Saturday, August 30, 2008

I would like to thank the Academy...

Oy, do you folks remember that I entered this berry recipe contest in July?

I won second place! *cabbage patches*

Thanks to the KI staff for trying out the recipe and enjoying it.

You can read more about it here.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Returning to dorm life

Hi, everyone. I am now writing to you from the comfort of my dorm room at law school.

I know that the focus of this blog was originally to write about my baking exploits, but that's inevitably going to change now that I don't have... an oven... (But that will not limit this baker! After all, the Chinese are known for their steamed cakes.)

I'll keep you all posted about my culinary exploits during my stint at school -- the restaurants I try, the dorm-friendly recipes I'll try to create, and eating on a budget. All with the limitations of a $40/week budget and cooking with only a fridge, a microwave, and a rice cooker.

Ambitious, yes, and I hope you all will share the ride with me.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

In season map

I've linked to resources that can help you figure out which foods are in season, but this is the best one I've found by far. It gives you the seasonal crops, by U.S. state. You just need to select the month, and then click on the state of your choice.

It's quite handy! It also gives you recipe ideas for any foods that pique your interest.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Apple Pecan Turnovers

I had a roll of phyllo dough leftover from that time I made baklava. It's been sitting in my freezer, waiting to be used, so I made apple turnovers.

I think turnovers are a good recipe to introduce the use of phyllo, a pastry that intimidates people for some reason. The only thing you really need to remember is to let the phyllo sheets thaw completely before using, and to keep a wet towel covering the phyllo while you're working so it doesn't dry out. (Well, I guess that's two things.)

I found that two large apples was plenty to make 8 turnovers. Cutting up the apples:

The original recipe I found for these turnovers suggested using dried cranberries. I didn't have any on hand, but I had pecan pieces, so I used those. Cooking the apples with brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, pecans, and a little butter:

While I let the apple/pecan mixture cool down, I prepared my phyllo, which had already been thawed. I placed one sheet of phyllo down, and brushed it with melted butter. Then I repeated the process with two more sheets of phyllo. I sprinkled the last sheet with ground almonds (the original recipe called for crushed cookies, but I didn't have any).

Then, I used a sharp knife (really sharp! so the phyllo won't tear) to cut the sheets in half lengthwise. The recipe I used said you could get 4 strips out of one set of sheets, but I thought that would be way too skinny -- I didn't want teeny-tiny turnovers...

Spoon some of the (now cool) filling at one end of the phyllo strip.

Then, turn it over! Just fold it into a right triangle, and keep flipping it over until you reach the end of the strip. Don't worry -- by the time you get to the end, you'll have flipped it enough times to cover all the open edges.

I brushed the top side with more melted butter, and sprinkled more ground almonds on top.

All the turnovers, ready to bake:

And ready to eat:

These aren't hard to make, trust me! And they're delicious. Like little pies that fit in your hand.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Cinnamon Buns

Cinnamon buns kind of take a lot of time. They're usually made out of a yeast dough, so it requires a lot of inactive prep time to let the dough rise. There's no way around it -- if you want fresh cinnamon buns for breakfast, I suggest waking up early and then taking a nap while the dough rises. (Which is what I did.)

The recipe I found on called for heating milk, sugar, and vanilla in a saucepan. Then you stir in yeast, flour, and salt.

After the mixture rises for an hour:

Then you add more flour, and knead out the dough into a rectangle.

Brush on a layer of melted butter:

Sprinkle on cinnamon and sugar:

Roll up the rectangle and pinch the seam. Cutting the rolls:

I placed them in a buttered baking pan. I spaced the rolls pretty close together so that all the sides would connect as they baked -- that way, they're nice and soft on all sides.

After the buns bake:

I made a quick icing out of confectioner's sugar, milk, coffee, and vanilla. I love how easy icing is to make -- take confectioner's sugar and a little liquid, and you've got icing. I suspect it has to do with the fact that confectioner's sugar contains some cornstarch...

After the cinnamon buns are iced:

There you have it! Soft and yummy cinnamon buns.

Totally worth the wait!

Banana Rice Pudding

Being Chinese, rice is a given at any dinnertime meal. It's the same as bread, you know? That also means, at any given time, we have a lot of leftover rice in the fridge:

One day, I was perusing the fridge for something to eat, and I felt a hankering for rice pudding.

