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I found out I like lemon more and more, especially the Eureka variety that really has a very refreshing lemony fragrance. Unfortunately, for lemony baked goods I get from stores, it’s usually too sweet and not lemony enough for my liking. I want to taste the tangy flavor… with this mind I created this cookie recipe to try for our annual Christmas cookie bake at home.

The results? I like it a lot. The coconut flavor is there but subtle compared the sunny cheery lemons. These cookies give a refreshing change to the typical sweet cookies around Christmas holidays. The glaze is a MUST!

May your Christmas as joyous as these lemon shorties!

Coconut Lemon Shortbread Cookies. Before glaze. Look at the yellow specks of lemon zest!

Coconut Lemon Shortbread Cookies. Before glaze. Look at the yellow specks of lemon zest!

Coconut Lemon Shortbread Cookies, after glaze.

Coconut Lemon Shortbread Cookies, after glaze.

Coconut Lemon Shortbread Cookies (makes around 50 Cookies)

Ingredients:
2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup unsweetened desiccated coconut– grated and toasted to light brown
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh lemon zest (about 5 large lemons)– see note below
1/2 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter– softened

Lemon Glaze (mix until smooth):
1 cup powder sugar, plus a little more if needed
4 tbsp fresh lemon juice

Method:

  1. Combine all ingredients (except butter) in a large bowl. Mix to blend well.
  2. Add butter and use finger to rub butter into the flour mixture, until it forms a dough.
  3. Place dough on parchment paper. Shape the dough into a log and roll it up tight (using a rolling pin if you feel comfortable with this method, see note below). Chill in the fridge for at least 2 hours until harden.
  4. Preheat oven to 350 F. Line baking pan with parchment paper.
  5. Cut dough into 1/4 inch thickness and place on baking pan, 1 inch apart. Bake for 20-22 minutes, turning halfway during baking. To prevent cookies from spreading out too much in the oven, keep unbaked dough in the fridge at all times until it’s ready to bake.
  6. After removing for the oven, let cookies sit in baking pan for a few minutes before transferring to a cooling rack. Once cookies are completely cooled, dip the cookies top into lemon glaze then let them dry for 1 hour. When the glaze is dried, you can stack the cookies and store in airtight container.

Regina’s Note:

  • Lemon zest: To help lemon zest mix into flour mixture better, I washed lemons and dry completely with paper towel to keep the zest as dry as possible.After zesting, I finely chopped instead of grating lemon peel from straight– I found grating will break out the lemon oil in the peel and form little lumps, which is hard to break up in flour mixture.
  • Lemon glaze: Even with 1/2 cup of lemon zest in the cookie dough, the unglazed cookies still don’t have a prominent lemon flavor to my liking. Lemon glaze really brings out the soul of that bursting refreshing lemony flavor. Take care of the ratio of lemon juice and powder sugar, thicker glaze results in sweeter instead of tangy flavor. Thinner glaze creates more rundown which means thinner layer of glaze, resulting less prominent lemon flavor.
  • Grated desiccated coconut: always toast to light golden brown (in a dry clean frying pan, low heat stir constantly) to bring out the aroma of coconut. I like to use unsweetened coconut because it doesn’t stick together after grating and toasting, making it easier to mix with flour mixture. If sweetened coconut is used, reduce amount of sugar.

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Fish with Spicy Black Bean Sauce 香辣豆豉魚片

Ingredients:

2 lbs Basa fish fillets (4 fillets)– see note below
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tbsp fish sauce
2 tsp corn starch

Sauce:
3 cloves garlic– chopped
5 red hot peppers– chopped
2 stalks green onions– chopped
2 tbsp cooking oil
2-3 tbsp fermented black beans 豆豉
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp oyster sauce

Method:

  1. Defrost fish fillets, then cut each fillets into 4 pieces. Boil water (enough to cover the fish) in a pot.
  2. Right before putting fish into boiling water, marinate fish with fresh lemon juice, fish sauce and corn starch. Mix to coat well.
  3. Gently lay fish pieces into boiling water, piece by piece so it doesn’t break apart. Cook until the fillets float up. Gently remove fish with a strainer scoop and arrange on a plate.
  4. To make the sauce, heat up a wok with 2 tbsp cooking oil, sauté garlic, peppers, black beans and green onions until aromatic, add in soy sauce and oyster sauce. Stir to blend well. Please note this is not a watery sauce and it’s kind of dry. Spoon the sauce over the fish.

