Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Back from hiatus

Sorry to those who dropped by my blog. I have been wanting to update my blog but was deterred by a series of activities. It's nothing too exciting. I was only busy baking and cooking during the festive season. There wasn't a day gone by without some form of baking.

This year, I decided to bake cookies as Christmas presents for our friends in St Louis. So I took some time to test the recipes before putting them in the final tray. Most of them were ok, but for those that couldn't make it, OCT had brought them to the lab for his colleagues :P

Other than the Yule log I made for the dessert competition, I also made a Latte Cheesecake Brownie for OCT's potluck lunch. It was my favorite coffee cheesecake so far, although it was not a light one. It was too delicious that I had devoured the leftover without taking a photo of it. It was a good cake and I am sure I will find another occasion to bake it again!

Plenty of cookies! Which include Bittersweet Chocolate Meringue, Black Forest Cookies, Peppermint Chocolate Chips Cookies, Spiral Cookies, Biscottis and Pistachio and Cranberries Cookies. The Chocolate Crinkles didn't make it to the final though, because of its disappointing appearance. (of course it's the baker fault).
We were baking the cookies till the very last day before we handed them to our friends, so that the cookies will be at their freshest by the time they reached the recipients. It's my favorite way to convey my love and appreciation through food, as always. Another selfish reason, was simply because I wanted to start a new family tradition with OCT. We had fun decorating some of the cookies which we were giving away. But I did most of the stuff, OCT only helped to decorate some and washed the countless trays and bowls I used. At one time he was too occupied with some stupid show on the computer that he burned my arm with the hot cookies tray! What a way to commemorate a new tradition....

The very messy scene of sugar cookies, some of which were burnt! While some were nicer.The cookies assembly line:

And a close look on the content: OCT posing with one of his creations. Inspired by the reason for the season- To remind me that Christmas is about the birth of the son of God, who die on the cross for me and others, so that we can live.
On a Christmas Eve party, I brought the One Bowl Mocha Cream Cake, which was interesting. It was a cake made without butter and eggs, but used mayonaise and marshmallow creme! A low fat recipe, but doesn't taste so at all!

my picasso decoration to camouflage the otherwise pretty dull looking dessert

Besides all the festive baking, I also managed to squeeze in an apple crostata for our after dinner dessert. Although I took the shortcut of using a ready made pie crust. It was a good vehicle to use up some of the Edy's Pineapple Coconut ice cream that we really didn't care to eat on its own. For some inexplicable reason, apple crostata (or any other form of apple desserts) tastes nice with vanilla (or other white colour) ice cream!


Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Second wave of holiday baking

Two days ago, OCT alerted me of his department's annual dessert competition. And I wanted to join. Firstly because it gave me an opportunity to make something unusual than stuff I usually bake. And quite frankly, for the prize. Although at that point, I didn't know what the prize yet.

So, I spent the better half of yesterday in the baking project. After some careful consideration, I decided to make a Chocolate Christmas Log. It'sa recipe with no flour and no butter but with lots of bittersweet chocolate. I tried some of the scrape, and they were tasty! I considered that as an auspicious start!

After the cake base was cooled, I went on to decorate my Christmas log with my limited decorative skill. Luckily it's only a log cake, so I could simply pour lots of chocolate ganache over the cake, and sprinkle some crushed peppermint candies and chocolate shaving on top of it. It definitely has plenty of room for improvement, but I guess this should do for now.

Two hours after I happily put the cake into the fridge, I found that the crushed peppermint candies melted! There wasn't much I could do about it since it was already quite late. Without the candy, the Christmas log seems like a boring and dull log. Well, even if it has become an ugly log, I still had to submit my item.

And guess what! There was only 2 participants! So, the judges announced that there's no winner this year and both the participants got prizes! Turned out the prize was a 25 dollar gift certificate....

Well, at least there's something. And I definitely see this as a good beginning.


Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The baking season has officially begins!!

The holiday baking session has started around here yesterday! Though it wasn't a smooth start, it has nevertheless set me in the holiday baking mood. With a tonnes of cookie recipes to choose from, my biggest dilemma is whether to bake something tried and tested or something new and exciting...

In the end, I opted for something that I have tried before with fairly good results. They were baked to be sent to a special friend. Because she sometime reads this blog, I guess I better keep the details out, and show you just a peep of what I have made. According to the recipes, these cookies travel and keep well. Certainly suitable to be made and mailed to a coutry far far away!


Saturday, December 02, 2006

When the temperature drops below the freezing point

This is what happened:Practically everything is frozen. It's stunning to see bald, frozen trees for the first time in my life. The same trees that bloom in Spring, and turn golden when Fall beckons.


