shakshouka

Dear Laura,

Oh geez, I thought I had published this letter. How many months has it been now? We’re in the sweltering heat of the long weekend when I made this shakshouka after that winter storm at your place. And now, you’re making it again with homemade bread and fresh herbs from your garden for brunch this weekend. Regardless, thank you for introducing my newbie taste-buds to this delicious dish.

Shakshouka (North African-Style)
Recipe from Serious Eats
Makes enough to serve 4-6.

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1 large red pepper, thinly sliced
1 small jalapeño, thinly sliced
2 to 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 ½ tablespoons smoked paprika
2 teaspoons ground cumin seed
1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes, crushed
Salt and pepper
Large handful minced cilantro, parsley, or a mix
4-6 eggs (depends on how many eggs each person wants)
Feta cheese (crumbled) and crusty bread (toasted), for serving

  1. Choose your vessel, we’ve made it in both a cast iron skillet and a straight-side sauté pan. Heat the olive oil until it’s shimmering. Then add the onion, red pepper, and chili and cook until they’re browned and starting to char.
  2. Add the garlic, paprika, cumin, and tomatoes. Reduce the heat and let the dish simmer for about 10 minutes. Seriously, if you can make pasta sauce, you can make this sauce.
  3. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add in half the cilantro or parsley.
  4. Egg time! Using a large spoon and make little wells in the sauce. Break an egg into the well and cover the edges with a little bit of sauce so that it’s partially submerged. Repeat with the rest of the eggs, work around the perimeter of the pan. Simmer until the egg whites are cooked and the yolks are still runny.
  5. Take it off the heat to serve and garnish with the remaining cilantro, parsley, and feta cheese.

Shakshuka

Love how easy and hearty this is!

Sincerely,
Syl

banana leaf mural

Dear Laura and Richard,

You know, when most people offer to paint a mural in your newly renovated home, rarely do people take on the offer. But I’m so glad you’re both so trusting and adventurous (I believe Howard called it “brave”) because now we can brush aside the naysayers.

Banana Leaves Mural

Thanks for laying down the tape and prepping the wall for me to doodle on. And thank you for finding me a relatively easy design and colour scheme of one.

Banana Leaves Mural

Equipment

Painter’s Tape
Pencil
Molotow ONE4ALL Acrylic Paint Markers in 4 mm, Mister Green
Molotow ONE4ALL Acrylic Paint Markers in 15 mm, Mister Green
Molotow ONE4ALL Acrylic 30ml Refill in Mister Green
⅛ inch or ¼ inch paintbrush
Paint holder
Ladder

  1. Apply painter’s tape on the ceiling, adjacent walls, and over the floor or floor trims. Also around any shelves, sink, toilet paper holders, light fixtures, mirrors, or windows.
  2. Draw a light outline in pencil of the banana leaves.
  3. Trace the outline with the 15 mm paint marker. Go over it a few times to make it as thick as you like.
  4. Then, use the 4 mm paint marker to draw in the leaf details. These are simply straight-ish horizontal lines.
  5. Pour out the refill paint into the paint holder and touch up the lines with the paintbrush.

Banana Leaves Mural

How weird is it that I summed up 7 hours of work in 5 steps? Except, I’m sorry that the paint still got past the painter’s tape and it required you to repaint some places white.

Banana Leaves Mural

Thanks for pitching in and giving me snack breaks. I love that this was a group project and we all got to exercise the creative part of our brains. I also won’t forget the delicious shakshuka, homemade bread, crispy potatoes, smoothie, Bún bò Huế, and Daim cake.

Banana Leaves Mural

Stay tuned for my next post where I try to recreate the shakshuka!

Banana Leaves Mural

I hope you like the finished wall, I can’t wait to come back and tag it!

Sincerely,
Syl

saffron, orange, and honey madeleines

Dear Laura,

It was so good to catch up last night! You picked a great day to come over, I’m sorry I stuffed you with pasta and madeleines and we didn’t have room for some waffles and ice cream. We’ll have to take a snow-check for those.

Howard’s parents gave me the little box of saffron – I remember Howard bringing it home and saying “my parents said you would know.” Because that felt like a challenge, I looked at the little clear box of spices and proudly said, “oh, saffron.” Winner!

