Strata

I first stared strata in the face at a hotel brunch, and said “What’s so special about that dish?”

That’s exactly it, nothing. It’s a casserole, or a mix of ingredients, that can be found in breakfast dishes or quiches. The main events are bread cubes, eggs, and cheese.

For years, I have seen this item on restaurant menus, and in recipe books and websites. No, no, no, I will not . . . finally, I decided to make them, in the form of muffins, for breakfast/brunch. I liken this version to a deconstructed omelette meets french bread. I have to say, to no surprise, I am not a fan.

Breakfast Strata Cups:

Dice up bread into cubes.  Grate sharp cheddar cheese, adding in diced onion/green onion and mix with seasonings of your choosing.  Divide evenly among greased muffin tins.

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I then beat together eggs and some whipping cream, with a dash of salt.  Then I gently pour over the filled cups.  Be careful not to fill too full, as it may pour over the side and make a mess of your oven.

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Here is a close-up look – I could have filled them with less bread cubes.  It wasn’t until after they were cooked that I realized I could have done with less.  More is not always better.

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They do look great.  I plated them two-by-two on a light bed of lettuce, then placed a dollop of ketchup on the side.  It made for a great display.  I apologize for not taking a picture of this, though.

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Will I make them again?

Yes, I would give it a second chance, as a casserole dish (an entree), served with salad and/or with a side of vegetables.  Because it’s made as a casserole and is easy to serve, it can be a great potluck item to share.  Hey, one can even bring this with them on a camping trip.  I would – so easy to transport, too.  A foil pan would be best.

How do you “strata” – breakfast or dinner?

 

 

Making Sushi at Home

I’ve been romanced by sushi for as long as I can remember. In fact, I believe I first tried sushi after frequenting sushi bars solely for raw oysters! Yes, raw oysters. My partner-in-crime and I could not wait until we were old enough to drink sake and enjoy raw oysters on the half shell!

I know, it sounds a bit comical, doesn’t it? A lot of our friends were busy getting fake ID’s to get into clubs and here we were, thinking we were sophisticated and “all that”, having sake n sushi with our raw oysters! I was not that one to rush growing up, but then again my outlook was a little different. I embraced everything that came my way … didn’t like some things, but learned how to deal with those situations gracefully.

I got bored of raw oysters after a while. It wasn’t easy, visit after visit, never ordering the beautiful assortment of sushi that seduced me each time. I started off with nigiri sushi – a piece of raw fish, typically, atop of a rice pod, sometimes with wasabi spread in-between. Then it was onto rolls, tempura, noodle and rice dishes.

I have tried a lot of Japanese cuisine but only care for sushi and the like. When one grows up with a mom who is an amazing representation of traditional Cantonese cuisine, any other Asian versions of noodle and rice, well … meh …uneventful. If someone cooks these dishes for me, I am all for it; otherwise, I will not be paying for something I do not enjoy eating.

I have always wanted to make my own sushi, so I set out on this adventure with my kids. One New Year’s Day, we went to Fujiya in Vancouver to get all our ingredients. Since that New Year’s Day, we have made sushi a few times more.

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Cucumber and Japanese fried pancake are cut into strips for easy rolling.

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Sushi mats are very inexpensive and are easy to use.

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Filling for Negitoro Roll

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Negitoro Roll, Salmon Maki, Tuna Maki

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Tuna Roll

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My little helpers

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We saw this neat contraption at the fair, and decided to buy a few.  It is very easy to use, and makes a great stocking stuffer item (hint, hint!)

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Cube-shaped sushi – wrapping a strip of seaweed around it makes the sushi look complete.

What I love best about making sushi is that the tools are as minimal as the creations themselves. Sushi are essentially minimalist creations of art.

What is your favourite sushi?

Chia Seed Breakfast/Snack Jars

I absolutely love yogurt, but there is something dairy-free, and even better, for me at least, because I love texture – Chia Seed Pudding or Breakfast Jars!

