I love pairing food and wine. While a wonderful food and wine match can bring out the best in both the food and the wine, I also believe you should drink what you like and not let classic pairings get in the way of a good thing. Last year I took part in #MerlotMe and this year I was drawn to same bottle as before, a J. Lohr Los Osos Merlot, this time the 2015. But I went in a totally different direction with it.
The 2105 vintage has 9% Malbec in the blend and that’s what made me think, why not pair it with steak? Of course I know Cabernet Sauvignon is the classic wine pairing for steak but I actually prefer steak with Malbec. In general I also prefer Merlot to Cabernet. The J.Lohr 2015 Los Osos Merlot has big berry and cherry aromas as well as a ton of mocha. It’s fresh, fruity and youthful and I was surprised to learn it has 13.9% alcohol because it certainly didn’t seem like it did (but for all I know it might even be higher). I served it with slices of a fantastic New York dry aged strip steak.
I’m not going to go into all the technical specs, but I will say that in reading the notes on the wine I saw that “splash decanting” was recommended. That was a new one on me. Apparently it just means a more vigorous decanting as opposed to the gentle kind of where you run the wine down the side of the decanter as opposed to dumping it in all at once. It’s not about removing sediment but just giving the wine some more breathing room. Personally I found that opening the bottle about 30 minutes before drinking it and giving it a good swirl in the glass was just fine.
Happy #MerlotMe and Halloween!
Disclaimer: I received sample bottles of Merlot as part of #MerlotMe. I was not compensated monetarily for this or any other post.
Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of contributing an essay to Pin Prestige’s August issue. The theme of this particular edition was 点, meaning dot. And I was invited to respond to the question: “你最想去到哪个时间点？At which point in time do you want to be?”
As an abridged translation was published in the Chinese language magazine and at pinprestige.com, I thought I’d share it here in English as it speaks of the many dilemmas that torment a mother’s heart and mind.
When I consider when it is that I want to be—the point in time I want to be at—my thoughts are immediately drawn to my children. As it is, I feel that as a mother I am perpetually racing against time.
I had my first child three days after I turned 38. When I became a mother, the concept of time took on a dramatically different dimension in my life. When you begin to live your life in relation to your children’s, you become remarkably conscious of the rapid-fire passing of time.
The minutes and seconds
There is the banal, almost pedantic necessity of managing time. Getting to school on time, keeping track of time, filling time, structuring time. From each child’s birth, I’ve obsessed over the number of hours of sleep he or she clocks in each day; the number of minutes we spend speaking and reading in Mandarin; how his or her waking hours are productively employed whether in education, sport, the arts, or play.
And as a working mother, the need to do this can be all consuming. It is the crushing compulsion to ensure that every hour, minute and second of my children’s lives continues to be filled with the life lessons I would have hoped to impart if I were caring for them myself.
So, when I ask myself, “At which point in time do I want to be at?” The honest answer from a mother’s heart would be: “For my children, at every conceivable point in their lifetimes.”
Clearly, this is impossible.
The histories of a lifetime
Yet, how am I to choose one moment out of a lifetime of moments to witness or, dare I say, influence? Naturally, I yearn to share the high points of my children’s lives, their joys and successes. However, if I were forced to make a choice I would forsake these for their darkest moments, when they are most likely to feel most lost and alone.
But, the fact is, a lifetime consists of innumerable moments. Being present at a specific moment–just one moment in time–is of less significance to me than equipping my children with values that transcend the irreversibility of time.
A significant part of parenting hinges upon giving our children the time and space, for better or worse, to be their own persons. Helping them to craft their individual moral compasses (the value system with which they may make their own decisions, discoveries and mistakes in their own time), is possibly my greatest goal as a parent.
This is perhaps the best way for me to invest the extremely finite time I have with my children.
Even then, such lessons are not easily taught. We are talking about the interface of many lifetimes, because our lives are not lived as ours alone. We carry upon our shoulders the histories and lessons of not only our immediate ancestors, but of humanity.
A lifetime of recipes
I frequently find myself returning to food, the language I communicate with best, in my attempts to lay the foundations of these lessons in the hearts and minds of my young children. It is a language that is universal, one that they can already connect with on many levels even at this young age. And in recording my recipes for them, I endeavour to recall these lessons for my children far into their futures (hopefully surpassing my own lifetime) in a way that remains relevant, timely and yet, timeless.
