Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Dark Chocolate Orange Tartlets and Happy New Year

Dark Chocolate Orange Tartlets

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas celebration with your friends and family.  As for me, besides feeling a little under the weather on Christmas Eve, I had a wonderful Christmas celebration with my family and loved ones.  Of course, it's not fun being sick.  But the up side was that it reminded me what's most important, my family’s health and the time we spent making new memories together.

I had been busy baking all month long in December for the holidays, special orders, and gift-givings.  With the New Year and Chinese New Year coming up soon, it seems that my “bakathon” (baking marathon) never ends!  It’s all good though, because I really enjoy what I do and I get to shared what I love with friends and family.     

Dark Chocolate Orange Tartlets

Back to these Dark Chocolate Orange Tartlets, they are simply amazing.  Dark Chocolate and orange is probably one of my favorite flavor combinations.  These tartlets simply brighten up my palates and my days.  And I hope they'll bring some sunshine your way too, no matter where you are.  The orange curd is sweet and slightly tart at the same time; the dark chocolate cookie crust is rich and super chocolate-y, buttery and crumbly, which is heavenly on its own.

Dark Chocolate Orange Tartlets

Imagine having a layer of crunchy dark chocolate between the chocolate cookie crust and the refreshing orange curd, hm….I don’t think anyone can refuse these tartlets.  Plus, the dark chocolate layer prevents the cookie crust from absorbing the moisture from the orange curd so it stays flaky and crunchy.  The candied orange slice on top truly put a wonderful finishing touch on these tarts; not only they are pretty to look at, they are also delicious on their own.  I hope you’ll give this recipe a try.  They are worth celebrating for. 

Dark Chocolate Orange Tartlets

Last but not least, I wanted to thank you all for your supports, encouragement, suggestions, and comments throughout the years on my blog.  It’s wonderful to know each of you and words simply can’t describe how thankful I am to have you in my life.  So, thank you, from the bottom of my heart.  I also want to wish you all a blessed, healthy and prosperous 2014!  Please stay tuned for more recipes, reviews, and giveaways in the near future.  Happy New Year!

Dark Chocolate Orange Tartlets

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Cranberry Sparkling Martini

Cranberry Sparkling Martini

Can't believe it's only a few days from Christmas!  Are you in the Holiday mood yet?  If not, give this Cranberry Sparkling Martini a try and you will be in the Holiday mood for sure.  Forget about the holiday baking and chaotic shopping malls for a while.  Let's relax with a Holiday drink, and cheers!

Cranberry Sparkling Martini

I love the slightly sweet and tart flavors from this Cranberry Sparkling Martini.  First, I prepare the cranberry syrup by cooking up some fresh cranberries with some water, sugar and orange peels.  Let the syrup steep a little so the flavor really infused into the syrup.  When you're ready to put the cocktail together, prepare the orange zest sugar rim for the martini glasses.  The orange zest is so fragrant and refreshing, and truly brightens up this drink.  Not only the sugar rim tastes wonderful with this drink, it makes the martini glasses super festive as well.

Cranberry Sparkling Martini

I finished up the drink by shaking up some vodka, sherry, and the cranberry syrup along with some ice.  Then, top off the glasses with some champagne, or you can use processo as well.  The bubbly is so refreshing and makes this Cranberry Sparkling Martini really sparkle, fun and festive.

Cranberry Sparkling Martini

Now, you've got a festive and refreshing cocktail under your sleeves, hope you'll give this a try on your next gathering.  Cheers!

Please drink responsibly.  Health and General Disclaimers.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Building Gingerbread Dog Houses

Building Gingerbread Dog Houses

Last weekend was rainy and stormy, what’s the best indoor activities on a rainy December afternoon?  Building Gingerbread Houses.  Some of you might remember the post that the Kiddos and I built a Gingerbread House together for the first time, if not, click here to check out the pictures.  This time around, we’re not building gingerbread house, but gingerbread DOG houses.  Ever since the kids watched the movie A Charlie Brown Christmas, they felt in love with Snoopy.  So, I got them this Snoopy Gingerbread Doghouses kit this year.  The good thing about this kit was that there were a total of four houses to build, so, no fighting over who get to decorate what.  They both got their own houses and did whatever they wanted with them.   