Rice pudding is typically made from fresh rice, but I modified the recipe a bit to use leftover rice. I mixed some leftover rice with sugar and milk:

Raisins are also typical in rice pudding, but I didn't have any on hand. So I diced up half of a banana instead.

Adding the banana and some vanilla extract to the milk/rice mix:

Bring to a boil, and simmer until the milk cooks down. It won't look like much to start, but your patience will be rewarded in the end.

Ta-da! Banana rice pudding.

It's also a decent alternative to oatmeal, if you're looking for something tasty for breakfast.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Perfect Chocolate Chip cookies

No, really.

Pardon me while I wax philosophical for a moment.

Sometimes I feel that the measure of a real baker is if they can make a great chocolate chip cookie. You'd think something so basic wouldn't be so challenging, but there's a lot that can go wrong with cookies -- moreso, even, than cakes, in my opinion.

There are no other baked goods on which perfection rests more heavily on mouthfeel. Bakery-style chocolate chip cookies have to go the whole nine -- they have to be soft on the inside, crisp on the outside, chewy, and not overbaked. (Unless, of course, you enjoy Chips Ahoy cookies. If that is the case, I'm not sure why you're reading this.) If you think about it, it's not hard to replicate the taste of a chocolate chip cookie. The difficulty is all in mouthfeel.

I had given up on cookies, because it made me sad that I want to be a baker and I still couldn't make a good chocolate chip cookie from scratch. No more, dear friends.

I heard a lot of great things about the chocolate chip cookie recipe from Baking Illustrated, so I decided to forgo my trepidation and tried the recipe out.

Results? See for yourself:

It's everything that you would think would be contradictory in one cookie: soft, crisp, chewy, and tasty. I am in loooooveeee with this recipe. It's seriously perfect. Let me backtrack and show you some other pictures.

Mixing in the chips:

Ready to be baked:

And again, just because they're so pretty:

I am not sure what it is. I suspect it has to do with the fact that the brown sugar to white sugar ratio in this recipe is 2:1. (If you want the recipe, let me know. Too lazy to type it up right now.)

Whatever it is, I am done. I am happy. And chocolate chip cookies no longer scare me.

Monday, August 11, 2008

When in doubt...

...ask Mom.

So I was over at Nanda's house this evening, trying to make French macarons (I'll tell you all about our sorry failed attempt later, with visual aids). I got to chatting with her mom, and Nanda mentioned how I tried to make naan.

I told her how I couldn't get it to bubble on both sides, and she said, "Oh. You have to keep flipping it over." She demonstrated with a few waves of her hand, and it was literally like flip-flip-flip, nonstop. That is why my naan was a flapjack on one side.

They need to put these things in the recipe! You know how it's said that folks always withhold something in their recipes -- just so that any attempt to recreate their food won't be quite the same. Sigh.

So there you have it. Keep flipping. And don't forget to ask Mom.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Frappuchino cupcakes

Mocha coffee cake with vanilla Swiss meringue buttercream, dusted with cinnamon.

This cupcake came together rather on a whim, because I had a bottle of mocha frappuchino from a coffee shop chain that shall remain nameless. But I didn't feel like drinking it. So, what to do? Naturally, we make it into a cupcake.

I used a normal cake batter recipe, except I poured in mocha frappuchino instead of milk:

I also mixed in some instant coffee crystals (which dissolved nicely) to add extra coffee flavor to the batter.

After all that is mixed in:

Filling the baking cups:

While the cupcakes were baking, I made a Swiss meringue buttercream. I've tried making a Swiss meringue buttercream before, but I was disappointed when all I got was a curdled soup. I tried again, this time making sure that all the sugar dissolved into the egg whites before whipping them. I also whipped the butter separately before adding it to the meringue.

It worked! It came out a lot better this time.


I topped the whole thing with a dusting of cinnamon, and there you go. A frappuchino cupcake.

The coffee flavor didn't come out as strongly as I would've liked, so next time, I'm going to add even more instant coffee. But tasty, nonetheless. :)

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Mini Lemon Cream tarts

French lemon cream and whipped cream in a mini sweet tart crust.

So, I had one lemon left in the fridge. What to do with one lonely lemon? A normal person would probably make fresh lemonade.

Obviously, I am not a normal person.

I took one look at that unsuspecting lemon, and my first thought was, "I could really go for a lemon tart right now." And I recently saw these adorable new pastries at La Madeleine -- mini lemon tarts. So I decided to make some of my own.