Regina’s Note:

  • Basa fish fillets: it is usually a product from Vietnam and comes in individually frozen fillets. You can find it in Asian grocery stores in frozen seafood section.
  • Marinate fish right before cooking them, or else the acidity of lemon juice will ruin the texture of the fish.
  • The black bean sauce can be made ahead of time.

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Happy 4th to all of you that are celebrating! Did you fill up with all delicious grilled meats and enjoy the fireworks?

During the week of July 4th there is always a meat sale in every grocery store, so it’s a good time to stock up some of your favorite meat in the freezer. I used to buy pre-marinated tri tip at Costco that comes in vacuum sealed pack. Then my local Safeway store was having a BOGO deal on tri tip. I bought some and started making my own marinade. It’s actually quite easy to prepare– just mix all seasoning together and marinate the meat in a ziplock bag. Besides playing around seasoning ingredients for different flavors, you also have control on amount of salt in the marinade. Many times I find pre-marinated meat are too salty.

Beef Tri Tip Roast (serves 5-7 people)

Ingredients:
1 piece (about 4 lbs) beef tri tip

Marinade:
4-5 tbsp fresh lemon juice
6 tbsp honey
3 tbsp soy sauce
3 tbsp sweet mesquite seasoning– I used Kirkland brand from Costco
1 tbsp granulated garlic
1 tbsp ground cayenne pepper
1 tsp chicken powder– optional
1 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1/2 tsp ground cumin

Method:

  1. If your tri tip is untrimmed then trim off excess thick fat, but do keep a thin layer of fat as it will keep the meat moist during roasting and adds flavors to the meat.
  2. Mix well all marinade ingredients in a bowl. Place meat in a ziplock bag and pour marinade in the bag. Coat well and push out as much air as you seal the bag. Marinate overnight in the fridge.
  3. Remove meat from the fridge and let it sit in room temperature for a while (at least 30 minutes) before roasting. Preheat oven to 375F degree and position the rack in the middle of the oven. Place tri tip in a deep roasting e with fat side up, roast for 40-50 minutes.
  4. Remove the meat from the oven. Cover tri tip with foil and let it rest for 10-15 minutes. Slice and serve. Pour any dripping from the roasting pan (after spoon off the fat) and meat juice (from slicing the meat) over the sliced meat to add more flavors and moisture to the meat.

Regina’s Note:

  • Flavor: I used sweet mesquite seasoning so my tri tip has a sweet smoky and slightly tangy flavor. Feel free to play with your favorite seasoning. Because tri tip is a thick cut of meat, so marinade is a preferred method to get the seasoning penetrated to the meat. Dry rub seasoning only gives flavors to the surface of the tri tip but not the center of the meat.

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Sausage and Shrimp Penne Pasta

Sausage and Shrimp Penne Pasta

Sausage and Shrimp Penne Pasta (serves 6-8 people)

Ingredients:

1 lb penne pasta
2 tbsp olive oil
6 cloves garlic– finely chopped
1 lb spicy Italian sausage– pull to form small pieces, see note below
1 lb raw shrimps
6-10 white button mushroom– trim off the stems and cut into pieces same size as sausages
2 cups of baby spinach leaves
15 oz. (1 jar) of Classico Creamy Alfredo pasta sauce
1 tsp chili flakes
Salt to taste
5 tbsp finely grated Parmesan cheese

Method:

  1. Cook penne pasta as directed from package instructions. Reserve some pasta water.
  2. Heat olive oil in a big frying pan over medium heat then add sausages. Stir a few times to loose up the meat.
  3. When the meat is half way cooked, add garlic to sauté until aromatic. Add mushrooms and stir several times.
  4. Add in shrimps. Stir until shrimps is half way cooked. Scatter in spinach leaves and make a stir.
  5. Turn heat to medium low. Add in cooked penne pasta. Stir to combined thoroughly. Stir in Alfredo sauce, followed by chili flakes, salt and grated Parmesan cheese. The pasta should have some sauce. Add pasta water if necessary. Serve hot immediately.