I hope that as they seek to recreate the flavours of their childhood for the people who matter in their lives, that the process leaves them with more than just a momentary corporeal pleasure; because the best recipes can also prove to be significant recipes for a life lived well.
I am a prolific recipe writer. But the ones that mean the most to me are the simplest. They are the ones that I use most frequently. And with the familiarity of repeated use, the finer details of achieving perfection become more apparent. So, I write and re-write these recipes over decades. The point being that while time is immutable, the lessons we learn from history—the passing of time—can and should evolve.
When, then? There is no time like now
I am pragmatic. The time at which I want to be at is always the present, because there is no time better than now. I can only do what I can now, to help the lessons of the past come to bear on our futures, and my children’s futures.
I’m sharing, here, a recipe for shortbread that I bake regularly, a sweet treat that my children look forward to in their school snack boxes. At this point in our lives, my work schedule doesn’t afford me the time to serve my children freshly cooked meals on a daily basis. I cook at night, after they’ve gone to bed, dishes that can be stored and served to them even when I am not at home. This is a common practice. Many working mothers do this.
It is a simple recipe that calls for simple ingredients. Yet, to me (if not my children) making these shortbread cookies is a luxurious indulgence; a small gesture that conveys all my love for them.
A recipe for life
What has the repeated baking of these shortbread cookies, a humble confluence of butter, eggs, flour and sugar, taught me at this point in time?
1. That when we set our hearts to do something that matters to us, we will always find a way. Most of my recipes allow for preparation spread over a number of days because it is the only way I can squeeze it into my schedule. I have the same 24 hours as everyone else in my day. I find ways to segment the process so that it becomes achievable for me.
2. In the process of achieving point 1, I’ve learnt the virtues of patience in a life where immediacy has become the expected norm. I’ve developed a drawn out process of refrigerating, then rolling, freezing, cutting and freezing the dough for our unforgiving tropical climate because it results in the best cookie cut-outs I can achieve with my own hands. The effort pays off in my children’s smiles, giggles and enthusiastic jostling for a greater share of the cookies in the cookie jar.
3. There is strength in subtlety. By revisiting this recipe constantly, I’ve discovered how the small choices we make in terms of the ingredients we use can impact the outcome. By choosing with intention to use a block of salted SCS Butter (which my father, a son of postwar Singapore, ate in cubes with a toothpick as a childhood treat) or a fancy pat of Echire butter; vanilla seeds or pure vanilla extract; lemon zest or ground tea leaves; we can transform our outcomes. I don’t mean to imply that one ingredient is better than the other. But with one recipe (similar to remaining true to one’s values), we can create many different forms of deliciousness.
4. Practice brings us closer to perfection. But life isn’t always just about the pursuit of perfection. In repetition, we discover beauty in the fallibility of human hands. Let us not close ourselves to that possibility. Life isn’t all black and white, pass or fail. Through practice we also learn to be versatile. While we hold on to what we believe in, it shouldn’t close us to the possibility of tempering our perspectives, adapting to who and what we have to work with.
5. Allow yourself the space for creativity. I make this cookie most frequently for small hands, to offer a small, daily pleasure. But it can just as easily be transformed, with a little icing, into a celebratory treat for birthdays, weddings, and other sweet moments in life.
Baked uncut, then blitzed in a food processor, it is transformed into cookie soil that keeps ice creams from sliding on a plated dessert. It is also a great base for elaborate individual entremets if you decide to attempt an ambitious project one day.
Substitute the lemon zest and vanilla bean with approximately 2 tablespoons of ground coffee beans, ground tea leaves (my favourites are Japanese hojicha and Earl Grey) or something else that catches your fancy, and you have a new cookie in your hands.
6. When I can, I gather the cookie trimmings and give them to my children as an invitation to play. They get to shape their own cookies (I restrain myself from judging them), and I offer them the time and space to create.
Similarly, in life, even as you take to well-worn paths, allow yourself the levity to play, explore and make new discoveries.
7. The greatest lesson of all: should this recipe not work for you, don’t give up. Keep searching. Keep trying. One day you’ll find or develop one that fits you.