I took the recipe for Dorie Greenspan's lemon cream tart (from her cookbook). I divided her recipe for the lemon cream so that I was only making a third of it, and I divided her recipe for a sweet tart dough in half. (Amazingly, when you take the lemon cream to a third, you only really need 1 lemon. Mwahahaha.)

First, the tart dough. Cutting butter into flour and confectioner's sugar:

Then, slowly drizzle in an egg yolk. This is how the mixture looks after pulsing in the egg yolk:

It looks really crumbly, but it binds together well when you press it. I greased and floured a mini-muffin tin and pressed the tart dough into each cup:

Pop them into the freezer for 30 minutes to get them to hold their shape (that way, you don't need weights in the cups), and cover them with foil to keep them from burning as you bake. The original recipe called for blind baking the crust for maybe 25 minutes? I don't remember. I ended up only baking them for about 12.

All done and cooling:

Now. Onto the cream. I love making creams and curds. I find that they're easy to make, not too sugary, and impressively delicious. Rubbing the zest of one lonely lemon into the white sugar:

Then you whisk in one egg and lemon juice (juice the heck out of that one lemon, but hopefully that's all you'll require). Then, cook the entire mixture on a double boiler, whisking constantly.

This is on the double boiler, as the curd starts to set:

Once it gets to that point, per the recipe, set it aside to cool for 10 minutes. Then, pour the lemon mixture into a food processor or blender, and blend in the butter. I ended up using two tablespoons less than the original recipe would've required -- but I felt there was enough butter in there, and it tasted fine to me. Taste as you go!

Lemon cream, all done:

Since there's room temperature butter in there, the cream will finish off rather liquidy. It'll be lemon soup. No fear! Put it in the fridge overnight and by morning, it will have set, and you will have a beautiful thick lemon cream.

I piped the cream into the mini-tarts. Then, I made a really quick whipped cream using my last dredges of whipping cream and some confectioner's sugar, and piped little dots of cream on top of each tart.

Happiness! Now that is how to use a lemon.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Oven Baked Fries

I made some fries today for lunch. I've never made them before, but I figured it wasn't that hard.

I cut up two baking potatoes into large French fries. I was sort of surprised by how few fries two potatoes produce. The photo below shows how many fries I got out of one potato. Only 15, tops. Imagine how many potatoes you're really eating with those huge orders of fries at a restaurant...

Then, I blanched the fries for a few minutes in boiling water:

After removing the fries from the water, I did a quick toss with vegetable oil, salt, and Old Bay seasoning. Then, I spread them out in one layer on a baking sheet and put them in the oven at 425 degrees.

The instructions I found online seemed to indicate that the fries would only need about 15-20 minutes for baking potatoes, but I found that, in my oven, it took closer to 25-30 minutes. I flipped the fries over halfway through.

Et voila.

If you ask me, these came out fairly tasty for being oven-baked at home. They were crispy enough (maybe I need to increase the oven temperature next time), and the insides were nice and soft.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Triple Berry Upside-Down cake

Upside-down strawberry, blueberry, and raspberry yogurt cake.

Sophie over at Key Ingredient asked me to participate in their July berry recipe contest. My submission for this was basically what I felt like eating at the time -- I wanted a nice, dense cake with good berry flavor.

First off, I greased and floured a spring-form pan. Then, I lined it with berries that I had tossed with sugar and lemon zest. (Strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries.) Too bad they won't look this pretty in the end:

The cake is a yogurt cake based on Ina Garten's recipe for lemon yogurt cake (sans lemon syrup). This one I enjoy a lot because it has a nice most and dense crumb, which is exactly what I'm looking for here. There is no butter in this recipe. Only yogurt and 1/2 cup of vegetable oil.

The dry:

The wet:

All blended together and poured over the berries:

Immediately after it comes out of the oven. Don't worry if it's messy! It actually makes it look nice and homemade (in my opinion).

Inverted onto a serving plate. I dusted this with confectioner's sugar, but that's up to you. I like it for the pretty factor, but the extra sweetness isn't really necessary.

Serve with fresh whipped cream and enjoy!

For once, I actually typed up my recipe. (I had to, since it was required for the contest, hah.) I am normally too lazy. But if you would like the recipe, it's right here. This might go without saying, but that berry combination isn't set in stone. Use whatever proportions you like! (This works for any fruit, really. Don't be limited to pineapple! Try it with fresh peaches -- I guarantee it will be awesome.)