Monday, February 28, 2011

Maple Sesame seeds Wheat Bread


I am hooked on making bread and have put aside cakes and cookies for the time being. Baking Bread is fun and most of the time very easy if you get the proportions of the wet and dry ingredients right and have all the patience to let the bread dough rest and rise at its own account and never rush it. Taking the same Recipe, I substituted Maple Syrup for the Honey which resulted in a darker color of the baked product with a slighter sweeter taste in this bread and totally omitted the butter content. The dough is more sticky with the maple syrup and you will need alot of extra whole wheat flour at the side to sprinkle around. I always loved sesame seeds and when baked or toasted, their fragrant nutty aroma really brings out the best of a plain whole wheat bread. There are many ways of shaping a bread and I love to experiment with my collection of pans and cake tins. As long as the bread dough is enough to fit nicely and tuck into a pan, then it will also bake nicely in it. For this one, I used a Taco pan.


Sunday, February 27, 2011

Prune Scone

Ah.... the last Sunday of February! Not that I want to grow old fast nor want to see the days go by very fast, but January and February are just the months when I am pretty down with the cold weather and nothing seems to work smoothly. With spring on the way, I feel life is getting better again, with expectation of shrubs and greens coming out, piled up snow and ice melting away and the days welcoming the sun again for longer hours.

Tonight will be the 2011 Oscar's night where all the stars will be strutting in their best gowns, donned with to die for jewelleries while blowing kisses and waving and flashing to the cameras. Perhaps the cooking world is just so in tuned with everything these days and everything seems to be relative to cooking and entertaining, I see the buzz of cooking for the Oscar party in alot of the cooking websites. Really? I am just grabbing a bottle of white wine with crackers and cheese to go along with my gawking at those Oscar De La Renta gowns and the ever slick black & white dressed Hollywood men. And in particular, the ever dashing Colin Firth...yes, I watched him since his first BBC role as Mr. Darcy in Pride & Prejudice and find him absolutely the perfect English gentleman. I sure hope he wins!

Ok, back to my reality world....  I made some scone today. Not just any scone, but with chopped Prunes added to it and made up of the soy yogurt that I just bought and curious to try out. There are so many new products in the grocery aisle these days and so little chance nor time for me to try out everything. I have always used Sour Cream in my baking and yogurt comes second. Haven't tried buttermilk yet but will do one day. My point is I try to incorporate butter as less as possible and opt for fat free sour cream, yogurt and buttermilk to make up the fat and moisture in my baked goods.

This recipe is pretty easy but a bit messy to work with your hands. Prepare an extra bowl of flour on the side as you work on patting the dough. Don't be shy with the extra sprinkling as the dough is really wet and the good thing about scone is you need the flour coating on the outside and it doesn't really matter how much you sprinkle on it. I sprinkled on some lavendar onto the shaped and cut dough prior to baking for an extra 'uumph' .

Recipe
Ingredients
300g All Purpose Flour
1 Tbsp Baking Powder
1/2 tsp Baking Soda
1 Tbsp Sugar
1/4 tsp salt
75g cold butter, cut into small pieces
250ml Low fat Yogurt
200g Dried Prunes, cut to small pieces
1 Tbsp dried Lavendar
Milk

How to Make It
1. Preheat oven to 400F/200C. Sprinkle a rectangular pan with all Purpose flour and tap out the excess.
2. Put the flour, Baking Soda, Baking Powder, salt and sugar into the food processor. Pulse for 5 seconds to mix. Drop in the butter pieces and pulse for 10 seconds to combine.
3. Drop in the dried prunes and pulse for another 10 seconds.
4. Pour in the yogurt and pulse to combine into a messy dough, 15 seconds.
5. Sprinkle work surface and hands with flour. Pour out the whole messy dough onto the working surface and gather all loose dough together and pat down to form a disk. Cut up the disk like a pizza into 8 pieces and place into the rectangular pan. Doesn't matter if they touch each other, random placing is fine.
6. Brush some milk onto each piece, sprinkle with the Lavendar and Bake for 20 mins. Turn off the oven and leave inside the oven for an extra 5 mins to dry out.
7. Serve warm on its own or with your favorite jam.