Building Gingerbread Dog Houses

The kit came with everything that you needed, except for the baking pan.   I gave the kids their own baking pan to build on so it’s easier to clean up.  The kits came with the gingerbread cookie pieces that you needed for the 4 dog houses, red and white icing, two additional pastry bags, 4 piping tips with different shapes, decorating candy pearls, and last but not least, 4 marshmallow Snoopies.  The kids and I were so excited and we all got our hands covered in icing and candies in no time!  See the picture below?  My Baby Girl already declared she wanted the red icing as soon as we opened the package! 

Building Gingerbread Dog Houses

My hands were so sticky that I didn't take many pictures during the process.  While we were building the Snoopy Dog Houses, my Baby Girl got carry away and kept licking the icing on her hands and said, “This is some yummy, sticky business!”  I was cracking up and almost felt out of my chair!  My Little Boy was very efficient, he finished building his dog house, decorated it and ready to move on to other activities.  Only my Baby Girl linger around, wanted to try every piece of candies up on the house, already!  Finally, she requested to taste her Snoopy marshmallow.  Since there were quite a few of them so I said okay.  But she only tasted Snoopy’s little feet and said it didn't taste good, at all.  I guess it’s time for Mama to make her some homemade marshmallows! 

Building Gingerbread Dog Houses

Still remember the Peppermint Meringue Christmas Trees recipe I shared here?  I used them to decorate the background with these gingerbread dog houses.  I think it’s quite nice, but they might be a little short for these houses.  More like Christmas bushes than Christmas trees!

Building Gingerbread Dog Houses

Nevertheless, it was a fun afternoon we spent together and that’s what counts.  I hope you enjoy reading this post and try your hand in making some Peppermint Meringue Christmas Trees, or build a Gingerbread House with your loved ones.  Until next time, please take care and stay warm!

Building Gingerbread Dog Houses

Sunday, December 15, 2013

20 Easy Homemade Gifts That Your Friends and Family Will Love

It’s the holiday season,  I bet many of you have started, or even completed, your Christmas shopping already.  If you haven’t, no need to panic, Christmas is only, well, 10 days away!  Yikes!  Often, I found myself procrastinating, especially shopping for those friends and family members who has, just about, everything!!!  It really makes it harder to shop for them.  So, here’s an easy solution for you.  Homemade gifts that are fun and unique.  For sure that’s something money can’t buy because you put your time and love into them.  I have 20 easy homemade gift idea for you, just in time! 

Homemade Lavender Bath Salts

1) Lavender Bath Salts
This is by far my most pinned picture on Pinterest and the most popular post.  As you can see, it’s super gorgeous.  And I personally love it so much because it helps me relax, de-stress, leave my skin super soft and smelling great after a soak.  Click here for the recipe and step-by-step pictorial on how to make it.

Meyer Lemon Sugar Scrub

2) Meyer Lemon Sugar Scrub

It’s the Meyer Lemon season and I hope that you’ll take advantage of it and make this scrub.  There are only 4 natural ingredients in this scrub and it’ll leave your skin soft, silky and smelling wonderful after just one use, even in this dry winter season.  It only take minutes to put together, perfect for the last minute gift-giving.  Please click here for the recipe. 

Homemade Hot Oil Hair Treatment

3) Homemade Hot Oil Hair Treatment

It’s easy to put together and you can use ingredients that suit your hair’s needs.  I recommend that you double the recipe and keep a jar for yourself too!  You’re going to love your shinny and gorgeous hair after using this treatment.   Please click here for the recipe and step-by-step pictorial.

Picture Magnets—Sentimental Homemade Gifts   http://uTry.it

4) Picture Magnets

I think these are the perfect gifts for the Grandparents or some relatives that you don’t see often.  I love having my kids pictures on the fridge and I’m sure many of you will agree.  These Picture Magnets are easy to make, so have your materials ready and your little elves, I mean little ones can help you with the process.  Please click here for the step-by-step pictorial.