Thursday, November 30, 2006

Give me a plate of spring

I love Spring for many reasons. One of them is the abundance of asparagus that Spring brings! Although asparagus is available throughout the year now, those that we ate in Spring was still the best. Not to mention the cheapest. Eventhough Spring is still 4 more months away, a plate of pasta loaded with asparagus will suffice my craving for the time being. A simple and balance meal on a quiet Wednesday night. Yum....

Chicken and Pasta Toss
Adapted from Cookinglight

1 pound uncooked rotini (corkscrew pasta)
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
3 cups (1-inch) slices asparagus (I used one pound)
2 cups chopped onion
1 tablespoon hot sauce
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 (6-ounce) package precooked chicken strips (used diced turkey kielbasa)
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained (used 16 oz)
3/4 cup (3 ounces) preshredded fresh Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon paprika (omitted)
* a splash of red wine

Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat; drain. Combine pasta and oil in a large bowl, and toss well.
Melt butter in a Dutch oven over medium heat; add asparagus, onion, hot sauce, and red pepper. Cook 5 minutes or until asparagus is crisp-tender, stirring frequently. Stir in pasta, salt, black pepper, chicken,tomatoes and a splash of red wine; cook 2 minutes or until thoroughly heated. Stir in cheese; sprinkle with paprika.

Yield: 7 servings (serving size: 2 cups)


Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Hummingbird Cake

What a name! I made this cake for my friend BP's birthday lunch last Sunday. It's a cake my friend MY told me so much about, but was readily forgotten until being reminded by Martha Stewart on her Baking DVD. Seeing that woman made the cake on her DVD almost guaranteed the delicious factor of the cake itself. So, I decided to make this moist and light cake for BP. And added heaps of delicious cream cheese frosting as backup. You know, just in case the cake turned out too bland.

The cake proved that my worry was unnecessary. It was moist and tender. Thanks to the mashed banana and crushed pineapple. For the uninitiated, the Hummingbird cake tasted like a cross between banana cake and carrot cake. Martha's version used coconut flakes, which I omitted. I found another version from Southern Living that used almost the same proportion of all ingredients with good reviews and decided to use it instead of Martha's. I think I will give Martha's version a try when I got some bananas again.

I guess I should also mention that it's one of the easiest cake to make because you can stir everything together in a big bowl without the help of a mixer. Perfect for a novice baker like myself!

Hummingbird Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 large eggs, beaten
1 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 (8-ounce) can crushed pineapple, undrained
1 cup chopped pecans
2 cups chopped bananas
Cream Cheese Frosting (see recipe below)
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Combine first 5 ingredients in a large bowl; add eggs and oil, stirring until dry ingredients are moistened. (Do not beat.) Stir in vanilla, pineapple, 1 cup pecans, and bananas.
Pour batter into three greased and floured 9-inch round cakepans. Bake at 350° for 25 to 30 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans on wire racks 10 minutes; remove from pans, and cool completely on wire racks.

Spread Cream Cheese Frosting between layers and on top and sides of cake; sprinkle 1/2 cup chopped pecans on top. Store in refrigerator.

Yield: 16 servings

Cream Cheese Frosting
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
1 (16-ounce) package powdered sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Beat cream cheese and butter at medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth. Gradually add powdered sugar, beating at low speed until light and fluffy. Stir in vanilla.

Yield: 3 cups

Note: To cut down on fat, the hummingbird cake can be made in a Bundt pan without the frosting, or with a simple drizzle of icing sugar.


Turkey and Thanksgiving

Last Thursday was Thanksgiving. Though we are non Americans, and weren't being invited to any Thanksgiving dinner, that couldn't stop us from celebrating this meaning day with some friends coming over for a traditional Thanksgiving meal.

Thanks to numerous cooking magazines, I know that a typical Thanksgiving meal should include: Turkey, mashed potato, green bean, gravy,stuffing, dinner rolls and pumpkin pie. Of course the list could go on if you were serving more guests. I wouldn't mind cooking for more people if not of the limited space we have in our tiny apartment. Anyway, I guess a simple menu will do for now.

You know, sometime the simplest thing can be complicated when you are given too many choices. There are at least 30 recipes for roast turkey, at least ten types of add-on for mashed potatoes, and apparently countless ways to make stuffing. And whether to stuff the turkey or not. I spent almost a week to decide on whose recipes should I use for the few dishes I made. OCT seemed to be more enthusiastic than I was and kept pestering me with the menu. It's funny that we were more excited about Thanksgiving than the Chinese New Year. Maybe because we are too far away from home. And this place lacks the new year decoration and songs to remind us of the festival.....

Anyway, the Thanksgiving prep started 3 days before the big day. Apparently it's not to bad compared to our American counterparts here, who prepared for the day way in advance. Here's some self-explanatory photos to show you what we had for our Thanksgiving dinner:

Other than the compulsory roast turkey, green bean and mashed potato, I made lemon horseradish fish cakes as appetizer. It also served as a backup in case the roast turkey didn't turn out fine.

