adventures of a butterfly cookie cutter

…or, how to get three desserts out of one cookie cutter. First, the background:

My sister is going to have a little baby girl! I’m tremendously excited. I have to constantly exert all sorts of self-control lest I buy every “my auntie is awesome!” onesie that I happen to come across. Anyway. Her friends did most of the hard work involved in throwing her a baby shower; all I did was to volunteer to contribute baked goods. The theme: butterflies.

I bought myself a tiny butterfly cookie cutter, about 1″ by 2″.

butterfly cookie cutter

I decided to make Linzer cookies with butterfly cutouts. I used this recipe by Ina Garten, who has never led me astray. They worked well, for the most part, except the whole process was rather time consuming. Because it was so warm in the kitchen, the dough kept getting too soft to cut properly. I had to chill the dough in the fridge, take out a section, quickly roll it and make cuts, and stick the cut cookies and the remaining dough back in the fridge again. Repeat as necessary.

The cookies turned out well though. That’s cherry preserves in the middle.

Linzer butterfly cookies

Instead of rolling the cutout butterflies back into the dough, I baked them as well, with just a sprinkling of coarse sugar. Then I used them as toppers on Rolo pretzels. I hadn’t made Rolo pretzels before, but a coworker swears by them for easy entertaining. Basically, you put a Rolo candy on a pretzel, bake it until the Rolo is softened but not melting (about 3 min inside a 350 degree oven), and then smush a nut or something on top and let the whole thing cool to solidify. Since the kitchen was warm, these also went into the fridge to cool and set up after assembly. I’m glad the fridge was fairly empty that day. These also took some time to assemble, mostly because I had to unwrap each Rolo candy individually.

The shortbread butterflies worked beautifully with the caramel Rolos and the salty pretzels. Looked cute, too.

butterfly Rolo pretzels

Finally, because I still wasn’t done with the butterfly cookie cutter, I decided to make a butterfly version of Deb Perelman’s white and dark brownies. Essentially, she bakes up two batches of brownies (white and dark chocolate), and then proceeds to cut heart-shaped centers out of each piece and swaps them so that the colors contrast and the brownies are uber-cute. Check out her photos; they’re beautiful.

For some reason my white chocolate brownie batch came out thinner than the dark batch, but I was still able to painstakingly cut butterfly centers and swap them. (After chilling the cooked brownies. Everything needed to be chilled!) Also, thank goodness brownie material is sticky; whenever I cracked the corner of a brownie, I was able to unobtrusively press the cut together with my fingers. The end result turned out quite nicely.

butterfly brownies, white and dark

The shower went well, and I’m proud of my baked goods, but I think I’m ready to take a break from the butterfly cookie cutter.

(Photo credits: Linzer cookies and brownies from LB’s camera; Rolo butterflies from KL.)

food of my people: bao

Happy Chinese New Year! This Year of the Dragon is supposed to be extra-fortunate, at least from what the internet is telling me.

Bao aren’t New Year specific foods — they’re more everyday foods — but since I didn’t really cook anything specific* for New Year, here’s a bao post.

* If you’re looking for New Year specific foods, try dumplings, fish, noodles, and tangerines. Most of these foods are eaten because they’re homonyms or symbols for wealth, abundance, longevity, etc. Chinese are big on symbolism.

Bao are just buns, with or without fillings, steamed or baked. I’m usually a baked goods fan but I love the texture of steamed bun, the taste of it, and how the chewy white dough pulls apart in your hands. We made a bunch of buns with fillings: chicken and mushroom (mushroom left over from the jung extravaganza), curry beef (just ground beef cooked up with curry paste, courtesy of K) and char siu. We followed the recipe for buns and char siu from Andrea Nguyen’s Asian Dumplings book.

The procedure is actually quite simple. You make the dough, let it rise, cut it into chunks, form each chunk into a ball, flatten it into a disk, close the disk around the filling, and steam the finished bun on a square of parchment paper. (Purists get very deep into the type of flour to use, and steam their buns on cabbage leaves. But all-purpose flour and parchment paper work just fine.)

making bao

After some practice, we were able to figure out the correct amount of filling for each bun (don’t want to overfill them and have them split in the steamer).

waiting bao

These bao are doing their final rise while waiting for their turn in the steamer.

steamed bao

Fresh from the steamer! They freeze beautifully, too.

(The buns you can get at dim sum tend to be whiter and fluffier than the homemade ones. Word is that this is due to the quality of the flour, or maybe the dough starter, or something. It’s okay; the homemade ones are adorably rustic and plenty tasty.)

food of my people: jung

There’s something about winter that makes me want to hibernate. (Yes, even though it really hasn’t been that cold outside.) I want to squirrel away a stash of food and curl up in a nest of blankets, with a cup of good hot chocolate, and wait out the winter.