Home Made Cocoa Mix and Frozen Hot Chocolate

5) Homemade Hot Cocoa Mix

How can a foodie, like yours truly, not include an edible homemade gift?  This 4-ingredients Homemade Hot Cocoa Mix is super easy to put together and makes the perfect and most heart warming (and tummy warming too) gift of the season!  Please click here for the recipe.

Boozy Framboise Guimauve Pops (Raspberry Marshmallow) http://utry.it

6) Boozy Framboise Guimauve Pops

You do see more edible gift options coming, right?  I bet you did! 

If you’re feeling a little adventurous, try your hands on these Boozy Framboise Guimauve Pops.  I love marshmallows, but not the packaged kind.  Once you've tried the homemade version, I promise you won’t buy the packaged one either.  Please click here for the recipe, including a kids friendly version as well.   

Chocolate Marshmallows

7) Homemade Dark Chocolate Marshmallow

These Dark Chocolate Marshmallows are totally chocolate lover’s dream come true.  They are chocolate-y, decadent and Oh-So-Good with a cup of hot cocoa.  So, you can make the Hot Cocoa Mix from #5 above along with these yummy treats.  Please click here for the recipe.

Halloween Party Spoons

8) Chocolate Party Spoons

I made these Chocolate Party Spoons in Halloween themes.  But you can easily switch out the sprinkles into something more Christmas-y.  You can use disposable plastic/wooden spoons, wrap them in individual treat bags and tie them with ribbons to make them more festive and easier to transfer.  Please click here for the recipe.

Meyer Lemon Curd With Vanilla Sugar

9) Meyer Lemon Curd with Vanilla Sugar

This is one of the condiment I have in my fridge all the time.  It’s amazing on toast, cookies, or as fillings in these Meyer Lemon Meringue TartletsPlease click here for the recipe.  

Orange Marmalade

10) Orange Marmalade with Meyer Lemon

I made these in a low sugar version so they are not overly sweet as some of the bottled ones out there.  The addition of Meyer Lemons in this Marmalade is truly amazing and brightens up the flavors as well.  Please click here for the recipe.

Orange Curd—Sunshine in a Bowl

11) Orange Curd

How about sending some sunshine away?  This easy and refreshing Orange Curd will sure make the recipients feel like you've just sent him/her some sunshine.  Bright, refreshing and delicious.  Please click here for the recipe.

Almond Cookie Crisps

12) Almond Cookie Crisps

You didn't think I left out cookies from my Homemade gifts, right?  These Almond Cookie Crisps are some of my Kids favorites.  Be sure to make extra batch for your family to enjoy too.  Recipe here.

Snow Ball Cookies

13) Snow Ball Cookies

These Snow Ball Cookies are my holiday favorites.  I've been giving them away on holidays and parties and everyone loves them.  I’m sure you and your family will enjoy them a lot too.  Please click here for the recipe.

Triple Chocolate Almond Cookies

14) Triple Chocolate Almond Cookies

Triple Chocolate Almond Cookies are better than your average chocolate chips cookies.  You do get triple chocolate-y with these goodies and a batch is enough to feed the army!  They are crunchy outside and slightly chewy inside.  Please click here for the recipe.

Butter Cookies with Chocolate Chips

15) Butter Cookies

These Butter Cookies are truly, buttery.  You can leave out the chocolate chip on top if you have friends who doesn't like chocolate.  But really, I haven’t met anyone dislike chocolate with cookies.  Please click here for the recipe.

Chocolate Sables

16) Chocolate Sables

These Chocolate Sables are elegant, buttery, melt-in-your-mouth, and chocolate-y.  That pretty up sums up everything about these beauties.  They might look complicated to make but actually quite easy.  Click here for the step-by-step pictorial and recipe.