And I almost forgotten about my dinner rolls, which I made the night before. They were tastier the night I made them though.

For dessert, I made a espresso and chocolate swirl cheesecake. This was made 2 days before Thanksgiving, so that the flavor had enough time to mend. Unfortunately, 2 days seems not long enough. OCT and I both find that it tasted the best after sitting for 5 days! Anyway, I don't intend to bake this cake anytime soon. There are too many cheesecake recipes waiting for me out there! Nevertheless, this cheesecake which is not too sweet ended our dinner on a good note.

Eventhough it wasn't a feast, we still had plenty of leftover! Which was turned into another mini Thanksgiving meal for just the two of us on the next day. And yes, the photo below was only part of the leftover.

Make Ahead Mashed Potato
adapted from Southernliving
5 pounds baking potatoes
2 (3-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
1 (8-ounce) container sour cream
1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
1/2 cup milk
2 teaspoons onion salt
Garnish: paprika or chopped fresh parsley

Peel potatoes, and cut into 1-inch cubes. Cook in a medium saucepan in boiling water to cover 15 to 20 minutes or until tender; drain and place into a large mixing bowl.
Add cream cheese and next 4 ingredients; beat at medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth and fluffy (do not overbeat). Spoon into a lightly greased 13- x 9-inch or 3-quart baking dish.

Bake, covered, at 325° for 50 minutes or until thoroughly heated; garnish, if desired.

Note: Unbaked mashed potatoes may be chilled up to 2 days. Let stand at room temperature 30 minutes, and bake as directed.

Yield: 10 servings

Cloverleaf Dinner Rolls
adapted from Fine Cooking

1 package dry yeast (I used rapid rise yeast)
1/4 cup warm water (100° to 110°F)
1/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup milk
6 Tbs. butter
1 lb. (3-1/2 cups) all-purpose flour
2 Tbs. vegetable oil
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tsp. salt
3 Tbs. butter, melted (for shaping)

For the egg glaze:
1 egg yolk
1 Tbs. milk
Pinch sugar

Making the dough:
Sprinkle the yeast over the warm water. Add a pinch of the sugar. Stir and let the mixture sit until it's foamy, about 5 min. (If the mixture doesn't foam, the yeast may be inactive. Throw out the mixture and begin again with new yeast.)

Heat the milk and butter just until the butter melts. Let the mixture cool until it's tepid.

Measure the flour into a large bowl and make a well in the center. Pour in the tepid milk and the yeast mixture. Add the rest of the sugar and the oil, egg, and salt. Mix the ingredients thoroughly, gradually drawing in the flour to form a soft dough. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured work surface.

(For a variation, make whole-wheat rolls with orange and coriander. Orange zest makes these rolls particularly fragrant, and the whole-wheat flour gives the rolls a pleasantly hearty flavor. Use the recipe above, but substitute 1/2 cup of whole-wheat flour for 1/2 cup of the white flour. After the salt is added, add the grated zest of 1 orange and 1/2 tsp. ground coriander. Proceed with the remainder of the recipe as written.)

Knead the dough:
Push the dough away from you with the heels of your hands, then fold the dough over itself and give it a quarter turn. Repeat this pushing, folding, and turning, adding only enough flour to keep the dough from sticking to the table, until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 5 min. The dough will be softer than ordinary bread dough. Put the dough in a greased bowl and then turn the dough over so the greased side faces up. Press plastic wrap onto the surface of the dough and leave it to rise until doubled in volume, 45 min. to 1 hour. Gently punch down the dough and then let it rest for 5 min. before shaping.

Shape the rolls:
Lightly butter a standard 12-portion muffin tin. With your hands, roll the dough into a long cylinder about 18 in. long. Use a dough cutter to divide this in half and then cut each half into six equal portions. Divide each of these 12 portions into three sections for a total of 36 pieces. Each piece should be approximately the same size.

With your palms, lightly roll each piece of dough into a smooth ball. Cluster three balls of dough in each cup of the muffin tin. Brush with a little melted butter. Allow to rise for 40 to 50 min., or until doubled in volume.

Yield 12 dinner rolls

Espresso and Chocolate Swirl Cheesecake
adapted from Bon Appetite
1 9-ounce package chocolate wafer cookies (used oreo cookies)
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted, cooled

2 tablespoons instant espresso powder
1 tablespoon water
3 8-ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted, cooled
1 tablespoon finely ground coffee (used one tablespoon of instant espresso powder)
6 ounces bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1/4 cup whipping cream

For crust:
Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 400°F. Grind cookies in processor. Add butter and process using on/off turns until crumbs are moist. Press crumbs on bottom and 1 1/2 inches up sides of 9-inch-diameter springform pan with 2 3/4-inch-high sides. Wrap outside of pan with aluminum foil.
For filling:
In small bowl, dissolve instant espresso in 1 tablespoon water. Using electric mix, beat cream cheese in large bowl until smooth. Add sugar and continue beating until mixture is light and fluffy. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in espresso mixture, butter and ground coffee beans.