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Here is a breakdown of the nutritional value of chia seeds based on a 1 ounce (28 grams) serving:

Fiber: 11 grams
Protein: 4 grams
Fat: 9 grams (5 of which are Omega-3s)
Calcium: 18% of the Recommended Daily Amount aka RDA
Manganese: 30% of the RDA Magnesium: 30% of the RDA
Phosphorus: 27% of the RDA

I use chia seeds in salads, cereals, steel cut oats, breads, and sprinkle them over yogurt as well.

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Group A:
8 T chia seeds
1 c rolled oats – I like to mix small and large flake oats (I’m a texture girl)
4 c unsweetened almond milk (I use plain but you can use Vanilla)
Honey or Raw Agave Sweetener (if you must have sweetness – I don’t use it)

Group B:
2 c fresh berries, solo or assorted, or fruit (Banana flavour, yes!)
2 t honey
Raw almond butter

Extras:
Hemp hearts
Granola (if desired)
Dried fruit
Nuts

Mix A in a container and let sit in refrigerator for a minimum of four hours or overnight.

Take B and mash together. Get some mason jars or other containers w/lids and line them up. This recipe makes 6-8 small jars, depending how much you ladle into them. Remove from refrigerator the chia mixture and give it a mix, then ladle halfway into jars.

Take the mashed fruit and divide them among the jars. Top with 1t of hemp hearts and/or granola, dried fruit, or nuts, then finishing with another layer of the chia mixture.

Can be consumed immediately, if not, store in refrigerator (good for three days).

Do you “do” chia?  What are your favourite combinations?

Pastas, Traditional and Not

As I was growing up, I thought it was a treat to have noodles in the house.  OK, it is a Chinese thing, but we didn’t always have noodles for dinner.  My mom considered noodles more of a lunch item, as it wasn’t hearty enough for dinner.  She would make wonton and other types of dumplings to go with.  She was also good at making fried noodle dishes, but I will save this for another entry :).

I got bored of all the different types of noodle dishes/bowls we had.  They were either rice-, egg-, or wheat-based, and they were the same – long and thin or long and wide.

Oooh, the first pasta noodle I had was elbow macaroni.  When mom ran out of Chinese noodles, she took this out to replace them.  The next type of pasta was lasagna, yum!  Every pasta experience brought me so much joy!

And not much has changed.  Along with many of you, for personal or health-related reasons, I do not consume many wheat products.  I am constantly on the hunt for new pasta types.  And I will share some with you here.

There are a few places I purchase my pastas from – Donalds Market and Famous Foods, in Vancouver; Pomme Market, Costco, Save-on Foods (Healthy Foods section), and Superstore (Natural Foods section), in Burnaby and Coquitlam, to name a few.

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I found this at Costco – and if you have had a Chinese style dish with black bean sauce, you will like this.  I found the flavour to be mild, though some of my friends found it too strong.  In other words, they did not like it and would never buy it again.  For my first time, I decided to keep the flavours strictly Chinese.  I did not cook the noodles as long as the instructions on the box.  As I like my noodles “raw”, as my friends call it, I like to turn off the heat and let it cook to a certain texture, then I drain.

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For veggies, I used a trio of sweet peppers, along with purple onion.

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I bought some pollock (as I did not have access to fresh crabmeat) and shrimp as well.

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The shrimp and pollock were being pan-fried as the vegetables were being cooked in the wok.  The shrimp and pollock were then added to the work, where seasoning would take place.

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Plating:  I just placed the cold noodles onto plates, then ladled the veggie mixture over.

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It was that easy …

Here’s another … Edamame Spaghetti

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I pureed cauliflower and spread it onto a plate, then put some noodles on top of it.  It did not require any fancy toppings, etc.  This is a very simple way to prepare it.  If you are using pastas you have not used before and are not sure of how their flavours would blend into a favourite sauce, etc., try something simple for starters.

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Here are some other pastas I have tried:

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What I have learned from using rice pastas, and this goes for every brand:  Best if consumed the same day it was made.  For example, I made a ziti dishes ubstituted it with brown rice pasta – when I went to warm it up the next day, mushy … I hate mushy pasta, and pretty much, you can sieve it through your teeth!  Make just enough and store sauce separately.  If you want more the next day, make a fresh batch of pasta.