Lemon Scented Thumbprint Cookies

17) Lemon Scented Thumbprint Cookies

Now you've got the curds and Marmalade recipes from above, it’s time to make these beautiful Lemon Scented Thumbprint Cookies.  Imagine the refreshing lemon curds and orange marmalade filled inside these buttery and flaky cookies, each bite is heavenly.  Please click here for the recipe.

Candied Pecans

18) Candied Pecans

If you’re not into cookies, try your hands on these Candied Pecans.  They are slightly sweet, nutty and super easy to make.  Best of all, no special equipment needed.  All you need is a bowl and a spoon, toss your ingredients together and put them in the oven.  Please click here for the recipe.

Dark Chocolate Covered Hazelnut with Fleur de Sel

19) Dark Chocolate Covered Hazelnut with Fleur de Sel

I love the flavor combination of hazelnuts and dark chocolate together.  These are so much fun to eat and to make.  Yup, I’m sure your kids would love to help you out with these cuties.  Please click here for the recipe and step-by-step pictorial.

Mediant with Fleur de Sel

20) Mendiant with Fleur de Sel

Last but not least, Mediant with Fleur de Sel.  They are simply chocolate disks topped with dried fruit and toasted nuts.  The beauty of these Mendiant is that you can top them with any thing your heart desires.  Please click here for the recipe, and the post also include a link with the step-by-step pictorial on how to temper chocolate.

I hope you enjoy today's post and like these easy Homemade Gift Ideas.  I'm sure your family and friends would love to receive some goodies from you and appreciate that you spend the time to make them something decadent and thoughtful.  Until next time please take care.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Peppermint Meringue Christmas Trees

Peppermint Meringue Christmas Trees

Has any of you gotten the Christmas tree up yet?  I can’t believe Christmas is only 2 weeks away.  And I can’t believe our tree is still not up yet (I guess that’s not a surprise to many of you who knows me well).  Well, except for these Peppermint Meringue Christmas Trees!  Only if that counts.  Besides baking French Macarons on a regular basis throughout December, I think I’m on a meringue cookies baking marathon these days as well.

Peppermint Meringue Christmas Trees

I guess I love meringue cookies a lot, not only they are easy to bake, low in fat, but also very magical.  I truly enjoy the light-as-air and crunchy texture from the meringue.  As soon as you bite into one, it mysteriously disappeared.  Plus, I can simply make them into different flavors and shapes easily, like these Peppermint Meringue Christmas Trees.  With this batch, I only added 2 drops of food coloring, so they appear a little pale (I’m not a big fan of food coloring).  But if you want a darker shade, feel free to add a drop or two more until the batter reaches the shade that you prefer.

Peppermint Meringue Christmas Trees

Besides eating these cookies as the way they are.  You can of course package them as homemade gifts.  I used them to decorate another Christmas treat and I’ll show you on the next post.  Also, you can drop one into your coffee, or hot cocoa and turn your drink into a peppermint version.  Not only it tastes fabulous, it’s also very festive.  Watch it melt slowly into your drink.  The meringue will slightly sweeten your drink and adds wonderful peppermint aroma.  Enjoy! 

Peppermint Meringue Christmas Trees

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Lemon Raspberry Meringue Bubbles—Easy Entertaining Recipe

Lemon Raspberry Meringue Bubbles

Have you start with your holiday baking yet?  I have sort of, kind of, already started.  I know there are still a few weeks before Christmas.  But it’ll be here sooner than you know it, so I better start planning early.   What I mean by “started” was testing recipes and figuring out what to include in my final holiday baking marathon.  One of the recipes that I tested was these Lemon Raspberry Meringue Bubbles, and I absolutely loved them. 

Lemon Raspberry Meringue Bubbles

You might ask why I love them so much?  Very simple, these Lemon Raspberry Meringue Bubbles are light as air, super refreshing and quite tangy.  The tartness came from the freeze dried raspberries that I added into the batter and on top.  The lemon zest really brightens up the flavors and complement the raspberries well.  As soon as I bite into one of these Lemon Raspberry Meringue Bubbles, it melted in my mouth.  It’s crunchy, light and airy, sweet and tart at the same time.