Regina’s Note:

  • Pasta: I like al dente texture, so when the pasta is half way cooked (or more on the raw side), I turn off the heat and let the pasta sit in the pot. It will continue to cook in the hot pasta water. Meanwhile I work on the sautéing other ingredients. When I’m ready to transfer pasta to the pan, I scoop (scoop with holes at the bottom for straining) pasta quickly, carrying some pasta water to the pan, and thus producing creamier texture. The pasta water helps bind pasta and the sauce together and is considered liquid gold for pasta chefs.

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In my home country Malaysia, ‘kaya’ is a local jam that is made of eggs, coconut milk, sugar and pandan juice. All the local coffee shops have this jam available, and ‘kaya’ and butter is the default spread if you ask for a bread or toast.

What is Gula Melaka? It is coconut sugar that is locally made in Malaysia. It is dark brown color, always comes in cylinder block and in different sizes.Gula Melaka is usually used in making local desserts and delicacies. Gula Melaka has a unique sweet fragrance and thus adds the magic to the food. I bring Gula Melaka every time I come back from Malaysia because I haven’t seen it in Asian grocery stores here in U.S.– I found palm sugar, which is product of Indonesia and much light brown in color, but it’s not the same as Gula Melaka.

Anyhow, back to these rolls– given the store bought ‘kaya’ here is not as authentic, the flavor wasn’t as strong as I expected even I added toasted coconut. But hey I got to try new bread flavor, clean out some pantry items, and family got fed for breakfast… that’s good enough.

65C Coconut Jam 'Kaya' Rolls with Gula Melaka Glaze

65C Coconut Jam ‘Kaya’ Rolls with Gula Melaka Glaze

65C Coconut Jam ‘Kaya’ Rolls with Gula Melaka Glaze (makes 14 Rolls)

Ingredients:

Dough starter:
1/4 cup bread flour
250ml water

Dough:
1 egg– beaten
6 tbsp milk, plus 2 tbsp
6 tbsp whipping cream
4 cups bread flour
2 1/2 tsp dry yeast
6 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp milk powder
1 tsp salt
4 tbsp unsalted butter– melted and cooled

Coconut Jam ‘Kaya’– see note below
1/2 cup finely grated dry coconut– toasted and cooled

Gula Melaka Glaze:
1 medium cylinder block of Gula Melaka
2-3 tbsp water
2 tbsp unsalted butter

Method:

  1. Prepare dough starter: Combine bread flour and water in a small sauce pan. Blend well with a balloon whisk over medium low heat (whisk continuously). When the mixture thicken slightly, reduce to lowest heat setting while whisking continuously, until the mixture reaches 65 degree C. The consistency will be like condensed milk. Remove from heat and cool before using.
  2. While dough starter is cooling, beat egg in a bowl, then add in 6 tbsp of milk and whipping cream. Mix well.
  3. Pour in egg mixture to the bottom of bread machine loaf pan, followed by bread starter.
  4. Add flours to loaf pan.  Make an indent in the middle, and add dry yeast to the indent. Add sugar, milk powder and salt to different corners of the loaf pan.
  5. For Zojirushi bread maker (model Zojirushi BB-PAC20), press HOME MADE button and set timing as follow and press START: Rest: OFF–> Knead: 25 min –> Shape: OFF –> Rise 1: 45 min –> Rise 2: 30 min –> Rise 3: 1hour –> Bake: OFF –> Keep Warm: OFF
  6. 1-2 minutes after the knead cycle starts, add in 2 tbsp milk (the dough will be very wet– add more milk if needed). Add melted butter in 2-3 batches before knead cycle completes.
  7. When the final rise cycle is completed, transfer dough to a lightly floured surface. Gently roll out to 15 x 13 rectangle. Spoon a generous layer of coconut jam on the dough, follow by 5 tbsp toasted coconut. Spread evenly with a butter knife. Roll up the dough lengthwise to a log. Pinch dough to seal the end. Cut into 14 pieces. Place dough, cut side up, in a deep dish greased baking pan or glass pan. Cover with plastic wrap and let it rise to almost double in size.
  8. Brush top with whipping cream, and bake in preheated 350F oven, middle rack, for 25-30 minutes. Remove rolls from the oven.
  9. While bread is cooling in the pan, prepare the glaze: dissolve Gula Melaka with water in a small saucepan at medium low heat, use the back of a spoon to smear if needed. Add a little more water if it’s getting thick. Mix in butter and cook until all blended. Spoon glaze over the top of the rolls, then sprinkle with remaining 3 tbsp of toasted coconut. Rolls are best served warm with glaze.