Combine chocolate and cream in heavy small saucepan. Stir over low heat until chocolate melts. Pour half of cheese filling (about 2 1/2 cups) into prepared crust. Drop 5 tablespoons melted chocolate mixture by tablespoons around edge of filling, spacing evenly. Use small sharp knife to swirl chocolate into filling. Carefully pour remaining cheese filling over. Drop remaining chocolate mixture by tablespoons into center 6 inches of filling, spacing evenly. Swirl mixtures together using tip of knife.

Bake cheesecake until edges are puffed and beginning to crack and top is golden brown, about 40 minutes (center will not be set). Cool on rack. Chill overnight. (Can be prepared 3 days ahead.)

Run small sharp knife around edge of pan to loosen cheesecake. Release pan sides. Let stand at room temperature 30 minutes. Transfer to platter and serve.

Serves 10.


Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Another week has passed

and I haven't done any updates on my blog. Sometime I am not motivated to write because most of my friends don't read this blog. It feels like talking to the air and myself most of the time.

Anyway, I guess I will blog less often from now on, but I still need a space to record the new recipes I try from time to time. Sometime we tried so many new recipes a week that we hardly remembered what we had for dinner few days ago!

The main breakthrough for me last week was definitely the chinese turnip cake. And I made a nice batch of cookies using a new-to-me ingredient- peppermint chips! I used a basic chocolate cips cookies recipe, and added in some peppermint chips for colour.

I gave some to the maintenance guy who came and worked on our bathroom tiles for 2 days. He seemed to like them, and told me that his 3 kids liked the cookies too!

I bought the peppermint chips from Target sometime ago, believing that I could use that in my Christmas cookies baking. Speaking of Christmas cookies, I have a hard time deciding what to bake. And whether I should make the tried and tested recipes or something new and interesting....

After having Turkey on the covers of most cooking magazines I subscribed in November, they were either cakes or cookies on their December issues. I can't complain. Afterall, I prefer cake or cookies to turkey!


Tuesday, November 14, 2006

First attempt on Chinese Turnip Cake

I have craving for chinese turnip cake for weeks, and I had even bought the necessary ingredients 2 weeks ago, all set to have my first try on turnip cake. Honestly, I am not too confident when it comes to making chinese pastries. All the recipes I googled seem to be vague. And there's no way I can determine the "workability" of the recipes except of trying it myself. Because of this, I hesistated. For the fear of failure and the disappointment that follows.

Anyway, I went ahead and made my first ever chinese turnip cake, after comparing a few sources, and plenty of courage and some common sense. It turned out ok, but could definitely be improved on. See the "wrinkles" on the surface? I still don't know what the problem is.

After a few days, I tried to make it again, the objective was to improve the texture. Turned out the texture was hugely improved, but the appearance and taste needed some fine tuning. I guess I will post the recipe after I get it right. But first, I need another trip to the chinese grocery store....

I guess the turnip cake can be kept in refrigerator for a couple of days. But it didn't last that long. For I fried some with garlic and egg to eat as lunch,and the rest for dinner. OCT wasn't as crazy as I was on turnip cake, but he seemed to enjoy his share too.


Friday, November 10, 2006

Oven Fried Chicken and Broccoli with hot bacon dressing

I love our dinner yesterday! The oven fried chicken was the best fried chicken I have ever tasted in my life. Ok, I exaggerated, but it was because the chicken was really tasty and healthy. Maybe healthy is not the right word too. But if you can use only 2 tablespoons of oil to get 6 huge pieces of crunchy chicken thighs, you can call that healthy right?

This is a recipe from October issue of Cookinglight magazine. The idea of using oven to fry chicken is intriguing, definitely too good to be true. I thought if it really turned out like the real thing, then it will be the next best thing other than the crispy roast potatoes, another favorite of mine which I cook to curb my craving for french fries.

Because I had such a high hope on the recipe, I decided to check out the reviews of others who have tried this recipe, and see what they thought of the final outcome and what could have been done to make it even better. After the "research", I decided to adopt some of the ideas. Like soaking the chicken in buttermilk for almost an hour rather than a simple dip instructed in the recipe. I also added salt and pepper quite generously to the flour mixture, because someone complainted that the chicken was a bit bland. I also left the chicken in the oven for 15 minutes longer because I didn't bone the thigh. Otherwise, I followed the recipe to the letter. (or so I thought, because I normally just read the ingredient list, and selectively find the key words like oven temperature and time required. )

The chicken turned out to be a winner! It was everything a fried chicken should be. Crispy, crunchy and tasty. With this recipe, I have another excuse to buy cheaper cut of chicken more often! OCT who is a fried chicken fan will not be deprived of having some "fingers licking good" stuff anymore!