Makes 8 slices

Friday, February 25, 2011

Rice Molds


I have lots of Bento prepping tools, which I accumulated over the years through random buying and gifts from friends and relatives. My personal favorite are the food picks that come in multiple colors and patterns from animals to flowers and shapes to little flags. The Rice molds are the other tools that I would love to use more in my Bento as they form neat shapes of rice for me to insert into the Bento boxes.
Most of the tools for Bento originated in Japan and most of the time they come with instructions which is alien to the American consumers. I lived in Japan for 2 months and managed to pick up some part of the Japanese language but probably a bit rusty now. What I like about Japanese packaging of their goods is that they usually have animated step by step instructions albeit drowned in accompanying Japanese written characters. All rice molds are the same, the most important thing is to wet it and your hands first with salted water before attempting.

How to make Rice Balls:
1) Wet hands and molds with salted water.  Scoop cooked sushi rice into molds, fill up till just below the top rim.
2) Close the lid and gently press down the rice. Let it sit for 1 min. Remove the lid and turn the mold with rice inside upside down on the countertop. With your thumb push the flap to release the rice balls.
3) To decorate, take a small strip of Nori and punch your desired shape. Place the rice ball on the rough side of the nori and gently roll up around the rice ball.
4) The rice balls can be decorated with black sesame seeds.


1. Usual Small & Large Rice Molds Available
2. Kimchi & other fillings can be molded into the rice balls.
3. Cylinder/Tube shapes come in large & small sizes
4. Decorated with punched out nori wrappers the Rice Balls makes cute Bento

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Chocolate Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting


Happy Birthday Curry! I made this following the Recipe printed on the Trader Joe's Cocoa Powder container as I was short of time :).

Tyson Cornish Hen

Having a family of 2 adults and 2 young kids don't really give me much room for cooking with a big chicken for dinner. As I like to cook everything from scratch and not a particular big fan of leftovers from dinner to lunch or the other way round, I prefer to cook small amount of everything so that my family can finish everything in one meal time and leave me a neat and clean fridge every morning I open it to search for my butter spread & jam!

I came to notice this Cornish Hen marketed by Tyson a year ago in my groceries in the frozen section, separate from the usual chicken and meat counter. Curious as always, I picked up a packet of 2 for the same price of a 4lbs regular chicken. One of this Cornish Hen weighs the most at 2lbs, which is a very good serving of roast chicken for 1 big appetite person or one meal for a small family like mine. As I am Asian Chinese, I usually cook more than 1 dish for dinner to complement our staple rice, so one Cornish hen is really enough to fill up the protein side. Or when hubby is out of town, all I had to do is either steam or make soup with the hen and my kids are good for the day.

As explained in Wikipedia, the Cornish hen is a specially cross breed chicken, specifically breed for its smaller size within a shorter period compared to the regular chicken in the market. In terms of taste, I actually find it better especially in stews and soups, yielding a clear broth with the flavor of mild sweetness and succulent white meat. And also it took shorter time to cook, and easy to cut and serve up. In my plan to eat better and hopefully less meat, I like the serving size of this Cornish hen and without much fat lodge within its meat, I feel healthier scooping up the dark meat part.

So far I have boiled, roasted and braised the chicken. Same cooking method as with a regular chicken, I just needed to adjust the timing in cooking and the amount of seasonings. There is nothing that I don't like about this ingredient and my family loves the taste too. Although priced at $1.69 per lb at my grocery store compared to a regular chicken at $0.99 per lb, I buy it for its size and easy prepping. No giblets included.

Cornish Hen Soup with Lotus Root & Shredded Lettuce

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Boudin Sourdough Bread

Hubby was in San Francisco recently and he brought home a loaf of this famous Boudin Sourdough bread. I first tasted Sourdough bread in San Francisco 9 years ago and at first,  I thought the bread tasted weird as it was slightly tangy and smelled funny. Living in the East Coast for 10 years, I get to eat this bread in the American chain restaurants, where it is usually served as a bread bowl for the mushroom soup offering. Having eaten the original thing in San Francisco and the imitated ones here in New England, I still don't taste the difference between them. Same tangy sour taste, chewy texture with random air pockets visible and best served with soup but not very appetizing to eat it on its own. The only thing I find different is that the imitated ones doesn't have that funny smell. 