This winter, I stashed away a ton of jung.

When I was little girl, I remember my mom making jung in massive quantities. She’d make piles of them, boil them in giant steaming pots, freeze them, and ship huge boxes off to family. They reheat beautifully, each one an entire meal wrapped in bamboo leaves: rice, beans, meat, and mushrooms. All you have to do is take one from the freezer, let it defrost overnight in the fridge, and then take off the plastic wrap and pop it in the microwave (under a damp paper towel) until heated. Peel off the leaves and dump the filling onto a plate. Just like that: dinner.

She doesn’t do it much anymore, because it’s a ton of work (there’s so much prep that it’s not really worth doing unless you’re going to do it in bulk), but when we said that we wanted to learn to make them for ourselves, she was more than willing to come over. She was even willing to do the shopping (she goes to the Chinese grocery stores in Rockville, where they are more likely to have the ingredients than the Korean stores up here). There was just a little preparation beforehand that she wanted us to do…

– boil bamboo leaves, then rinse off any dirt
– soak sweet rice in salted water overnight (the volume of water should be 1.5 times that of the rice)
– soak dried beans in salted water overnight (the volume of water should be 2 times that of the beans)
– cut up pork into appropriately-sized pieces, salt generously, and marinate overnight (we used pork belly for the tasty fat, but pork shoulder (aka butt) can also be used if less fat is desired)
– soak dried shiitake mushrooms


She dropped off the ingredients the night before. Then, the next day, she showed up to a kitchen full of soaking pots, and showed us how to make the jung. You create a pocket in your hand using two overlapped and folded bamboo leaves. You fill the pocket with filling (the one in the picture has beans, pork, peanuts, and a rehydrated mushroom, but no rice or Chinese sausage yet), and then fold one more leaf over the filling to seal. Tie everything shut with a piece of string. The jung will expand slightly when boiled, so make sure your knots are good and there are no rips in the leaves.

We made piles and piles of jung. This is just one of the trays:

finished products

As you can see, there are no real rules to the shape of the resulting jung. I made triangular ones. K made pillows. Both turned out well. After assembly, the jung were boiled for a minimum of three hours (to reduce the amount of steam in the kitchen, K made use of the turkey fryer in the back yard), then dried on pans, then plastic-wrapped and put in the freezer*. I forget how many we made, but there’s a giant pile of ready-to-eat meals in the freezer now.

My inner squirrel is quite content.


* …except the ones that developed structural instability (slight leaking) during the boiling phase; those we stuck in the fridge and microwaved for meals over the next few days. Cooks’ privilege.

leftover quiche custard: a tasty dilemma

What to do if you’ve made two quiches (with spinach, diced ham, and Swiss cheese), but still have over two cups of quiche custard left unused, as well as a block of leftover cheese and some extra diced ham… and you don’t feel like making yet another quiche?

2 quiches

One solution: Make a savory bread pudding. Saute some chopped kale with the extra diced ham. Then shred the rest of the cheese, and cut most of a loaf of white bread into cubes. Grease a baking dish with a bit of butter. Layer the bottom with bread cubes, sprinkle kale/ham saute on top, sprinkle with shredded cheese. Repeat two more times, ending with a cheese layer. Beat three more eggs into your leftover custard, then pour into the pan, soaking the bread cubes evenly. If you feel like it, dust the top generously with grated Parmesan. Bake at 350F until the pudding is bubbling and slightly browned on top.

Serve and eat! Try not to fight over the crunchy edge pieces.

savory bread pudding

summer CSA week 8, and zucchini adventures

Last week’s CSA brought us cantaloupe, 3 beets, 6 ears of corn, 2 pounds tomatoes, a single large eggplant, peaches, zucchini, and nectarines, as well as the usual eggs and bread (Great Harvest challah).

summer CSA week 8

We’ve already made pretty good progress; the cantaloupe was ripe and perfect, so K and I ate it up within the first couple of days. The peaches and nectarines disappeared similarly quickly (Maryland summer peaches are absolutely wonderful). I made the Lee Bros. Creamed Corn recipe* with the corn, and K made two stir fry dishes: one with shrimp and tomato, and another with ground beef and cubed eggplant. Fantastic dishes, both.

* Note on the Lee Bros recipe: if you try it, go easy on the salt. I think the Diamond brand of kosher salt they have down south is less strong than the Morton’s we have up here. I salted to taste and used barely half of what they did.

This past weekend was notable for two things: 1) K cooked an entire ham on the grill, and it was amazing (went well with the creamed corn, too); 2) I used up four pounds of zucchini.

See, we had a giant zucchini sitting in the fridge; a friend of ours picked it from his garden. Apparently zucchini gets really big if you don’t pick it in time…

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