What are your favourite non-traditional pastas, and how do you like them prepared?

Cream of Tartar

Have you ever come across a recipe you are dying to try, then realize you are short one ingredient? What do you do? Do you look for another recipe to try or are you like me, who will think of a way to substitute this, that, and/or the other, to make that recipe happen? It doesn’t always work in my favour, but I do try.

I often hear my mother-in-law saying things such as: “Well, I didn’t have any cornstarch, so I used flour instead.” OR “My cupcakes are a little flat because I didn’t have any baking soda.” I get it! I’ve been there so many times! It’s not always possible to make substitutions, especially when baking, as it is so unforgiving. Baking CAN be an art, but compared to Cooking, clearly, it’s a science. Measurements and ingredients must be precise. You cannot eliminate a binder without adjusting sugar, etc. as the ingredients may not hold together properly, etc., thus having breads and cakes looking disastrous.

In the last few years, I have come across recipes asking for Cream of Tartar, in cookies, cakes, and frostings. It is not a basic ingredient for a lot of people. I typically use CoT to stabilize egg whites, but rarely use it as a leavening agent in cookies and cakes.

If you are making something for an event, I suggest checking your cupboards and ensuring you have all your ingredients. This would not be a good time to try substitutions. I usually experiment with substitutions as I am making something I’ve made many times before. Take notes while you’re experimenting – I always take notes, as each experience will be different. Substitutions with the same ingredient will have different results with cookies, cakes, breads, etc.

Up until recently, I had not come across a cookie recipe requesting Cream of Tartar. This got me thinking … I actually started to doubt the recipe! Up until now, CoT was only called for in one capacity only – stabilizing & adding volume to egg whites. This opened up a whole new world for me, or not …. either way, I had to find out!

I checked in with a few friends who use CoT in a variety of ways:
Preventing sugar from forming crystals when making icing, syrups, and some candies
Stabilizing whipping cream
Preventing discolouration of vegetables while boiling (I use tapioca starch for this)

And there it is, now I can justify adding CoT to the spice cabinet as a regular resident … here’s another fact which an old friend told me about long before I even started buying CoT, as she, too, was an avid baker, and loved to experiment. Did you know that CoT is found in baking powder? Yes! And apparently, one can make her own by combining 2:1 (each) CoT : Baking Soda and Cornstarch.

There are many ways to use CoT but not in the culinary sense. I will leave you all to do that research on your own.

Thank you for reading. It has been a while since I last posted anything. Travelling, family, school, and training (yes, I have decided to complete another half marathon!) have kept me very busy. My schedule is a bit more manageable now, and I am hoping to write more regularly.

Stay tuned, love to you all!

Candy Make-Up

As I write this, I am wondering how I survived my childhood, having passed by without a single birthday party …. I kid you not. I never had a party. Don’t pity me just yet. Believe it or not, I am not alone.

I only recall one birthday where I had an un-iced cupcake and in it was a single candle. My parents and siblings were the only ones present. That was the way it was … I did not know of any other way. And growing up with friends whose parents, like mine, were immigrants, we didn’t have birthday parties. One of the main reasons I never had a party was this: If I held a party, I’m essentially telling my friends: “Look at me, look at me, it’s my birthday. I’m having a party and you are coming with a gift for me!” My parents did not think it was right to grow up this way. They thought it was wrong to “ask for gifts”. It put people on the spot. What if one of my friends were not able to afford a gift? Perhaps it would be putting them on the spot, having to come with a gift because if they didn’t come, it would be assumed that he/she were poor.

You know, it took me a while to wrap my head around this mindset, especially when I started my own family. I wanted to celebrate them, and in addition, I wanted to celebrate all that was important to them, including their friends’ birthdays.

I put my imagination to work, and almost every party was different. Even up until the age of 10, a lot of children’s parties were held at home. Some of our themes included: Dress-up; Pokemon; Superheroes; Princess; Beauty Night; and various types of crafts.

One of the most recent parties my daughter had was Beauty Night. The girls not only received goody bags filled with make-up palettes, brushes, sponges, lip gloss, mascara, and pocket mirrors; as part of their activity, they got to make their own make-up palettes with a various assortment of candies and cookies.