Lemon Raspberry Meringue Bubbles

Besides tasting wonderful, this is also a “busy baking schedule friendly” recipe because you can (and should) bake these ahead of time.  Simply store them in an air-tight container and in a cool place.  They will last for a while, that is, if you don’t finish them sooner. 

Lemon Raspberry Meringue Bubbles

Here’s how I made them (please see pictorial below):

1) In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites, cream of tartar and salt until frothy, about 2 minute.

2) With the machine on medium-high speed, gradually add the sugar, about 1 tablespoon at a time. Then, add the vanilla extract.  Increase the speed to high and beat until the mixture is thick, shiny and holds stiff peaks, about 5 to 7 minutes. 

3) Gently fold in 1/2 of the lemon zest

4) Then, fold in the freeze dried raspberries. 

5) With a small (1 tablespoon) ice cream/cookie dough scoop, scoop the meringue onto the prepared baking sheet.  Leaving the meringue  1-inch apart from each other.

6) Top each cookie with a piece of the reserved freeze dried raspberry and sprinkle the remaining 1/2 of the lemon zests evenly onto each cookie.  Bake for 1 hour.  Rotate the pan and bake for another 1 hour. Turn off the oven and allow the meringues to cool completely while still in the oven, about 2 hours, or preferably over night. 

Super easy, right?  Yup, you can whip up a batch in no time.  I love to bake these at the end of the day so they can cool and dry up in the oven overnight while I dream of other desserts and cookies to bake the next day.  That way, they won’t use up my oven space during the day when I’m busy baking!

Lemon Raspberry Meringue Bubbles

Another big plus?  They really packaged well and makes a very unique homemade gift.  For sure you won’t find these at the store….hm….unless a manufacturer copied my recipe and mass produce them!  Wakakaka….alright, I better stop day dreaming and test out some other recipes.  Until next time, take care and stay tuned for more easy and entertaining recipes, and homemade gift ideas.

Lemon Raspberry Meringue Bubbles

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Raya Restaurant Review and Our Anniversary

Gorgeous View from Ritz-Carlton, Naguna Niguel

A few weeks ago, my Hubby and I celebrated our 9th year wedding anniversary.  I can’t believed the past 9 years flown by so quickly!  He surprised me by taking me to a beautiful place for lunch and a lovely bouquet of roses (see picture below).  Okay, not exactly.  It was more like he took me to this gorgeous hotel that used this lovely bouquet to decorate the lobby.  hahaha…..But close enough, so I’m happy with that.  On our anniversary day, we dropped off the kids at school, then we went to our destination and arrived mid-morning at Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel.

Gorgeous Bouquet

We had a lunch reservation at Raya, a restaurant located inside Ritz-Carlton (more to that in just a moment).  So, we spent the morning checking out the hotel and the gorgeous view around the area.  It was the Elephant Parade event so there were quite a few adorable elephants decors throughout the hotel.


This one is called Karma.  You can click on the picture below to enlarge it and read about the design and meanings….and price tag, etc.


We arrived starving so we ordered “a little” breakfast at the coffee shop and seated outside the patio to enjoy breakfast with the breath-taking view.  It was to our surprise that the breakfast sandwich panini turned out so big.  Luckily we only ordered one to share.  Got to save up some room for lunch, right?

Breakfast Sandwich Panini

While we were enjoying our breakfast, we have a special visit by this fella (see picture below).  I bet he was hungry too.  Check out the view behind him, he sure lives in a paradise!

Breakfast Company

After breakfast, we walked around the property and enjoyed some fresh air and gorgeous views.  Although you can’t quite see it from the pictures, there were quite a few surfers at the beach that day.  The weather was so perfect for an outdoor walk along the hotel property.   

Gorgeous View from Ritz-Carlton, Naguna Niguel

When it was time for our lunch reservation, we weren't exactly hungry yet.  But we need to finish lunch on time in order to be back at school to pick up the kiddos.  When we arrived at Raya, the hostess advised us politely that it’ll be just a couple of minutes to put some final touches at our table before they can seat us.  I didn't’t understand what “final touches” she was referring to until we arrived at our table.