In every bread book that I read, it is always emphasized that the sourdough bread is the non replicable bread in the home baker's kitchen and there is simply no way the taste and texture can be attained other than living in San Francisco itself! Well, I haven't actually tried making one yet and cannot comment on that till I really attempt one. It is said that the weather atmosphere over in San Francisco possess that special wet cool quality and certain culture that I don't really can read nor decipher from its scientific term but explained in Wikipedia that makes the starter dough for the Sourdough bread so exceptionally good. Being originally developed in San Francisco, the Sourdough bread available there is considered Artisan and bread in Boudin doesn't come cheap.


This Boule shaped bread was pre-sliced and saved me time of cutting it as everyone knows, without an automated bread knife, it is either you get awkward cuts and slices or you simply just pull apart the bread and eat it as it is. The texture of the bread was good with the signature brown crust enveloping the chewy white texture of the bread inside. Sourdough bread is definitely not a soft bread and it is meant to be good for serving with thick soup, mostly cream based as it mops up sauce really good. Perhaps the difference of a sourdough bread from San Francisco  and the imitated ones is that funny smell which I find present in this Boudin loaf. 

I made a chicken and ham basil sandwich with the bread and packed it into my EasyLunchBox for lunch on the go. The bread is very fulfilling and I could only finished half. As I have blogged previously, my EasyLunchBox is huge by any containers size standards and only it could contained my sandwich!



Friday, February 18, 2011

Baking by James Peterson

While other women or men, amass things fashion or trendy, I love cookbooks and periodicals. Over the years I have accumulated to almost 60 cookbooks and alot of periodicals that simply pleases my eyes and tempts my palate. Long before my days in the kitchen, while having a career as a lawyer, I already started buying culinary magazines just for the picture perfect cakes and dishes that makes me imagine and drool but never got round to trying out the recipes.

After finally putting the recipes into the real cooking and baking for my family, my selection for cookbooks has now been more selective and I don't simply spend money on any look alike and regurgitated same contents books. Realize how many cupcakes cookbooks there are in the market now? Or the all similar Grilling books and vegetarian collections donning one whole shelf at your local bookstore? For the periodicals, they tend to look like a continuation of the same magazine on the racks and definitely in competition with each other trying to catch your attention but when you finally tone it down, you will realize they are actually all talking about the same ingredient of the month! After a few years of compulsive buying and finally learning the real basics of cooking and baking, I finally have come to curb my enthusiasm of all cookbooks and focuses on the good and useful ones only these days.

I bought this Baking book around summer time last year. For the price tag of US$40, the book is pricey for a stay home baker like myself but I think worth my every dollar! But of course being a prudent buyer too, I got this book at a discount from online suppliers. Although I have many other baking books, none is as precise as this one and the first thing that caught my attention about it was the step by step photos of the process of baking breads. When comes to baking, bread is my staple and more nowadays as I am trying to eat super healthy and hopefully to bring in the whole family into the process of building a good and healthy eating habit. Store bought breads are just getting too expensive these days and too many varieties in the grocery simply means competition among the marketers and I am simply lost every week when I go to the bread aisle. And I find that today's loaf of bread you buy doesn't necessarily taste the same the next time you buy it again, lack of consistency in taste and flavor.

I find the photos very helpful when I wanted to learn on how to shape the breads. Like most people, I seldom go for cookbooks that doesn't have a photo or two to support their recipes unless the contents are very good like Bernard Clayton's New Complete Book of Breads of which I have in my shelf. Besides having a good recipe, one must also learn on how to present their cooking and baking and I think this Baking book helps me out in that particular skill. I followed its step by step Boule shaping and shaped my Oat Wheat Bread .

I also referred to the method in the book to make my French Apple Tart last summer and it turned out very successful too.



