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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Gluten-Free Cranberry Bliss Bars

My mom loves Starbuck's seasonal cranberry bliss bars, but unfortunately she recently has become sensitive to wheat gluten. For Christmas, I set about researching how to make some gluten-free bars.

In case you haven't heard of the Starbuck's cranberry bliss bar, it is only available around Christmas and it seems to be one of the most universally beloved baked goods they offer. Cranberries, cream cheese frosting, and chunks of white chocolate make for a nice balance of sweet, savory, and tart.

My mom is a sucker for anything cranberry, so this is a guilty pleasure for my mother, and she is very tempted every holiday season. Much to my mother's surprise, there is actually tons of reliable copy-cat recipes posted on the internet already. However, I was looking for a jumping-off point that I could use to make a gluten free recipe. And a good gluten-free flour to use. On a suggestion, I picked up a bag of Cup4Cup from William's Sonoma. On the record, this isn't a sponsored push for the product, but I was exceedingly pleased with the results.

Tragedy struck while making this recipe: while preheating the oven, my friend said, "Hey... I smell gas."

My oven has been periodically giving up on me, or taking 20 minutes to get to the proper temperature, but that day it finally officially died on me. We had to open all the windows since I was accidentally trying to gas us all to death, and I had to hope that a couple days in the fridge wouldn't harm the bar batter.

I brought it over to my parent's house to bake, and thankfully I can report that you can refrigerate the base for several days before baking, if needed. Just increase the bake time by about 10 minutes.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Strawberry Romanoff Butter Mochi

Strawberries Romanoff is an American-French classic: strawberries are macerated in orange liquer and served with sugar and cream, sometimes over vanilla ice cream. My mom used to serve us fresh whole strawberries, dipped in sour cream then lightly rolled in brown sugar. The tang from the sour cream, the tart sweetness of the berries, and the caramel tones of the brown sugar were a perfect combination. Some friends would look at the sour cream dubiously, assuming it better for topping nachos, but one bite made them a convert from whipped cream.

I decided to take this wonderful trio and top butter mochi with it! I knew I already loved it over pound cake, so I figured butter mochi would work just as well. It turned out great, but I was making it for a party with lots of finger food. I think next time I will skewer cubes of butter mochi and strawberry halves and use the sour cream mixture as a dip, to make it much easier to eat at standing parties.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy New Year! Ozoni Recipe!

Happy New Year everyone! I hope everyone had a good 2012 and will have an even better 2013!

My family drove up to my great uncle's house to eat ozoni, mochi soup that is traditionally eaten as the first meal of the new year in Japanese culture. Oshogatsu, as the New Years celebration is called, is the most important holiday of the year in Japanese culture. Instead of just celebrating from the 31st to the 1st, Oshogatsu celebrations can extend from December the 28nd to January 6th!

My mom got me this kagami mochi for my place!
Mochi plays an important part, not only for eating, but also as decoration. Kagami mochi (鏡餅), or mirror mochi, has a place in the household as a good luck charm and a symbol of the coming and going years. The two giant mochi disks are topped traditionally with a daidai tangerine, but as a kid I loved the ones with the zodiac animal on top. Of course, while displaying mochi is fun and all, it is much more auspicious to eat it in ozoni.

2013 is the year of the snake
Ozoni (お雑煮), or zoni, has been a New Years tradition since around 1400-1500 A.D. It was originally a samurai battle food, using dried mochi cakes and dry goods that they could carry around with them and then prepare on the field of battle by adding water and whatever fresh greens they could rustle up, then making a stew. Somehow, it became a food of the common man, and later a traditional and lucky meal for Oshogatsu.

As a kid, I didn't particularly like ozoni. I remember watching the mochi get put in the broth and thinking what a waste of perfectly good mochi! I preferred my mochi to be sweet rather than savory, and I didn't like all the vegetables interfering with my carbohydrate overload.

New hashi for the new year!
Now that I'm older, I really love ozoni. The bitter mizuna greens, complex earthy dashi, silky-soft tofu, and sweet mochi, with all their different textures and tastes, are ingredients that are disparate in nature, but come together as just simple and comforting. My great uncle jokes it's great hangover food after a rough New Year's Eve celebration.

Ozoni, like oden, is a dish that varies wildly from household to household. Some boil the mochi in the broth, while others toast them before adding them to the soup. In the Tokyo region, they use a dashi based broth, whereas in the Kansai region they use a white miso broth. Coastal regions favor more seafood, while mountainous regions traditionally used more taro.

These dishes steeped in tradition, that incorporate your family and upbringing, are my favorite type of food.