The girls made powder compacts, lipstick, mascara/make-up applicators, make-up palettes, you name it. Creativity is endless … they had so much fun creating their own designs, and after they finished, they got to eat them! Most of them did not eat their creations, citing that they were too pretty to eat.

I couldn’t agree more …

Each guest got to design a plateful of items. It kept the conversation string fresh, the creative juices flowing. What recognizable products do you see?

I see a compact on the upper left, a few sponges and makeup applicators.  Then there’s a compact with blushes and another with eye colours. In the forefront, that would be a tube of mascara.

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Here we have a cuticle stick, an eyeshadow palette, powder puff, blusher compact.You’re probably wondering “Wow, you’re good!” Not really. I am just guessing, like everybody else. I did not record what everyone made.

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Here are a few more designs. Depending where you go to get your candies n cookies, you could bring the designs up a few notches.

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What to came my mind was making cakes and cutting out pieces to make jewelry drawers, cases, etc., to accompany the make-up. How about a dresser upon which to place them?

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Here is the book from which derived all the inspiration. I wish I had the title to share with you; however, I do own it. It’ll just take some time to dig it out.

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What was your most memorable birthday party, and what were the foods that were associated with it?

 

Burritos To Go

I can’t name one person who doesn’t like something Tex-Mex. When I first had authentic Mexican cuisine, it was only then that I realized the Tex-Mex style I was accustomed to was not authentic Mexican cuisine. When I was invited out for dinner, it would be “Let’s go for Mexican”. I don’t think people were intentionally misleading, it was a point of reference as to type of cuisine.

I was immersed into the Tex-Mex scene when I moved to Texas. All of a sudden, it wasn’t so eventful, as I could get it anytime & everywhere! It was fun, however, trying as many restaurants as I could, to compare the various chilli’s, burritos, salsas, pico de gallo, mole …

I visit Texas yearly, and dine at a different Mexican restaurant each time. Yes, I need my fix! But when I’m at home, I like to make my own Tex-Mex foods. I do make the occasional authentic Mexican dishes, but have yet to make a feast! My family craves burritos, so every once in a while, we make them, then pop them in the freezer. The kids love having them as a quick meal in-between school and their activities. We are not a fast-food family, so this works well for us.

When school started, my kids said “Mom, remember to stock up on snacks, etc.” When MY KIDS say this, they are referring to home-made, not store-bought. That is music to any mom’s ears, don’t you think? During the summer, our food habits are not as rigid. Feeling like ice cream … sure! But with the hectic schedules of school, activities and other commitments, it is easy to fall prey to fast foods.

Every week, the kids have an ingredient list for me to pick up. Whenever possible, they come with me so they can compare ingredients, and read the nutritional facts for themselves. They are just as involved in the grocery shopping process as I am. They design a menu for one day of the week, and get cooking! Although I trust my kids to my kitchen, I still like to pop in because safety and developing/maintaining good habits are huge concerns – big knives, heavy pots to carry, electrical gadgets, gas stove, etc.

On the weekend before school started, my kids wanted to make burritos. We picked up all the ingredients, and got busy! Enjoy these photos … the kids made them all on their own!

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I almost always soak my own beans, and either steam corn and cut off the niblets or just as good, buy organic corn niblets in the frozen section. They have a much better taste compared to canned. I like to mix my meats as well – I picked up Organic Xtra Lean Ground Beef and Organic Ground Veal.

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I slightly steam the tortilla shells so they are easier to manipulate.  The meat mixture can be added, as well as some cheese.

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Which way is the best way to “wrap it up”?  Thinking …

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The two sides are pulled towards the centre before pushing the front edge inwards.  Continue rolling to the end.

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Prior to wrapping in plastic wrap, parchment paper was used instead of tin foil, to hold the burrito together.  This makes eating easier, making less mess.  The parchment gets put into the green bin, less waste.

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This is the final look prior to storing in the freezer.  The bag was marked – Item & Date Made.

I’m always trying to find different ways to reduce waste – instead of plastic wrap, what do you use?

