Growing up in Chinese-American churches, I knew from a young age that there was one thing no after-service “refreshments time” would be complete without: a giant round tin of Danish butter cookies in various shapes. The Danish cookie tin taught me that the shape of a cookie could have a huge effect on the taste. Case in point: the actual dough of each cookie was the same, but certain shapes would disappear faster than others.

My favorite was the pretzel-shaped one covered in coarse sugar. It was clearly superior to the circular one that was covered in the same sugar, but why? Maybe the pretzel shape meant slightly more caramelization on the edges, or maybe it was just more fun to eat the pretzel shape. In any case, I spent years targeting that pretzel-shaped cookie and ignoring the rest. 

And then just a couple of years ago, I received a box of cookies that had all of the classic shapes, plus an extra cookie that I hadn’t seen before. It was a plain-looking cookie, without any sugar on top, but it was studded with little dark flecks. Biting into the cookie, it became clear that the flecks were currants, but there was something else different about this cookie, a flavor other than butter and sugar and flour.

It only took me a second to realize: coconut. I was instantly hooked. 

This is my homemade take on those amazing coconut currant butter cookies. Delicate and flaky and studded with coconut and sweet little currants, it is truly hard to eat just one of these. If you want to up the coconut factor, you can even add a bit of coconut extract, but I personally like the hint you get with just the shredded coconut. Just make sure you use the very finely shredded, unsweetened coconut to ensure a flaky crumb.

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You’d think that winter was the season of soups, but I barely recall making any soups during the California “cold” this past year. Instead, in the sunny, beautiful weather of these past few weeks, a deep soup craving has presented itself to me, and I’ve been more than glad to satisfy it.

The famous Olive Garden Zuppa Toscana is something that almost every woman I know has swooned over at one point or another in her life. This is the soup that introduced a whole group of us to kale for the first time, and what a delicious introduction that was. While I was living with roommates, one of us girls would make a homemade version of this soup at least once every few months.

My own version of this sausage, potato, and kale soup is on the lighter side, so if you’re looking for something a little richer, feel free to add more sumptuous ingredients. Chicken broth adds flavor and thins out the broth, but whole milk still provides creaminess without heaviness, and the potatoes tend to thicken the soup up a bit more. If you’re feeling adventurous, feel free to substitute some of the chicken broth or milk with heavy cream. Also, I like to use chicken sausage (spicy Italian, please!), but pork sausage would make this dish a little richer.

And finally, if you’re looking for an over-the-top version of this soup that is bound to guarantee a crowd of sleepy dinner guests, you can take a tip from one of my roommates, who would fry up some diced bacon along with the sausage and toss it in the soup. 

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Last Sunday over lunch, my husband and I launched into a conversation game that we’ve played often throughout the years. The starting point is always “would you rather,” or something along those lines. The idea is to break down big statements into the specifics of what we really mean: would you rather fly a plane or drive a really rare car? What if it was once a week? What if it was just once in your life? 

Of course, for us, the conversation always manages to find its way around to food. Because of this, we know a lot about each other’s food preferences. I’ve long known that burgers and steak are my husband’s favorite things, but on Sunday the question was a face off between the two. The answers? Burgers would win if he had to eat them every day. Steak would win if it was every week. 

All this to say that I recently started thinking about burgers. They’re not something I tend to gravitate toward personally, but considering the fact that the other member of my family would very happily eat them every single day, they’re certainly worth giving a shot in the kitchen.

These feta and zucchini turkey burgers may be the first burgers I’ve ever made from scratch. They’re the Carol-ified version of the food that my husband loves best. I’m not really a beef girl, but ground turkey is kind of a staple in our house, and feta, too. And of course, as a wife, I can’t help but give in to the urge to add some veggies to the mix. Hearty zucchini was the perfect complement to the feta-turkey mix. Topped with more fresh veggies and a quick garlic mayo, atop a whole-wheat bun, we were both very happy campers when it came to having these for dinner. 

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There’s a bit of pressure with a food blog to make things that have a little something extra to them. After all, what baked good isn’t made better with salted caramel? When will people ever get tired of brown butter in everything? And who would not like to learn of new ways to use kale?

So when I decided I was going to do a post on peanut butter rice krispy treats, I tried to think of a way to make these “special.” This is the path my thoughts traveled: Pretzels? Banana chips? Toasted oats? …Salted caramel and brown butter?  

When I thought about it, I realized that while all of those things may have made for a tasty and unique treat, none of them were what I wanted. I was craving the simple pleasure of a peanut butter rice krispy treat: soft and chewy, with the light crunch of rice krispies and that fragrant peanut flavor throughout. 

Peanut butter rice krispy treats are already such an iconic thing that it’s hard to think of things to add to them that would make them better. So instead, I focused on emphasizing the things I already love–more marshmallows, added in while cold so that instead of melting, they retain their shape and create little pockets of airy-soft marshmallowy goodness in the final product, and peanut butter chips to give little extra hints of that sweet-salty peanut butteriness throughout. 

For better texture, make sure the melted peanut butter-marshmallow mixture is evenly mixed with the rice krispies, as any sections that are particularly thick with the stuff will turn hard as they cool. Use a light hand when patting these down into the pan so the finished treats aren’t too dense. 

Someday I’ll make these with Nutella or Speculoos or Golden Grahams (yum). But this is the recipe that satisfies my cravings for a classic, tasty treat.

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Carne Asada

The first place my husband and I lived in after we got married was this little old apartment in a cute little complex. The apartment itself was…well, I could tell a lot of stories about that place. But suffice it to say that the best thing about it was the people. Not only were our neighbors friendly, but they all seemed to be amazing cooks. No, seriously, one of our neighbors was a Mexican chef.

And one day when we were doing laundry, this neighbor was out in front of his place grilling the most delicious-smelling meat. Did I mention that his place was right next to the laundry room? I’m not sure if my husband talked him up, or if our neighbor just caught him staring at the sizzling, juicy meat on the grill, but suffice it to say I was very pleasantly surprised when my husband left the apartment with a bag of laundry and returned with a large slab of carne asada on a paper plate. 

It was probably the most delicious carne asada I had ever had in my life. (Which might really be saying something if you consider the fact that I was born and raised in Southern California.) Tangy, perfectly seasoned, and grilled to perfection, it was so tender that we didn’t even need forks. We ate it with our hands, ripping the meat into pieces as we went, letting the juices drip all over our fingers and down our chins. It sounds a little barbaric in writing, and maybe it was; it was the kind of deliciousness that makes you lose your mind for a little bit. 

Of course when we asked for the recipe, his answer was something along the lines of “little bit of lime, little bit of cilantro…you know.” But when I thought about it, it made sense–it’s hard to go wrong with lime, cilantro, and salt, at least in my book. This recipe is meant to be used as a base line for experimentation. Feel free to try things out here: orange instead of lemon, a little extra garlic, a dash of chili powder. I can imagine a world of possibilities… and they all sound delicious.

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