Another new recipe for last night was broccoli with hot bacon dressing. It was a good alternative to our otherwise simple version of chinese style broccoli with mixed veggie and oyster sauce. I like the idea of using rice vinegar + raisin+ bacon + garlic as dressing. It was an interesting combination.

Oven Fried Chicken
adapted from OCT 2006 Cookinglight

1 cup low-fat buttermilk
2 large egg whites, beaten
1 cup all-purpose flour (about 4 1/2 ounces)
1/3 cup cornmeal
1 teaspoon salt, divided
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
2 chicken breast halves, skinned (about 1 pound)
2 chicken thighs, skinned (about 1/2 pound)
2 chicken drumsticks, skinned (about 1/2 pound)
2 tablespoons canola oil
Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 425°.
Cover a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Combine buttermilk and egg whites in a shallow dish; stir well with a whisk. Combine flour, cornmeal, 1/2 teaspoon salt, black pepper, and red pepper in a separate shallow dish; stir well. Sprinkle chicken evenly with remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt. Dip chicken in buttermilk mixture; dredge in flour mixture.

Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken to pan; cook 4 minutes on each side or until lightly browned. Place chicken on prepared baking sheet; lightly coat chicken with cooking spray. Bake at 425° for 30 minutes or until chicken is done.

Yield: 4 servings (serving size: 1 chicken breast half or 1 drumstick and 1 thigh)

Broccoli with Hot Bacon Dressing
adapted from Oct 2006 Gourmet

2 lb broccoli, trimmed and cut into 1-inch florets (reserving stems)
1/4 lb sliced bacon (about 4 slices), cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-wide strips
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1/3 cup raisins
1/4 cup distilled white vinegar (I used rice vinegar)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Peel broccoli stems with a vegetable peeler, then cut crosswise into 1/4-inch slices.

Cook bacon in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until browned and crisp, 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer bacon with a slotted spoon to several layers of paper towels to drain, leaving fat in skillet. Add garlic and raisins to skillet and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until garlic is pale golden, about 1 minute. Stir in vinegar, oil, salt, and pepper, then remove from heat.

Meanwhile, cook broccoli florets and stems in a large pot of boiling salted water until just tender, 4 to 5 minutes. Drain broccoli well and transfer to a bowl.

Bring dressing to a simmer, then cook, stirring, 1 minute. Pour hot dressing over broccoli and sprinkle with bacon, tossing to combine.

Makes 4 servings.


Thursday, November 09, 2006

Experiment with a new scone recipe

I am perfectly happy with the scone recipe I found in Martha Stewart Baking Handbook. In fact, it's the recipe I always go back to whenever I need to make scones. There are other recipes that I have tried with satisfactory result, but they were too rich for my lifestyle. You see, heavy cream is used in the traditional scone. Though they are tender, sweet and everything that a good scone should be, I feel a bit guilty to eat them on a regular basis. Martha's version on the other hand, uses buttermilk. It gives the scone an equally tender and light texture, which I like, plus something more. A little something that you can't pinpoint, but leaves you going "Hmm..."(in a good way, of course). In short, I am contented with my reliable recipe. So why risk my previous ingredients to try another new recipe?

Because this recipe uses buttermilk too! You know, "great minds think alike"! I believe whoever this person is, she must be thinking the same thing as Martha, and me! (ahem) And that is to cut down on the calories of the scones. It's a recipe for Meyer Lemon and dried blueberry scones. I love anything with lemon! I love it in cake, I love it in cookies, but how could I not think of adding it to my scones?! Clearly, it showed that I am not a creative person. Anyhow, I knew I got to do make the scones immediately. Eventhough I didn't have any dried blueberry on hand. Luckily, we were on our way out, so I managed to grab a bag of it from Trader Joes!

But there's still another problem. The recipe used self rising flour. I know there's a substition for it using all purpose flour and baking powder. But the buttermilk is an acidic ingredient, which it required something alkaline to neutralise it. Or the scones may tasted very sour-y. So I shall add some baking soda. In that case, some salt too. It's a chemistry thing, which I shall spare you the detail. In a gist, I need to make sure that the scones will rise beautifully, and taste right.

The recipe doesn't require any egg which I find weird. So I added one egg in my modified recipe. I get more and more confused with the use of ingredients in this recipe the more I think about it. It's like the kind of organic chemistry exam questions I got in Uni days. At the first glance, you thought the question was pretty straightforward, but when you started to answer the question, it just doesn't seem right.