 

 

 

 

The Raw Macaroon

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A couple weeks ago, I went to pick up some almond flour to prepare for my Macaron Bakefest. Before you know it, holiday baking will be in full swing, and I am organizing a cookie exchange of a large proportion. I also make extras for parties, family, and friends. Seriously, does one need a reason to bake?

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OK, back to the shopping trip, which eventually found my way to Pomme Market (one of my favourite stops) – I went crazy on the coconut items, and also had to replenish some of my raw food ingredients. By the time I was done, the bill totalled approximately $150.00. Since that trip, I have been dreaming of macarons – what flavours will I make? And of the icing? How will I package them up? That’s when it dawned on me that I hadn’t made raw macaroons this summer. How it happened, I don’t really know. But I do remember how fun they are to make, and ultra simple, to boot.

These macaroons are great for those who have gluten sensitivities. No flour is used, and the binders are coconut oil and coconut butter. It is possible to make this recipe with only coconut oil and not the butter, but the macaroons will not hold well together. There IS a difference between the oil and the butter.

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When I first made these, I used a 1T measure to make the shapes. I would press firmly into the spoon, then turn upside down onto a plate and “tap tap” onto a plate, then place into the refrigerator to chill until firm.

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Get creative when entertaining your guests.  Alternate the colours, and build them up high or simply arrange them around a bowl of fruit, or on an eye-catching platter.  Dress them up or dress them down.  It’s entirely up to you.  See how vibrant the Matcha Green Tea variety are!

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Here we have Chocolate (Cacao) and Vanilla (these were shaped with a 1T measure).

I dare not say I am a super fun gal, but I love to have fun with food. I much prefer using silicone moulds, as you can see. Themed parties can be had – I’m not huge on Halloween, but I have seen some moulds for pumpkins, cats, and teeth – there’ s one theme! Not only was it easier to press and store in silicone mould trays, but it was also fun to assemble onto platters!

 

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The flavours I have made are Vanilla, Chocolate (cacao powder), and Matcha Green Tea. If you were to ask me “Vanilla or Chocolate”, I will always say “Vanilla”; however, when it comes to raw macaroons, I will say “Chocolate”. With the chocolate, I add a pinch more sea salt … wow!

I’ll ask you – “Vanilla or Chocolate”?

Making Macarons (Macaroons)

A confection that has gained a lot of attention in the past few years is the Macaron. While a lot of us believe the Macaron originated in France, there has been some debate that it originated in Italy – “Some have traced its French debut back to the arrival of Catherine de’ Medici’s Italian pastry chefs whom she brought with her in 1533 upon marrying Henry II of France.[8]“  (Wikipedia)

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Regardless of origin, I still find this tiny confection intriguing. I love going to Thomas Haas Patisserie (North Vancouver) and find myself just staring at them – prettily boxed up – all shaped perfectly, and they come in a palette greater than what rainbows have to offer … choices, choices! Oddly enough, I have never been that tempted to buy a box for myself. I have only bought for others, I know – lucky them.

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I am probably going to mention this in every entry regarding sweets – that I am not a “sweet tooth”, and it’s very true. BUT, these little morsels have been tempting me for the past few years, I JUST HAD TO make them! I had tried these at a Christmas party last year, finally! They were really tiny, but because I was going to make them, I was curious as to taste and texture.

I found it quite uneventful. A mouthful of baked meringue with buttercream filling … it was “just okay”. Again, I’m not the authority on this, as I am not a “sweet tooth”. I just have the magic touch – everything I make is almost perfect. Working on my side is a very Type “A” personality, and if you’re going to do anything at all, pour out your heart and soul; otherwise, why bother doing anything at all?

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Meringue is being made, set at highest setting

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Vanilla Bean Frosting/Filling

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Dark Chocolate Mint Frosting/Filling

I thoroughly enjoyed preparing the Buttercream Filling, and this is something that can be prepared a day or two ahead – the buttercream just needs to be softened and whipped up again prior to filling the macarons.