Makes 32x5cm cookies (more if you roll out the dough trimmings)
200g unsalted butter, cut into 2.5cm cubes and softened
180g icing sugar
2 large egg yolks
4 vanilla beans, seeds scraped
1 tsp lemon juice
4 tsps minced lemon zest
280g all-purpose flour
1/8 tsp of fine sea salt
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter at medium speed. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and gradually sift the icing sugar into the bowl in two additions, beating until thoroughly incorporated.
Reduce the speed to low. Add the egg yolks, vanilla seeds, lemon juice and lemon zest. Beat until just incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl where necessary.
Gently whisk the flour and salt. Keeping the speed low, incorporate the flour mixture in two additions until the dough just comes together. Do not overbeat.
Divide into three equal portions, wrap in cling film and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight. At this point, dough can be tightly wrapped (or vacuum sealed) and stored frozen. Thaw in refrigerator before use.
Dust sparingly with flour, then roll dough out to 5mm thickness between two sheets of baking paper. I use rolling pin rings/bands to help me achieve even dough thickness. Freeze for at least 1 hr.
Dip cookie cutter in flour and cut out cookies. Freeze cookie cut-outs for at least 1 hr.
Preheat oven on convection setting to 150 degrees Celsius. Bake cookies for about 15min until firm, barely colored, but still pale. Cool and store in an airtight container. Best eaten fresh.
With its new and updated innovative design, the Snap’n Strain will take the strain out of straining. This top quality, heat-resistant, silicone strainer is the newest, most practical way to get your food strained thoroughly, while avoiding transferring the food out of the pot.
The Snap’n Strain is flexible enough to fit onto nearly all pots, pans and bowls. It snaps on neatly with two clips. The clips’ strong grip will keep it safely attached while in use and can be left attached to the pot while cooking.
Once snapped, the pot can be tilted over a sink or bowl and the Snap’n Strain will do its magic. The liquids will be poured out while the food remains in the pot even with heavier foods like potatoes.
The Snap’n Strain is super compact for storing.
Recommended Used Include: Vegetables, Potatoes, Eggs, Pasta
Photo: Greg Seber
This Turkish Lentil Soup happens to be one of my favorite soups on Earth. Simple yet packed with flavors, and better yet, with tons of nutrition. The happily marrying ingredients in this soup are red lentils, carrots, potatoes, onions, and my new addition – garlic! They get pureed at the end and you get the creamiest, silky-smoothest soup to indulge.
Halloween is a time to create all kinds of fun, creepy desserts. This spooky Spiderweb Cheesecake is a dessert that is perfect for Halloween celebrations – and it’s much easier to bake than you might think! The rich cheesecake base is topped with a stunning spiderweb design that contrasts well with the vanilla base of the dessert. It is baked in a chocolate wafer pie shell, which not only adds flavor, but ties in well with the Halloween look of the finished dessert.
To create the spiderweb design, I separated a small quantity of cheesecake from the base mix and added in cocoa powder and activated charcoal. I find that black food coloring is difficult to find (though much easier around Halloween) and I already had the charcoal on hand from my Goth Ice Cream. You should only need a small amount of either the charcoal or the food coloring to get a truly black color for the topping.
I transferred the black cheesecake batter to a small ziploc bag with a corner snipped off, which created a small opening. I piped several concentric circles on the top of the cheesecake. Next, I took a toothpick and inserted it into the batter (no more than 1/4-inch deep) at the center of the cheesecake, then pulled it through the circles to create the spiderweb look. I did about six pulls from the center out and six from the outside in. Just make sure your marks are equally spaced for best results.
The design holds well during baking and the effect on the finished cheesecake is absolutely stunning. It’s spooky, but simple. The cheesecake should be refrigerated before serving. It’s dense, creamy and gets a lot of flavor from the chocolate wafer crust. You’re not going to get much flavor from the topping, simply because there isn’t much of it there, but you’ll get a hint of cocoa if you look for it (in tiny, tiny bites). Add some candy spiders or plastic spiders for decoration before serving.
1 9-inch chocolate wafer pie crust
16-oz cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp cocoa powder
1 tbsp milk
1 tsp activated charcoal or 1/2 tsp black food coloring
Preheat oven to 325F. Place chocolate wafer pie crust on a baking sheet.