Regina’s Note:

  • Coconut Jam: can be found in Asian grocery store like 99 Ranch.
  • Don’t let the long steps scare you– most of the time it’s the bread machine that is doing the job. I program my bread machine for each cycle, but you can just follow a simple white bread loaf recipe.
  • For a slightly healthy version, substitute out 1 cup bread flour with 1 cup of wheat flour.
  • The rolls taste the best when it’s warm and freshly glazed as you can taste more flavor of the glaze.
  • Be creative with the filling– raspberry, strawberry, orange, chocolate…

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This dish has a very weird Chinese name; it literally translates as ants climbing up a tree… ?? I wonder if the ground pork is the ‘ants’ and noodles is the lines of a tree bark? Anyway, it’s delicious! That’s all matter!

Ground Pork Stir Fry with Clear Noodles 螞蟻上樹

Ground Pork Stir Fry with Clear Noodles 螞蟻上樹

Ground Pork Stir Fry with Clear Noodles (serves 4 people)

Ingredients:

1/2 lb ground pork
1 bundle clear noodles– soak in water to soften
2 cloves garlic– chopped
2 red hot peppers– chopped
2 tsp rice cooking wine
1/2 cups chopped Chinese celery stems– see note below

Seasoning:
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tbsp sugar
1/8 tsp chicken powder
1/2 cup water

Method:

  1. Season pork with typical seasoning (salt, ground white pepper, sesame oil and cornstarch, water). Set aside.
  2. Heat up a wok on medium high heat. Sauté garlic and peppers until aromatic. Add in ground pork. Keep stirring to loose it up. Add in rice wine. Stir until wine evaporates.
  3. Add all seasoning ingredients. Stir to mix well. When it boils, add in noodles. Stir to mix well. Cover, and cook until noodles almost absorb all the liquid and turn transparent. Stirring a few times in between to make sure noodles don’t stick to the wok. Add a little more water if needed. Before dishing out, add chopped Chinese celery stems and stir a few more times. Serve hot immediately with rice.

Regina’s Note:

  • Chinese celery stems: I use Chinese celery stems for its crunchy texture and color. As with regular celery, always remove the fiber ‘strings’ before use.

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I had this salad when I was at my gym potluck party. Considering myself not a cole slaw fan I even got hooked from the first bite. So I asked my workout friend Kathy, who made this salad, for the recipe. The dish is easy to prepare, and the flavor is very light and refreshing. Since the cabbage is finely shredded, you won’t feel like eating big chunks of cabbage which really turns me off for raw cabbage.

Japanese Cole Slaw

Japanese Cole Slaw

Japanese Cole Slaw (serves 6-8 people)

Ingredients:

1 small head cabbage–finely shredded/sliced(see note below)
2 stalks green onion– finely sliced
2 tbsp sesame seeds– toasted
2 tbsp almond slices or silvers– toasted
1 package Asian noodle snack– see note below

Dressing:
3 tbsp sugar
2 tsp soy sauce
1 tbsp sesame oil
4 tbsp cooking oil or extra light EVOO
4 tbsp vinegar– see note below

Method:

Mix dressing well until all combined and sugar dissolves. Pour over salad before serving. Toss well.

Regina’s Note:

  • Cabbage: I use a knife to finely shred but you can also use mandolin or other shredding tools. The key is to shred as thin as possible.
  • Asian noodle snack: You can find this snack in Asian grocery store, in snack aisle. Depending on the brand, it comes in different form (crumbs, whole piece, balls) so crush it if needed. And choose original flavor.
  • Vinegar: I use apple cider vinegar.

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