Some of you may not know, as I was also unaware – there are four types of Buttercream Frosting/Filling – Swiss, American, French, and Italian. I made Italian, and I really loved it, yes, I love a sugar product! It was not too sweet at all – this would make an awesome icing for cupcakes and cakes, as their batters are already weighted with sugars.

I made two flavours of macarons – Dark Chocolate Mint and Vanilla Bean. The macarons would be Vanilla Bean with Dark Chocolate Mint filling and Dark Chocolate Mint w/Dark Chocolate Mint filling.

I had planned on making macarons since Christmas, and ensured I had all the necessary tools, not that I have a shortage of gadgets, machines, and toys. For Mother’s Day, my son bought me an icing kit – it could be used to decorate cookies, cakes, pipe macaron batter and filling, etc. I was quite giddy when I realized that the pastry bags were all re-usable, silicone!!! The only thing I was missing were silicone macaron baking sheets. My sister-in-law came to my rescue and bought me a couple – check out my stash!

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These kits can be found at Bed Bath Beyond – there were not as many available in Canada.  My sister-in-law bought them in Redmond on her way here.

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Making macarons was a family affair – my kids, sister-in-law and husband. Since they had taken a class before, they could offer their tips and experiences. We had so much fun.

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I like efficiency – here, we measured ingredients for both types of macarons, and have them on deck as needed.

I plan on making more macarons, as I want to make them for Christmas this year, perhaps as part of my cookie exchange … and I will find every way possible to naturally “colour” the macarons without using any food colourings.

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I’ve tasted many flavours and would say that raspberry chocolate and vanilla mocha are good combinations. I am dying to make Matcha flavoured macarons.

What are your favourite macaron flavours?

Joong (or Zhong)

Joong (Cantonese) [or Zhong (Mandarin)] aka Rice Packet/Purse, is one of my very favourite things to eat.

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Joong is very time consuming to prepare, sometimes lasting an entire day, or even into the following day. My mom prefers to use banana leaves, though other large leaves may also be used. She cleanses them, then soaks and rinses, repeat, repeat, repeat.

The types of leaves used varies from region to region, country to country, and each kind of leaf adds its own unique smell and flavour to the rice. The rice absorbs the sweetness from its leaves.

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The rice packet/purse is actually a meal, like a sandwich with all the fillings. My mom uses pork belly, pork fat, salted duck egg … and sometimes she throws in red beans or peanuts, which get mixed in with the rice. Depending on region, the fillings will differ. My mom makes ‘em savoury, but in northern China, the joong is sweet, almost dessert-like.

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After shaping the joong, filling is then put inside – starting with the rice mixture, layering with meat and duck egg, then again with a layer of the rice mixture.

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The shape of joong differs among regions. The leaves are folded over the filling, which then is tied together with string. They must be tied tight enough so it doesn’t fall apart when boiled/steamed; however, tied too tightly will not allow the rice to cook – rather, it will be raw in the middle.

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Joong and Dragon Boat Racing are thought to have originated around the same time with relation to the death of Qu Yuan, a poet and highly ranked minister during the Zhou Dynasty. Apparently, he committed suicide by drowning himself in the river (Miluo). So admired by his people, they raced out in their boats in an attempt to save him/retrieve his body, thus the origin of Dragon Boat Races. Unsuccessful, the people threw sticky rice into the water in hopes that the fish would feed on them instead of Yuan’s body, thus the origin of Joong.

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Joong may have been made seasonally (during Dragon Boat Festival); however, they are available almost year-round in more Chinese populated cities. My mom always makes them at this time of year – I received a couple bags approximately three weeks ago. Thanks, mom! Mom makes joong whenever she feels like it.

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A family tradition to gather and make joong together, my mother almost always made them herself. She attempted to teach me when I was younger – I helped her season the rice, cut the leaves to size, cut the string, essentially just a sous chef.

Although she taught me many things, she, for some reason, must have thought this too advanced for me. I watched a lot, and can probably duplicate but not to her level of perfection. I am grateful mom still has her health to share her traditional dishes.

The next time you are in a restaurant having Dim Sum, order Steamed Sticky Rice, Wrapped, a version of Joong.

Have you had joong before? And what type of filling is your favourite?