In a large bowl, beat together cream cheese, sugar, eggs, vanilla and salt until very smooth.
Transfer 3 tbsp of cheesecake mixture into a small bowl. Add cocoa powder, milk and activated charcoal/food coloring to the small bowl and stir until mixture is uniform. Transfer to a small ziploc bag and cut off one of the corners to create a small opening.
Pour vanilla batter into prepared pie crust and spread into an even layer. Pipe 4-5 concentric circles with the chocolate batter on top of the vanilla base. Starting at the center, insert a toothpick no more than 1/4-inch into the cheesecake and pull it towards the outer edge of the pie. Repeat this process 6 times, making sure each line is evenly spaced. Between this first set of lines, repeat the process but start out the outer edge of the cheesecake and pull towards the center.
Bake until set, about 30-35 minutes. Cool to room temperature, then refrigerate for at least 2-3 hours before serving.
The 6 piece microwave container set is perfect for microwaving, storage or freezing. It contains a 16 oz, 28oz, and a 40oz container. They are microwave, dishwasher, and free safe. They all have sealing lids that have an adjustable knob in the top for
This easy, one-bowl pumpkin bread is crazy moist, loaded with spices, chocolate chips, and pecans, and freezes beautifully. It is a perfect bread to put out for company, serve on Thanksgiving, or bake up in small loaf pans for holiday gifts.
Last summer, when I asked readers to send me their favorite tried and true recipes, I received a TON of pumpkin recipes. I made a few before Dominic was born (including this pumpkin yummy dessert that was a big hit), but I shelved the rest until fall rolled around again.
Well, here we are, fall again, and we have Shirline to thank for this absolutely fantastic pumpkin bread! When she emailed me the recipe, she said she begins making it in the fall and continues to churn out loaves all through Christmas. Her family refers to it as “Grama’s Pumpkin Bread”, and she makes loaves both for her family to enjoy and in smaller batches to give away as gifts. After making dozens of pumpkin breads myself, I have to agree with Shirline – this is the best of the best!
You will be amazed at how much batter this recipe makes… you will want to use a large mixing bowl!
I love how easy it is to prep this bread (and Joseph loved helping to mix!) – canned pumpkin and tons of spices gets mixed together first, then vegetable oil to keep the bread nice and moist, eggs, sugar, flour, and the all-important add-ins: chocolate chips and pecans. While you COULD make the bread without them, Shirline exclaims that it just isn’t pumpkin bread without the chocolate chips and pecans! They add a wonderful punch of sweetness and crunch to the super moist, spiced bread, and it’s great balance.
When I tell you that these loaves are as heavy as bricks, I kid you not. They are HEAVY… but also supremely moist and dense in the most wonderful way. They remind me of the Russian pound cake that my mom, aunt and grandma all used to make for the holidays.
You can eat this warm or at room temperature, but like most pound cake or quick breads, wrapping it tightly in plastic wrap and letting it sit overnight makes it even better! As a result, this is perfect to keep around for a week or so, and goes wonderfully with breakfast coffee or an afternoon cup of tea, or for dessert any time of day.
This has officially become my go-to pumpkin bread recipe – it’s easy, full of flavor, and super moist; you can’t ask for much more than that from a pumpkin bread! It freezes really well, so it would be great to bake up a few loaves (or even mini loaves) to keep in the freezer for last-minute guests or to get a head start on Thanksgiving baking or holiday gifts!
Thank you so much for this recipe, Shirline! ♥
One year ago: No Bake Caramel Apple Pudding with Gingersnap Crust
Four years ago: Skillet Cornbread
Five years ago: Salted Caramel Apple Cheesecake Dip
Ten years ago: Brown Sugar Raisin Bread
This easy, one-bowl pumpkin bread is crazy moist, loaded with spices, chocolate chips, and pecans, and freezes beautifully.
There are certain dishes that no matter how many times I make them, I’m always looking for a better recipe. Macaroni and cheese is one of them. You know a good macaroni and cheese when you taste it. For me, it’s rich but not oily, gooey with melted cheese and with no graininess to the sauce. It’s also got a little sharp edge to it. I usually start with a bechamel, but I’ve never been convinced that it’s the perfect sauce base.