Anyway, I baked the scones adopting Bon Appetit concept with many modification. The scones tasted a bit bland. Although the perfume of lemon filled my apartment while the scones were baking, I could hardly taste it in the final products. The concept of putting lemon and dried blueberry in scone is excellent, but the recipe definitely needs more adjustment.

Yesterday, after baking a batch of orange chocolate oatmeal cookies, I have some orange zest leftover. So it gave me a perfect excuse to try another version of the lemon and dried blueberry scone. This time, I used orange zest with dried cranberries, and added in some chocolate chips. Since I was experimenting with the recipe, i decided to omit the egg, as the recipe advised and decreased the amount of baking soda.

This time, it is much nicer. Although the orange flavor isn't obvious enough to be detected. That is a simpler problem to solve. I will either add more zest or add a tablespoon of orange juice next time.

left: lemon and dried blueberry scone; right: orange,dried cranberry and chocolate chips scone

I know this is a boring entry for anyone who isn't in the mood to make scones. But in case any of you, my friends want to know what I have been up to lately, this is the kind of stuff that's is going on in my mind right now. Of course, I am also thinking of what to bake for OCT's lab meeting tomorrow. And what's for dinner later!

Meyer Lemon and Dried Blueberry Scones
adapted from Dec 2006 Bon Appetite

3 cups self-rising flour
1/2 cup plus 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 1/2 cups dried wild blueberries (about 10 ounces)
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon buttermilk
1 1/2 tablespoons finely grated Meyer lemon peel or regular lemon peel

Position rack in top third of oven and preheat to 425°F. Line large baking sheet with parchment paper. Whisk self-rising flour and 1/2 cup sugar in large bowl. Using fingertips, rub in chilled butter until pieces are size of small peas. Add dried wild blueberries and toss to coat. Mix 1 cup buttermilk and finely grated lemon peel in glass measuring cup. Pour buttermilk mixture into dry ingredients and stir until dough begins to form (some of flour will not be incorporated). Transfer dough to lightly floured work surface and gather together. Knead dough briefly, about 5 turns. Divide dough in half. Form each dough half into ball and flatten into 1-inch-thick disk. Cut each disk into 6 wedges.

Transfer scones to prepared baking sheet, spacing 1 inch apart. Brush tops with remaining 1 tablespoon buttermilk and sprinkle with remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar. Bake until scones are golden brown on top and toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, about 25 minutes.

Makes 12 servings.

Note: I halved the recipe, and used 1.5 cup of all purpose flour+ 2 tsp baking powder + approximately 1/2tsp baking soda + 1/4tsp salt in place of self-rising flour.Added 1/2 cup of chocolate chips and 1 tbsp orange peel in the second attempt.


Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Confession of the slacker

I haven't being updating my blog lately. I guess I just lost the momentum after I stopped blogging for a few days. Also, I thought I could do more "life-enriching" stuff, like reading, when I was offline. But I was wrong! I ended up spending most of my time on youtube, the addictive Hongkong series people uploaded kept making me to go back for more. And the book that I started two weeks ago was still lying at the spot I left it, collecting dust. So this is what I have been doing lately.

Luckily for me, and for OCT, dinners were still streaming out readily from kitchen. I managed to try a few new recipes the past weeks and are planning for more in the coming weeks! But before that, let me recall what I have made last week.

A batch of sao pao that leaks, unfortunately. So my quest for the ultimate sao pao hasn't ended yet. There were tasty though. But I need to work on the dough, so that it will not burst open again in the oven. Initially I thought it's either because I didn't seal them tight or I didn't poke holes on top of the pie, so pressure built up and it burst. But the second experiment that involved the same dough, but with apple pie filling proved that it's none of the above. My mum guested I may have overworked the dough or the oven temperature was too hot. Or maybe the dough was intended for quiche not turnover, etc. I decided to look for another recipe. I have given the dough enough chances, so it's time for it to go.One night, we had lemon horseradish fish cake. You can't see the horseradish from the picture because they were subtly mixed into the fish cake. OCT who didn't know what he was eating and raved about this dish. I got this recipe from Oct issue of Everyday Food. You can also freeze the patties individually and cook them on another occasion. Say when you have special guests over for dinner. Of course you can get this kind of stuff from the grocery store's freezer section, but at least you know what you put in the fish cake and how long it has been frozen. And it's a flexible recipe. You can use any fish here, I think. All you need to do, is to first roast the fish in the oven for 15-20 minutes until it's cooked. Then use a fork to flake it, and add mayo, prepared horseradish, lemon juice, some chopped parsley, eggs, bread crumbs, and salt and pepper to taste. Form them into small cakes and coat with extra bread crumb and they can be cooked immediately, or freeze for another day. I know the instructions are lame, so if you are really interested, drop me a comment, and I will type out the recipe. :)Tuesday night, I had a suddenly craving for sushi, so I made some for myself. But I overestimated the amount and ended up having 5.5 rolls! It's going to be my Tuesday dinner and Wednesday lunch and dinner. I brought 2 rolls to school so that I could have lunch with OCT on Wednesday, but we changed our minds when the lunch hour approached and went for the nearby Greek restaurant for gyro and roast leg of lamb. So the sushi was left in OCT's lab. I asked him to give some to his colleagues, but he was a bit skeptical about my sushi. As a result, he decided to taste the sushi first before offering to anybody. Good for him! He ended up polishing up more than half of the sushi I brought! And of course he shared the rest proudly with his colleagues, including his Japanese colleague. Later he told me that sushi wasn't as awful as he imagined. And he thought my sushi was pretty tasty too! Great improvement for someone who doesn't like seaweed, vinegar, pickle radish and avocado. hahaha.

