. Rough estimate. They are one of my favorite snacks and a must buy whenever I step into a Chinese bakery! When they are good, they are SO GOOD. Pork buns can be either steamed or baked. The dough should be pillowy soft. The pork on the inside should be tender, salty, but slightly sweet, and just saucy enough. Thankfully, I live in a city where every dim sum shop or Chinese bakery makes a pretty stellar BBQ Pork Bun or Char Siu Bao.

I've made my own BBQ Pork Buns a few times, but the dough was never quite right. Until now. After extensive research, I read about the tangzhong method, which is making a mixture of bread flour, milk, and water to help activate the dough and give it it's pillowy soft consistency. Reuben wanted to prepare his own Char Siu Pork for the bun fillings because he is the meat expert in this partnership. Is that a weird title? I've shared the recipe for the pork tenderloin if you want your buns to be extra homemade, but you can totally go to your local Chinese BBQ joint (the places with the ducks hanging in the window) for a pound of BBQ roast pork. It will save you a few hours. Pro Tip: order a pound or more because you're going to end up snacking on half of it before it makes it into your buns. We are going to work on another recipe using pork butt or shoulder in a few months and will share it with you soon!

I'm going to be honest with you. This is recipe takes a while. But isn't the holidays a great time to deep dive in crazy delicious but long recipes? You know you're about to plan a whole weekend decorating cookies. If I had to pick between a pork bun or sugar cookies, I'd most definitely pick the pork bun!


Baked BBQ Pork Buns

makes 12 buns

For the Pork Marinade:

3 Tbsp honey
3 Tbsp hoisin
1/2 tsp chinese five spice
3 Tbsp oyster sauce
1 Tbsp chinese cooking wine (Bourbon also works!)
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1.5 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp light soy sauce
1 Tbsp dark soy sauce
1 tsp red food coloring

For the Pork:

~ 1 1/4 lb pork tenderloin
2 Tbsp ketchup
2 Tbsp honey

For the Pork Filling

1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped white onion
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1 1/2 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp oyster sauce
1 Tbsp dark soy
1/2 cup water
3 Tbsp cornstarch
~ 2 cups chopped BBQ Roast Pork

For the Buns:

25g bread flour
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup water

2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast (1 packet)
1/2 cup lukewarm milk
1 beaten egg
350g bread flour
50g sugar + 1/4 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
2 Tbsp butter
1 tsp oil
Egg Wash (1 egg+1 tbsp water)

To Make the BBQ Pork:

1. Whisk together all the ingredients for the pork marinade. Reserve 1/3 of the marinade for the glaze. Cut the tenderloin lengthwise. Combine the pork tenderloin and remaining marinade in a ziplock bag and let marinade for at least 2 hours or overnight.

2. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil (for easy clean up) and place the pork tenderloin on the sheet. Cook for 10 minutes. Combine 1/3 cup marinade with ketchup and honey to make your glaze. After 10 minute in the oven, glaze the top and bottom side of the tenderloin. Cook for another 5 minutes and then reglaze. Continue to glaze every 5 minutes until the pork has been in the oven for about 30 minutes.

3. Remove the pork form the oven and allow to rest for 20 minutes before slicing into the meat.

4. Enjoy! Make sure to reserved about 2 cups for the bun fillings.

To Make the BBQ Pork Buns:

1. In a small bowl whisk together 25g bread flour, 1/4 cup milk, and 1/4 cup water until smooth. Heat a small sauce pan over low to medium heat and cook the flour and milk mixture, stirring continuously, until thick. It will take about 2-3 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and cover with a towel or plastic wrap and let cool. You got your tangzhoug!

2. Combine lukewarm milk (I microwave the milk for 30 seconds) with 1/4 tsp sugar and yeast in a small bowl. Let proof for 5-10 minutes. You should see a few bubbles develop on the surface.

3. Whisk together the yeast mixture with the tangzhoug and beaten egg until combined.

4. Attach a dough hook to your standmixer. Sift together bread flour, sugar, salt in the bowl of your standmixer. Add in your yeast mixture and knead on medium high speed for 10 minutes. Add in butter a little bit at a time. The dough should be smooth and elastic.

5. Pour oil into a medium-large bowl and turn it to grease the sides of the bowl. Add dough into the bowl, cover with a towel or plastic wrap, and allow to proof in a warm place for 1-2 hours. If it is a little cold, I like to place my dough in the oven while it is off with the door left slightly open.

6. While the dough is proofing, preparing your filling. Heat oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Cook onions until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add in the rest of the filling ingredients and allow to cook for another 5-8 minutes until thickened. Set aside in a bowl and allow to cool.

7. Lightly flour your work surface and turn out your dough. Divide the dough into 12 equal parts. I like to cut it into wedges, scone style. Roll one wedge into a small bowl. With a small and lightly floured rolling pin, gently flatten the dough ball until you have a 3-4" diameter disc. Fill with heaping tablespoon of pork filling. With the dough in the palm of your hand, carefully pinch the bun closed. Pinch and twist the bun in a counter clockwise direction.

8. Place the formed buns, pinch side down, on a parchment lined baking sheet. I used a 9x12 pan so that they touch and look more like dinner rolls. You can also use a larger baking sheet and spae them farther apart.Cover with a kitchen towel and allow to rest for another hour in a warm place. The dough should double in size.

9. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Brush the tops of the buns with an egg wash and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown! Enjoy!

dough recipe was adapted from Betty Liu's Furikake Milk Buns recipe!

Grandpa's Scrambled Eggs

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Do you remember the first thing you learned how to cook? I have a super hazy and possibly slightly reconstructed memory of my grandpa teaching me how to whisk eggs with chopsticks when I was a little. Scrambled eggs were the first thing I ever learned how to cook. Every single time I make them I remember him telling me that a good whisk is all in the wrist and that if you move it just so, you won't make a huge mess. It makes me smile every single time I whip up these eggs for breakfast. You probably already know how to make scrambled eggs. Who knows?! Maybe you don't. But here is a recipe, and I really just wanted an excuse to tell you about the person who instilled in me my love of food.

I'm the most sentimental person you will ever meet and the holidays make me extra sentimental and sappy. This post might be an epic ramble as I spiral into an emotional tailspin. You've been warned. Around this time of year my homesickness reaches an all time high and I start to tear up at restaurants if I see a big Asian family out eating dinner together. I'm instantly balling if there are grandparents surrounded by little grand-babies. Gah, it gets me. I miss my family all the time. I grew up in a pretty close knit family and I'm the only one not in Ohio. My entire mom's side of the family (parents, brother, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandma, errbody) lives in the Cleveland area, with the exception of an aunt who lives in Columbus. Family dim sum, lunches, and dinners were constantly happening. We were always together and moved around in a pack. For the first decade of my life, I grew up seeing everyone almost daily at my family's restaurant. At the time, I definitely did not appreciate it, but now as a somewhat-adult, I'm really thankful to have grown up in a restaurant surrounded by family.

Cooking and eating food that reminds me of them makes me feel connected to them somehow. When I whisk eggs I think of my grandpa. When I chop vegetables I hear my mom telling me to tuck my fingers in so I don't lose a finger. When I have chocolate ice cream I think of my other grandpa and how he kicked my ass at climbing a giant hill (it was really a tall city park) in Hong Kong, and once I finally met up with him at the top he was peacefully enjoying a scoop of chocolate ice cream. Food is so powerful that way. Every recipe comes with a narrative or a memory. My absolute favorite stories are the ones my mom would tell me of her growing up or of my grandpa when he was little. Like the tasty after school snacks her grandma would make her. Or how my grandpa would sell peanuts when he was a little boy to make money and that's why he is so good at math. I could listen to these stories all day!

My Grandpa, or my Goong Goong as I would call him, was pretty awesome. He was an only child supporting his single mom, who created quite a life for himself and a big family of his own. He was a teacher and calligrapher back in Hong Kong, but he decided to move to America for a better life for his family. He and my grandma, his mom, my mom, and her 4 siblings all flew over from Hong Kong and landed in Chicago, where they lived for a year before settling down in Cleveland. Like so many immigrants, he started working in restaurants. While he learned how to cook he also learned all the intricacies of running his own business. Eventually he opened up his own restaurant, and continued to open and operate them until he retired. He worked so hard and was such a great cook! It makes my eyes all teary when I think about how much he accomplished and what a great life he gave my family. Gosh.

He wanted me to study something related to computers when I went to college. I probably should have listened to him, but I wanted to do something more creative. Architecture happened. Now food has my focus, but I think he left such an amazing framework for me to do something with food. My entire life, he was always sharing food with me, whether it was plates of food or recipes. I would sit next to him at dim sum and he would whisper in my ear how the different dumplings were made. I was young and dumb and didn't retain that information, but I remember him telling me! I would giggle and then get distracted by a new dumpling coming to the table. We would share a crispy taro dumpling (our favorite) and I would ramble on about something silly like Pokemon or try to annoy my brother. That's normally how dim sum went.

He passed away 8 years ago around Christmas. I remember being in the hospital room with my entire family, we move around in a pack remember, and as my grandpa passed away I had never experienced sadness like that before. But at the same time I don't think I have ever experienced my family love each other that way. I'll never forget how that felt. Just like how I will never forget my grandpa's giant smile, the way he sang my Chinese name, and the way he taught me how to whisk my eggs and appreciate food. I miss him so much.

In a way I think my grandpa, and the rest of my family, is the reason why I cook, why I write, and why I share. I want to share the food of my family. I want to attempt to recreate the centuries old recipes my grandma makes from memory (it's really hard). But I also want to share my own personal experiences with food and create an archive of sorts for my future grandbabies to read about 50 years from now. Gaaaaaaah! Tailspinning... (compose yourself, you're almost done!) Okay. Anyway, all I wanted to say is that my hope for this blog is to create an archive and celebrate the joy and the stories behind food!

Sorry if this got really sad, but it cheered up a little didn't it?? If you have any stories you'd like to share I would LOVE to hear them! You can post them in the comments below. I hope you have a lovely beginning of December!


Grandpa's Scrambled Eggs

Materials:

2 eggs

1 tbsp milk

1 tsp olive oil

salt+pepper

Steps:

1. Crack eggs into a small bowl, sprinkle some salt and pepper, and add milk. Give it a quick whisk.

2. Heat a skillet over low heat. Add oil and egg mixture to the pan while it is only slightly warm. Continue to slowly whisk or scrape the eggs as they gradually cook and set up. o

3. Enjoy as is or on some buttered toast with hot sauce and green onions!
 


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wee dumpling with grandpa