Table Setting

It was a lovely table for two by the window that we can see the gorgeous view of the beach, along with all these fresh rose pastels and a note.  Aw….it was just so sweet and personal.  I really love how the restaurant paid attention to details like this.  It certainly made us feel special.  After all, it was our special day.

Table Setting

Soon after we ordered, this beautiful bowl of complementary bread arrived.  It was served with butter, house-made Ketchup and ricotta cream.  It could be because we weren't really hungry, or, I’m just so used to my own homemade bread and rolls.  We weren't impress with these rolls and buns at all.  They were quite chewy to our liking.  But of course, we didn't come here for the bread.  So, we only tried a small bite of each one.

complimentary Rolls

I ordered a cocktail, the Mojito Cuzco – bacardi rum / cucumber / lime / mint / midori.  It’s so refreshing and delicious!  I can taste every single ingredient in it and the combination is simply wonderful.  I guess I would need to replicate that at home some day, real soon.

My Green Cocktail

Here’s the lunch menu for Fall 2013.  You can order from the Small Plates, Large Plates and/or sides.  I wish I’m more hungry so that we could try a few more dishes from each session.  But we got to save room for desserts too, right?  Feel free to click on the picture below to enlarge the menu.

Lunch Menu

We ordered the Half Dozen West Coast Kumamoto Oysters on the half shell, served with chipotle honey mignonette.  The mignonette was pretty mild, it compliment the super fresh oyster really well and not over powering at all.  The oysters were sweet, super fresh and packed with the wonderful aroma of the ocean.

Raw Oysters

We also tried the Lobster Tacos – flour tortilla / black bean puree / chile de arbol salsa / avocado cilantro.  It was one of their signature dishes from the small plates selection. 

Lobster Tacos

It was wonderful and I love the generous portion of lobster chunks in them.  The picture below is a closer look.  I personally loved it.  Hubby didn't like the black bean puree in them as he’s not a big fan for beans.

Lobster Tacos

Up next, the Pan Seared Sea Scallops -  roast corn / polenta / char siu pork belly / snap peas /  white soy mojo.  The scallops were gigantic!  I love the wonderful crust outside and it was cooked to perfection.  The Char-Siu Pork belly was to die for and the creamy polenta was the perfect base for these wonderful scallops.  The scallops were perfectly seasoned, sweet, savory, moist and very tender.

Seared Scallops

For dessert, we ordered the Cinnamon Sugar Churros - piloncillo poached pineapple / caramelized white chocolate ice cream / vanilla bean caramel.  I've eaten a fair share of churros and I can definitely say these were the best churros I've ever tasted, period.  The crust was crispy and the inside was moist and tender; packed with wonderful cinnamon sugar on the outside.  the Vanilla bean caramel sauce compliment perfectly with them and added the perfect amount of sweetness to the churros.  I would come here just to indulge with these churros, any time!  


Last but not lease, weave got this gorgeous complementary chocolate mousse cake from the restaurant to celebrate our specially day.  It was rich and decadent.  The slightly tangy berry sauce on the bottom was perfect with the cake.   
complimentary Chocolate Cake

As you can see, this restaurant got a spectacular view.  If you’re celebrating a special day or a special occasion, I highly recommend this restaurant.   Instead of lunch, book an early dinner reservation and enjoy the sunset view along with your dinner.   I bet that would make an unforgettable dining experience for you and your loved ones.  Thank you for reading and please stay tuned for more fun recipes, reviews, and giveaways on my future posts.

Click here to Raya’s Website
One Ritz-Carlton Drive
Dana Point, California 92629 USA
Phone: +1 (949) 240-2000

Restaurant Review Disclaimer: uTry.it restaurant reviews are solely based on our experience at each restaurant we visit.   They were just our opinions.  uTry.it and its owner were not compensated in any way to dine at these restaurants nor to write reviews.