The Book is very comprehensive with topics touching most of the essentials of bakings, including Cakes, Breads, Pastries and a whole section for the accompaniments of mousses, fillings and desserts. Unlike other cookbooks that mostly get straight to the recipe, there is always a brief description of the end product and what to expect when in the process of baking and this gives me a headstart before going all wrong during the making of a cake or bread. And in the beginning of each chapter, the book clearly detailed the most essentials to look into like the types of flours involved in making bread and the many ways of kneading depending on whether the dough is dry or wet.  After experimenting with so many breads and buns in the past, I do noticed the bread dough doesn't always turn out the same and my breads were sometimes soft and sometimes too dense. Through this book I learn the differences of everything.

I think this book is good for a novice baker entering the more complex baking of artisan breads and cafe  cakes like myself who has been baking for quite some time now and know most of the basics of baking but not wholly informed as the exact ways on doing it perfectly yet. I highly recommend it to interested bakers who are new to baking too as it really helps you to understand on how ingredients work together to a successful baking in your kitchen and the step by step photos are all clear and precise, all neatly positioned in one page for easy reference.

All in all, this is the Baking book that shows you the bakings of bread, cakes, tarts and cookies you always wanted to know how to make and yet doesn't appear that complicated to shoo you away from trying, provided you read the details in the book first. The author didn't try to include too much info on different and fancy ingredients but only used those that you are likely to get and available at your grocery stores. The only thing is that it is hardcover and bulky and you may have to invest on a kitchen book stand too!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Oat Wheat Boule


After the success of the last Whole Wheat Bread, I attempted Boule with Oatmeal using Whole Wheat flour. Using the same recipe, I added 1/4 cup of thick cut oats to the bread dough by mixing it together with the flour, gluten and salt first before mixing it with the wet ingredients. This time I omitted the butter and the bread turned out more denser in texture, resembling the Rye bread. The dough can be quite sticky but sprinkle extra flour sparingly as the dough needs to be slightly wet when let to rest and rise. The dough is shaped into Boule as soon as it was kneaded and let rest for 1 hour to double in size. Prior to baking, I used milk to glaze the top of the shaped dough and sprinkled with the oat. For this recipe (omit the butter and add 1/4 cup oat to the flour), it will yield 2 small boule and bake for 25 mins.



Sunday, February 13, 2011

Valentine Earl Grey Tea Cakes

Happy Valentine's Day. I think this one is the most commercialized holiday celebration here and makers and businesses from the must have of chocolates and flowers to lingerie and eateries are competing to have a share of a Lover's wallet.

The original idea of a simple celebration of love between 2 people had now developed to apply to all sorts of relationships, whether platonic, between common friends, siblings and especially among school kids. Every year I have to do goodie bags for my 2 kids to bring to their classes for celebration and I wonder if they really understand the real meaning of Love and can differentiate it from Like/Fancy.

Love is a complicated thing but when you find it, you will be elated, sometimes at a lost transition and sometimes it can jab at you like a knife in the heart. Being married for more than 10 years now and with 2 kids, my romance side has actually transformed into responsible accumulation of thoughts and unrestricted dedication of attention, love and patience for all my dearest. The wild and thrill feelings and anticipation of all things roses, sweet and calculated in the monetary sense has actually dissipated and now I believe that Love is pure for me. What I give out, I don't expect in returns and that I believe is the real meaning of Love.

For a simple celebration in my family, I made these mini Earl Grey tea cakes in the cupcake and mini heart shape forms. Earl Grey Tea is one of the finest tea available and loved for one reason, its fragrant and floral aroma, flavored from the bergamot orange. Think of lemon added to hot tea and Earl Grey is a little more pungent than that. The aroma is warm and actually reminds me of the Rose! Very appropriate for this occasion.

As I wanted something simple, I made the cakes earlier and melted some chocolate with cream to make Ganache for a few and used RediWhip cream to decorate the rest. The rest of the decorations comprised of ready available wafer hearts, pearl non pareils and dried rose buds. These cakes are very easy to make, just use your favorite cake mixture and use special Valentine pans if you have one to bake them. To make this Earl Grey Tea version, pulverize 1 tbsp of the tea and sift it into the cake flour before mixing into a batter. There are many types of Love in this world and so I went ahead and created all of them different. Which one are you?