Finally, I made a batch of espresso walnut tiles for the Friday meeting last week. It was basically espresso walnut brownie, with cream cheese and chocolate frosting. We had a lot from one recipe, which was enough for 2 labs (one for his lab and another for the collaborator's lab, since they were having meeting on Friday too) and some leftover for us. Using almost a pound of bittersweet chocolate, these treats were really yummy. I gulped down a few pieces myself because the temptation was simply too great!


Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Halloween Treats

Yesterday I whipped up a batch of mocha chocolate muffins with cream cheese frosting for OCT's colleagues. They are meant to be halloween treats.Basically, I just need an excuse to bake something. Since I was only going to bake 12 muffins, in which all would be bring to the lab, I figured I would be out of the temptation of chowing a couple down myself.

This is the second time I used this muffin recipe. I really like the depth of chocolate flavor intensified by the instant espresso powder. I remember reading from a book that instant espresso powder helps to bring out the chocolate flavor in the baked goods. I couldn't agree more. Maybe I will sneak in a tablespoon of espresso powder in my next biscotti project.

The generous batter gave me 14 muffins. Which means I had 2 extra. After I frosted them generously with cream cheese frosting and sprinkles, they went staight to the fridge. Other than the ocassional licking of cream cheese frosting, I hadn't been tempted by my sinful creations. Not yet. But you know, my determination is gone by the time I woke up this morning! In case you wonder, yes, I have eaten one this morning. Right after I woke up, and before I even brushed my teeth.

And as I am typing this, the one left in the fridge is calling me out! I must focus on something healthier. Speaking of which, I have worked out twice this week at my apartment's newly installed gym. They even installed cable, which naturally comes with Foodnetwork, my favorite channel! So now, I can sweat and pant on the treadmill while watching Ina Garten make a smoke salmon fritatta. Not a bad way to spend 40 minutes.

Mocha Muffins with Chocolate Chips and Pecan
Adapted from Bon Appétit April 1995

1/4 cup hot water
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup packed golden brown sugar
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups milk chocolate chips (I used half milk chocolate and half semi-sweet chocolate)
1 cup coarsely chopped pecans (about 4 ounces), toasted (omitted)

Preheat oven to 375°F. Line twelve 1/2-cup muffin cups with paper liners.

Stir 1/4 cup hot water and espresso powder in medium bowl until espresso powder dissolves. Add buttermilk, oil, eggs and vanilla and whisk until well blended.

Mix flour, sugar, brown sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Add buttermilk mixture and stir just until combined. Mix in chocolate chips and pecans.
Divide batter equally among prepared muffin cups.

Bake until tester inserted into center of muffins comes out clean, about 25 minutes.(mine took about 20 minutes)

Transfer muffins to rack and cool.

The recipe of the frosting, can be found
Makes 14 muffins.


Thursday, October 26, 2006

A week worth of dinners

I couldn't believe that I haven't jotted down anything we ate for the week. Time just flies with lightning speed, and I really didn't do much this week. Procrastinating is bad. Now I can't remember exactly what I made for the week.

Let see. We had roasted chicken thighs with root veggies for dinner on Sunday night.

Monday, we had an excellent spicy turkey cake with horseradish aioli and potato, corn and leek chowder.

Tuesday, I started to get crazy about bread making and made a loaf of thyme focaccia.Dinner was a self invented, non picture worthy ham and pepper pasta with white wine sauce.

Wednesday, after a little success with my first focaccia, I went wild and made 2 loaves of pumpkin and walnut focaccias. Nevermind that both OCT and I don't like to eat pumpkin at all. Dinner was an old recipe of teriyaki chicken from Cook Illustrated. It wasvery good. I made a mental note to remember to make this fast and easy teriyaki chicken more often. Probably we can have a Japanese theme dinner and we can pair it with Japanese short grain rice. I could make some sushi too. But I think I need more than these two items to substantiate my Japanese theme dinner. Something to ponder about.

