Green Tea Butter Cookies: Dragon Year Treats

Chinese new year, for me, has always been about my late grandmother’s pineapple tarts.

The buttery cookies topped with sweet home-made pineapple jam are so firmly connected with the holiday that all other cookies simply cease to exist whenever the lunar new year rolls around.

As much as I love them, I don’t quite have the equipment at hand to make them this year, alas. One must still celebrate, nonetheless. So, in a pinch, I whipped together a batch of buttery shortbread cookies flavored with green tea powder I’d picked up in Singapore and had never used in baking before.

The result? A delicious springtime treat that I may just have to include in my new year cookie rotation in years to come…

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Lithuanian Poppy Seed Holiday Cookies: Santa-Worthy Treats

I have the great fortune of living near Sahadi’s, a wonderful little Middle Eastern grocery in Brooklyn that’s filled with bins of dates and nuts and shelves of treats such as pomegranate molasses, Turkish apricots and three kinds of orange blossom water.

As much of a thrill as it is to walk through Sahadi’s on any day, given that you never know what new delicious morsel you’ll discover, it’s particularly lovely in December, when the usually crammed store gets absolutely packed with a shoppers and a frenetic holiday spirit that’s uniquely New York. Excuse me, there are meals to be made — out of my way! You going to get that box of tea or what? Hurry up! (OK, perhaps I am alone in having these thoughts — everyone else may well be imbued with saintly patience since it is the holiday season, after all.)

Being there always gives me that seasonal rush that propels me to the finish line that is our Christmas dinner, however. And this year, I picked up a little extra something I’d been curious to cook with: Poppy seed paste.

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Cheddar-Pecan Crisps: Bubbly-Friendly Bites

Summer always brings much to celebrate — delicious pies, sandy beach picnics, sunny farmstands plump with fresh produce.

This July, we have one more thing to toast: the second anniversary of Let’s Lunch, a monthly Twitter lunchdate that began two years ago when three women from Paris, San Diego and New York gathered online over a sudden — and monstrous — shared craving for BLTs.

Since that first lunch, the group has expanded — the Let’s Lunch bunch now includes folks from ParisSydney (yes, Australia), St. Louis, and more. To mark the many feasts we’ve had, we decided to devote July’s lunch to nibbly bits that that go well with champagne.

What to make? I decided to pull out an old favorite …

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Pfeffernüsse: Victory Sweets

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My mother called the other day, saying she’d been thinking it was time for a change.

Time, specifically, to take down the massive German flag that’s been hanging in my girlhood bedroom in Singapore since the 1990 World Cup. (And the discovery of the wonder that is Jurgen Klinsmann.)

There were protestations, of course — the Germans were doing well in this year’s World Cup. They might win it all again! Why jinx things by folding up my precious flag?

That point, of course, is moot right now. After getting trounced by the Spanish earlier this week, the Germans take to the field today — not to fight for the World Cup. Instead, third place is theirs — if they’re lucky.

Now, when I’m stressed or depressed, I tend to storm the kitchen. So, what to make for this occasion?

“Time to write about some octopus recipes!” my friend Kevin suggested. (Given that I don’t sanction the rallying cry to grill Paul the Psychic Octopus, who predicted, to his German aquarium’s dismay, that Spain would knock Germany out of the semi-finals, I decided to ignore this.)

Something more humane, perhaps. Cookies, for example, seemed harmless enough.

And Martha Stewart had just the recipe …

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Pineapple Tarts: The Start Of The Journey


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In the beginning, there were pineapple tarts.

These buttery, crumbly, bite-sized marvels bewitched me as a child in Singapore. My paternal grandmother made the best ones, of course — every Chinese new year, she would hit the kitchen to churn out her tarts, pushing me to eat as many as I wanted as we sat in her living room, unhurriedly passing time.

I never learned to make my grandmother’s tarts as a child, unfortunately.

When I was 11, she died. And the chance for her to teach me anything suddenly vanished.