I’ve never used saffron before and wasn’t even sure if we’ve ever tasted it out at restaurants, so I don’t know what the flavour profile is, it does smell really strong. I liked how you described it as “plastic-y.” I had these madeleine recipes bookmarked for a long time now, ever since I saw that I could finally use the saffron. The day before my parents gave me some oranges and I had bought pistachios from Costco, so there really was no excuse to not make these.

Saffron, Orange, and Honey Madeleines
Recipe from Sweet: Desserts from London’s Ottolenghi
Makes about 20-22 large madeleines

90 grams unsalted butter, plus more, melted, for brushing
2 teaspoons plus 3 tablespoons honey
¼ teaspoon saffron threads (optional)
¼ vanilla bean
2 large eggs
⅓ cup plus 1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
1 teaspoon baking powder
⅛ teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup plus 1 tablespoon plus 1½ teaspoons all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
2½ tablespoons shelled pistachio kernels

The recipe instructions are also online at Bon Appétit. So I’ll go over this in visuals:

Saffron Orange Honey Madeleines

Combine the butter, saffron threads, and honey in a saucepan.

Saffron Orange Honey Madeleines

Cook on low heat until the butter and honey melt together. Give it a swirl or two. Then set it aside to cool to room temperature.

Saffron Orange Honey Madeleines

Using a food processor this time, add in the eggs, sugar, orange zest, and vanilla seeds. Pulse until combined. Then add in the dry ingredients of flour, baking powder, and salt.

Saffron Orange Honey Madeleines

Once combined, transfer it to a bowl or piping bag. Let the batter chill in the fridge for an hour.

Saffron Orange Honey Madeleines

Melt some butter and brush it on the madeleine pans. Then dust it with flour.

Saffron Orange Honey Madeleines

If you saved the batter in a bowl, you can use a spoon to scoop dollops into the pan’s mold. Or you can snip off the tip of the piping bag and start squeezing the batter into the pan.

Saffron Orange Honey Madeleines

The oven temperature in the cookbook asked for 400°F for 10 minutes. However, when I was on Facebook, it was like the algorithms knew I was using the Sweet cookbook. I found out after that it was an error. It should be 375°F for 10 minutes! That’s why my madeleines were such a dark brown on the bottom!! Although Howard really enjoyed that extra crunch.

When they’re done baking, gently nudge the cakes out of the mold and transfer to a cooling rack. Then brush honey on top for that shiny glaze.

Saffron Orange Honey Madeleines

The honey also helps the crushed pistachios stick to them.

Saffron Orange Honey Madeleines

And there you have it! I might have ground the pistachio a bit too much into a crumble compared to the photo in the cookbook. But it’s still delicious. There’s only four left in my kitchen this morning.

Saffron Orange Honey Madeleines

I hope to see you soon and hear more about your house renovations. You know I love hearing about food, homes, and travel!

Sincerely,
Syl

tropical garland

Dear Laura,

Hey sis, how’s it going? It’s been such a crazy month of June – some highlights with memories I’ll cherish forever and some bad news as you already know.

Thanks again for having your family help out for my mom’s 60th birthday party. I love that you love the parties I throw and you know that I love helping you plan the biggest party of your life. I think I’ve been pretty good at being patient and waiting for details bit by bit. Yup, my current texting volume about your wedding is on restraint level. But I get it, take your time and enjoy your engagement. Take time to pick and choose everything quickly. I’m not one to rush you since I took two years myself to plan.

Tropical Garland

I thought I’d dedicate this letter to you since you were the most avid user of this photo backdrop at the party. I love going through the photos from time to time and seeing you pop up with your cheery smile, it’s instantly infectious and makes me happy.

Tropical Garland

I saw this yellow balloons and leaves centerpiece on Pinterest and saved it to my tropical party board. There were some internal debates as to whether I should make it the centerpiece to go along the buffet or a garland for photos. Eventually I decided on the garland and started working on it a few weeks before the party.

I would come home from half-day Fridays (yay summer hours), put on Netflix (I think I was watching Girlboss at the time), and cut out all these leaves. I eventually got a tiny blister on my thumb because Howard’s large scissors were not a good fit for my small crafty hands. But it looked fantastic all laid out on the dark floor, the leaves really popped.