Thursday, we have enough leftover, so I didn't cook. But I baked some Chockablock cookies (from Nov issue of Bon Appetit)for OCT's lab meeting on Friday, some apple strudel turnovers and my self-invented nutella, mango and kiwi in phyllo cups. I have high expectation on the apple strudel turnovers, but my first encounter with the phyllo dough turned out to be a disaster! They were oh-so-delicate to handle, and didn't seem to be able to cover my apple filling. The end products were pretty horrendous. I was discouraged after making a dozen of these and decided to give up. But I was supposed to bring a dessert tonight, so I cut the phyllo sheets into small squares and make them into phyllo cups. Then, I added the very sinful Nutella on the bottom of the cup as glue, and top them with mango bites and golden kiwis. Voila! Tasty and simply. I should have done this instead of the time consuming apple strudel turnovers! These easy treats proved to be a hit when everyone took a second pieces after the dinner.


Apple picking on Saturday

Something was wrong with blogger and the whole entry I typed about apple picking was gone. To keep the long story short, it was a fun day for us! The trip was initially cancelled because Dilip's son was running a high fever. After a few hours of rest, the fever subsided, and he called to tell us that the plan was still on.

It was my first encounter with apple trees. And I was suprised by how short apple trees are. We were led to some Fuji Apple trees. It must have passed the peak apple picking season, as we didn't see many apples on the trees. Nevertheless, there were enough for everyone to munch, and pick for later consumption.

While we were there, we saw many apples being discarded on the floor. In fact there were more apples on the ground than on the trees. OCT and I were thinking on the same thing : How nice if these apples could be recycled and send off to countries where food is scarce and people are dying from hunger every second....

Let's hope that someday food would be distributed evenly in the world.


Thursday, October 19, 2006

Apple picking!

Do you believe in one good turn deserves another? I do!

Just when I am hoping that someone will organise a apple picking trip, OCT's colleague Dilip asked if we would be interested to go this Saturday! It was so nice of him to offer, as he knew we don't have a car and definitely won't be able to go on our own. I am excited about the new experience, as usual. I must start to pull out all the apple recipes so that I will know what to do with my fresh, hand pick apples!

By the way, Dilip is the guy whom I made a birthday cake for last week, while testing out a workable recipe for my friend Gerrie.

Anyway, I guess I will bake him something again this weekend.


Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Bacon, Spinach and Feta Quiche

If you think you are eating healthier by eating at home, think again. Yes, you are cooking your own meal and have perfect control on the amount of ingredients used. But, there are certain food that just scream : "FATTENING". Tonight's dinner is a good example.

I made a quiche, using all the sinful ingredients I can ransack in my fridge. It was delicious. Because it was so, I started to worry that it may not be enough for both of us. So I went ahead and baked some frozen "beer-battered fish" because that seems to be the easiest thing to do when time is of the essence.

Of course all these were on top of the pot of rice I cooked and the oily chinese style chicken soup on the stove. I don't see what's healthy in this meal. But I will take note to make something lighter for tomorrow's dinner. I will try...

Though fatenning, this quiche is tasty and easy to make. I like to indulge in it once in awhile, or make it when we have guests over for dinner. There are many possible combinations in quiche, which is something I love about it. Versatility is important as far as budget is concerned. One thing that I like in my quiche is spinach. So I make sure I use spinach in every quiche I make. That's the only healthy ingredient in my quiche I guess.

Bacon, Spinach and Feta Quiche
the original recipe is

1/3 cup plus 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
1 tablespoon cold vegetable shortening
1 1/2 tablespoons ice water plus additional if necessary
6 oz bacon, cooked and coarsely cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups packed fresh spinach leaves, trimmed and washed thoroughly (about 5 ounces)(I used frozen spinach)
2 large eggs
1/2 cup heavy cream or milk (I use half cream and half non-fat milk)
1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
1 to 2 tablespoons of light cheese spread

Preheat oven to 425°F.
In a bowl with a pastry blender or in a small food processor blend together flour, butter, shortening, and a pinch salt until mixture resembles meal. Add water and toss until incorporated, adding additional water if necessary to form a dough. Pat dough onto bottom and one half inch up sides of a 7 1/2-inch tart pan with removable fluted rim or a 9-inch pie plate and bake shell in bottom third of oven until set and pale golden, about 7 minutes.

While shell is baking, in a large skillet sauté spinach over moderately high heat until cooked. Remove skillet from heat and season spinach mixture with salt and pepper.Try to squeeze out as much excess liquid from spinach as possible and stir in one to two tablespoons of cheese spread. This helps to loosen up the spinach.In a small bowl whisk together eggs and cream.

Sprinkle feta over bottom of shell and arrange spinach mixture on top, follow by crumbled bacon. Pour cream mixture over spinach and bake quiche on a baking sheet in middle of oven 15 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350°F. and bake until set, about 10 minutes.

Serves 2.

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