After many years of mourning this lost opportunity, I traveled back to Singapore in early 2009 to learn how to make these tarts from my aunts. My grandmother had taught them how to bake the tarts when she was alive and they were now the keepers of her prized recipe, which I’ve included below.

The experience was enlightening — but it also generated a spark. I now knew how to make the tarts of my grandmother, a legendary cook in our family and to all she knew.

But still, I wanted more.

Thus began a journey of discovery — one that would take place in the kitchens of my Singapore family. Over the next lunar calendar year, the women of my family would gather over hot stoves to laugh, tell stories, shake our heads and, above all else, cook.

The story of my journey will be shared very soon. (Hyperion’s Voice is publishing “A Tiger In The Kitchen” in January 2011.)

But first, it must be written — and so I must bow out of this blog for a while. Seven weeks, to be exact. (Special thanks to Yaddo, the artists’ colony, for generously offering me a nook in the woods to think and create.)

I hope you’ll forgive this absence, but you must admit, it’s for a rather good reason. 

When I return in late April, I’ll be looking for all of you. My year of cooking in Singapore is over but the journey continues here. And I hope you’ll be coming along with me.

Until then, buon appetito and enjoy …

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Pluck: Super Easy Sweets


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I’m getting tired of being asked a certain question: Where did you buy that dress?

Recently, I’ve been asked that a fair bit. And recently, my answer has tended to be the same: Pluck, a little boutique along Singapore’s tiny Haji Lane that sells both new and vintage dresses and accessories.

It’s an answer I hate to give because most of the people asking have been my American friends. And with Pluck, well, it isn’t exactly close enough for them to pop in for a quick browse. (As an immediate gratification kind of person, this kind of thing just will not do for me.)

I recently discovered a bit of good news, however — Pluck just started selling online and yes, it delivers overseas as well. So I’m writing about this here so that a) people can stop asking me where I buy my dresses and b) well … a) pretty much covered it.

How does this relate to food? Not as tangentially as you’d think.

Pluck also sells ice-cream and dessert. While I heartily recommend the pear riesling and lychee martini ice-creams, it’s been the little crunchy and sweet nibbly bits that co-owner Aisah sends out with tea and coffee that have piqued my interest.

When I bit into one recently, I immediately thought of the little cookies that mums would set out as snacks for visitors or after-school treats when I was a child. 

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Nutella-Ginger Cookies Only A Mother Could Love


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I have been yearning for butter ever since I saw Julie & Julia a few days ago.

From the first moment that I saw Meryl Streep as Julia Child drop a slab of butter onto a pan, my deep, deep hunger began.

It’s made me request extra pats of garlic butter to perch atop my steak in a French bistro and slather it so generously on bread that you could have omitted the bread and, honestly, I would not have noticed.

But, as Julia supposedly said, “With enough butter, anything is good.”

And it was this very spirit that led me to finally get off my tush and make the Nutella dessert that I had pledged to do when I signed up for The Nutella Challenge. (It’s a little exercise created by Paula at Bell’Alimento in which dozens of amateur bakers have agreed to come up with a dessert starring Nutella.)

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A New Red, White And Blue


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I’ve often said that when life gives me lemons, I make lemon thumbprint cookies.

For years now, this Bon Appetit recipe has been a source of comfort and relaxation — the process is so easy that these cookies are truly therapeutic to bake.

I suppose my friends may know by now that these tend to appear when I’m under some stress. There’s no stress in the air this July 4 weekend, however. (Unless you count my mammoth struggles with baking ciabatta for the first time — more on that later.)

Just a desire to create sweets with somewhat festive hues — yellow, red and sort-of-purplish blue come close enough for me.

Hey, I wasn’t about to whip out the food coloring.

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Cardamom, A Love Story


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I've had cardamom on the brain recently. And I blame Padma Lakshmi.

We weren't even talking about food–we were discussing jewelry for a Wall Street Journal fashion piece, for heaven's sake. 

But then the "Top Chef" host started describing a long gold chain that she liked that's flecked with little gold nubs. "Like cardamom pods," Padma explained.

I immediately began thinking about cardamom cookies and haven't stopped since.

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