Tropical Garland

You can tell I’m such a novice because I built the basic layout of it on the wall. I used some washi tape to secure a thread across my bedroom wall. Tied on the honeycomb pineapples from PartyCity at both ends. Then used a tiny push pin to puncture a hole at the end of each leaf. Pushed a tiny thread through said hole and tied it onto the main string.

You know what have been easier? Building this on the floor!!! For some reason, I thought I needed to see how things would drape and fall, I mean, I guess I did to an extent. But still, this was tough.

Tropical Garland

I then had all these tiny yellow and teal (robin blue?) balloons that I was tying thread to in order to attach it and cover the ends of the leaves. By this point, the washi tape had reach its’ limit. I had to apply so many more to keep the garland up (I did switch to regular tape for the party, didn’t want this crashing down on a guest).

Tropical Garland

I’m trying to think if the garland took me longer to make or the pineapple birthday cake. Probably the garland!! Especially if I’m counting the hours it took me to cut out those leaves.

Tropical Garland

Well, like they say: be a pineapple, stand tall, wear a crown, and be sweet on the inside.

Hugs and kisses!

Sincerely,
Syl

puffy heart pancakes

Dear Laura,

You’re my first posted letter of the year! I’m so behind on writing you because January and February just flew by. I was sick the first and third week of the year and then so busy on all those weekends we hoped to go snow tubing. And of course you had your epic trip to Japan, which inspired these pancakes in the first place.

Remember when we attempted to make turnip cakes (lo bak go) for Chinese New Year and Richard was “working” and “planning” the trip? We watched so many YouTube videos that day and one of them was those fluffy Japanese pancakes. To my surprise, my mother-in-law found some cookie cutters that she didn’t use that week and one of them was the heart-shaped one.

My original plan was to do a Valentine’s Day post with these, but that so didn’t happen. I made them the week after and then you jetted off to have a fabulous adventure. I think I told you that not going with you will probably be one of my biggest regrets this year. But now that I know the outcome of that trip, it was probably best we weren’t there to spoil any of Richard’s plans! 😉

I really appreciated the call (sorry for screaming if you had the phone right up to your ear) and I am so happy and excited for you and Richard. My mom’s already asking me when the wedding will be. A little too soon to tell I think!

I hope we have brunch soon or maybe get together to make Vietnamese savory rolled cakes (Bánh cuốn) that my dad recently taught me. I think you and Richard will like them a lot. But for now, here’s how I made pancakes to pretend I was in Japan with you.

Japanese-Style Pancakes
Makes about 15 to 20 small pancakes
From POPSUGAR Food

2 large eggs
¾ cup milk
¼ cup sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons neutral oil

  1. Take out a blender and add in the milk (the original recipe called for buttermilk, but I didn’t have any), eggs, sugar, vanilla extract, and salt. Blend on low until combined.
  2. Add in the flour, baking powder, and baking soda. Blend on low until combined, but don’t over mix.
  3. Preheat your pan on medium heat. I used my crêpe pan because I wanted the flattest surface for the cookie cutter to sit on. I didn’t want batter to leak out from the bottom.
  4. Use a silicone brush and coat the inside of the metal cookie cutter with a neutral oil like grapeseed (the original recipe called for vegetable oil). Also brush the surface of the pan with oil. Place the cookie cutter on the pan and carefully spoon in batter to fill in half of the cookie cutter. Any more and it’ll overfill when it expands.
  5. Cook for 3 minutes and then use a large spatula or pair of tongs to flip. Cook the other side for another 3 minutes.
  6. Remove it from the heat and gently nudge the pancake out, it should slide right out if you oiled the sides. Then repeat by brushing oil on the sides and placing it on the pan and filling it with batter.

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These little hearts go out for you!

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As you can imagine, because I only had one metal heart-shaped cookie cutter, this took me forever. Six minutes for each little pancake, but they do look so cute!

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They’re so small that you can fit a bunch of them in a handful, yet when I showed this to my mom, she sent me an exercise emoji. Mom!

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Ahh, I missed you so much! I can’t wait to see more photos from your trip. Tell Rich to post them now.

Sincerely,
Syl