Friday, February 11, 2011

Whole Wheat Bread


All this time I have only used white Bread flour for all my bread baking. But after eating more hearty breads like whole grain, oat, nut and rye from store bought breads, I have grown to like whole meal bread. To the ever die hard fans of white soft bread, whole meal taste grainy and the texture is coarse. However, white bread lacks the substantial heartiness bite that a whole meal slice has and more often turns soggy fast if packed in a chilled container lunch box.

With a new year and the ever professed resolution of eating healthy, I am planning to use more whole wheat and other types of flour to make my breads and buns. There are plenty of varieties in the market now and easily accessible. I particularly like to try out products from one particular Manufacturer first and if one product is good, I will move on to the next one. Recently I have grown to like Bob's Red Mill products and love to browse through its collection of natural food products, with the most recent Gluten Free items. There are so many types of flour that I can use besides the white Bread flour and I am so looking forward to try out everything.


My first attempt was a failure or rather lack of patience on my part that the bread dough didn't expand nor rise even after 3 hours. I made another batch after reading the difference of using White and Whole Wheat flour from the internet and got it right. The thing with whole wheat flour is that it is very resilient and requires more liquid in its mixture to form the proper gluten. And the yeast must first be dissolved in warm water before adding to the flour. One thing extra that I added to the dough here was wheat gluten, which is recommended most for whole wheat breads to sustain better rising and softer texture. The bread turned out perfect!

Recipe
Ingredients
420g Whole Wheat Flour
2 tbsp Wheat Gluten
1 tsp salt
3 tsp Dry yeast
375ml warm water
2 tbsp honey
30g  butter, melted

Method
1)Sift the flour, wheat gluten and salt into a bowl.
2)Dissolve the yeast in 125ml warm water.
3)Pour into the flour mixture and let the knead attachment of your mixer combine the mixture for 2 mins.
4)Add in the honey and the remaining of the warm water and continue to knead till well combined, about 3 mins. The dough will form and come together.
5)Lastly pour in the melted butter and continue to knead for another 1 min.
6)Remove dough and knead on a lightly floured surface, shape into a loaf or dinner rolls. Place in greased pans. Cover with cling film and let the shaped dough rise for 1 hour in a warm dark place. 
7)Preheat the oven to 400F/200C. Bake for 30 to 35 mins until top is brown. Cool and place in airtight container.

Makes 1 loaf or 10 to 12 dinner rolls


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Cream of Corn Soup

Disappearing from my blog for about 3 weeks was not my intended idea. But winter weather has been brutal to everyone and I simply got lazy and no idea on what to cook, bake nor blog about for some time. Unable or rather lazy to go out and search for a right lamp for my pictures, the early sunset meant I only have morning to mid day to do pictures.

This is my kids favorite dish and I like to make it as it is very quick to put together and a very filling soup. They can have it everyday if I allow them. So far, I have used the original Del Monte cream of corn and other generic brands from my neighborhood groceries and still find that Del Monte is thicker and more flavorful.

You can opt to put anything into this soup but I like the imitation crab meat as it gives the soup the Umami flavor since I used only plain water for the base. The soup is thickened with cornstarch and served together with rice. The addition of a beaten egg gives the soup a better presentation coupled with chopped scallion.

Recipe

Ingredients
1 can of Cream of Corn
1750ml/3-1/2 cups water
200g minced pork/beef
2 sticks of imitation crab meat
75g frozen peas
2 tbsp cornflour mixed with 4 tbsp water
1 egg, beaten
salt & white pepper
chopped scallions

Method
1)Boil the water till rolling boil. Put in the imitation crab meat and minced meat. Let simmer for 7 to 10 mins.
2)Add in the whole can of the cream of corn, stir and let it simmer for 3 mins. Add in the peas and let it cook for another 3 mins. Stir in the cornstarch mixture and let it simmer for 1 min.
3)Lastly, pour in the beaten egg in a stream and stir to create a swirl. Cook for 1 min and turn off.  Season with salt and pepper to the desired taste. Serve.

Serves : 3 person

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