Monday, November 26, 2007

Po-tay-toh, po-taaah-toh bread dough goodness!

I enjoy baking with yeast and lament the fact that I don't get to do it enough. So I'm super duper happy that November's Daring Bakers challenge is the Potato Bread. Thanks to this month's host, Tanna, I got to play around with yeasty dough! Yippee!

Thus far in my 4-month-old membership to this wonderful group of bakers, I think the potato bread challenge is the one that allows our creative juices to flow the most. This is because not only can we make potato bread, we can use the dough for many other purposes, as long as it's savory. In other words, Tanna encouraged us to go crazy, which is awesome! Haha!

Adapted from Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid's book, Home Baking: The Artful Mix of Flour & Tradition Around the World suggestions for the use of the potato dough are bread, rolls and foccacia. I decided to make foccacia and bread.

Due to the large variation of amount of potatoes and flour that could be used (with less potatoes being recommended for beginners), I used the the least recommended amount of potatoes and added approximately the lower range amount of flour. This resulted in an super sticky dough that was quite difficult to handle. Nevertheless, I managed to use a third of the dough for a foccacia, which I baked in a jelly roll pan that has been greased with olive oil. Now, I didn't go as crazy as I wanted to with the foccacia topping only because I was limited with ingredient availability and it was too damn cold to go out and get some. I ended up sprinkling my beautiful foccacia with rosemary, salt, caramelized onions and pine nuts. Here's what it looks like before I put it in the oven.
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And this is what it looked like once baked.
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The foccacia turned out to be soft and pillowy with a moist crust. It was a very delicious dough! The toppings were quite good too, although maybe I should've toasted the nuts and NOT caramelize the onions. Baking the caramelized onions made them a bit burned and I'm sure I overconsumed those yummy carcinogenic bits of onion. I enjoyed the foccacia with a teriyaki chicken breast salad. They made wonderful partners for dinner :)
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The potato bread was a bit of a disaster for me. Once the dough rose, the top layer got stuck to the plastic wrap that I used to cover it while proofing. And then, I realized only after the bread was done, that I forgot to slash the top of the bread. So my bread turned out rather crappy. It didn't even rise beautifully in the oven. Boohoo!
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Overall, I enjoyed baking with yeast, though I wish my potato bread didn't turn out to be such a bomb! In retrospect, I added way too little flour. I suppose getting a potato bread dough of good consistency will take some trial and error. But I was really happy with the way the foccacia turned out. It was an awesome challenge and now I challenge you to check out the other DBers' creations here! Let me just warn you that your stomach might start growling at the sight of their breads!

Friday, November 16, 2007

One special sistah!

Once upon a time, about 22 years ago on this day to be exact, a human being was born into this world. I met her for the first time on my parents' bed and I remember being amazed how anyone can exist in such a small body, peer through such teeny weeny eyes and grasp so tightly with such chubby, short fingers. She's my sister :)

I used the Indonesian slang word "gemas" to describe her. It doesn't have an exact English translation but it's along the line of "adorable", "huggable" and "scrumptious" at the same time. Don't worry, it didn't even cross my mind to eat her! Growing up, I remember her wanting to follow me and emulate me all the time. As any older sister can tell you, I found this immensely irritating in a cocky big sister way.

We spent a lot of our formative years apart. I started school in Singapore at the age of 7 while my parents and sister lived in Indonesia. She came to Singapore when she turned 11 and I left for college in Chicago a few years later. Despite the short time we had together, I had beautiful memories of growing up with my sister. We used to listen to Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata in our room while peering out the window, admiring the sunset. I also recall the fun we had organizing a surprise birthday party for our cousin.

It certainly helps to have a sibling who totally understands the unique, crazy family that surrounds us. A sibling is also useful sometimes to diffuse the nervous energy or attention that parents sometimes have for their children. I'm especially grateful that despite the physical distance between us most of the time, we have managed to grow up together. I'm also very happy that we've grown closer and closer over the years. I can't imagine having grown up without my sister and can only wonder how horrible life would be without her.

So when she said she wanted homemade oatmeal raisin cookies for her birthday, I immediately rolled up my sleeves and baked the best oatmeal raising cookies that I've ever baked. The secret ingredient? A little bit of honey and a whole lotta love! Haha! Corny, I know but true!

These cookies turned out to have crisp, thin outer layer while remaining chewy inside. They aren't excessively sweet and they're relatively good for you. Hey! Raisins contain a lot of antioxidants and oats are very fibrous! Try out the recipe below :)
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So, I want to dedicate this post to the one I love: my dear little sister. I want to wish her a healthy, happy, wonderful year ahead. And I look forward to more years of growth (and gossip!) with her!

Recipe for the best Oatmeal Raisin Cookies ever!

1 cup butter
1 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 teasp. vanilla extract
1 Tbsp. honey
1 1/2 cup AP flour (can substitute up to half with whole wheat)
1 teasp. baking soda
1 teasp. ground cinnamon
3 cups rolled oats
1 cup raisins

Preheat oven to 350 deg. F.

Cream room temp. butter with brown sugar until smooth. Stir in eggs, vanilla extract and honey.

Sift flour, baking soda and cinnamon. Stir dry ingredients into creamed butter mixture 1/3 at a time. Stir in the oats and raisins until just incorporated.

Drop dough by the teaspoon onto cookie sheet. Flatten slightly with the back of spoon if you like flatter, crisp yet chewy cookies. You can leave the dough rounded if you prefer fluffier, cakey cookies. Bake for 10-15 minutes or until cookies start to brown.

Cool on wire racks for 5 minutes before enjoying with a mug of piping hot tea or a tall glass of ice cold milk!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Nothing more beautiful than...

... a crisp fall day.

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Countdown to Thanksgiving!

You know Thanksgiving is around the corner when red and green-colored ads are popping left and right. Yes, isn't that sad? Fall has barely finished unfurling her blasts of reds, oranges and yellows and retailers are already out in full Christmas force. Sigh~ Just what on Earth is happening to this world?

My cousins and I started a tradition of having a reunion on Thanksgiving about five years ago. Every year, we pick a different city to gather at, usually a city where one of us resides in. This year, they're going to be descending in good ol' Chicago for our reunion. It's going to be a ton of fun having my cousins around (one of them is going to bring his Nintendo Wii console. Wheee!). I'm going to be cooking my first Thanksgiving dinner ever, turkey and all! I'm more excited than nervous at this point in time. As a matter of fact, I've already had the menu planned out, the shopping list written out and some of the more durable ingredients in my fridge. Another reason it's good that my cousins are coming over is that it's a good catalyst to get me to clean my apartment!

Since I'm going to be the primary organizer and cook for Thanksgiving, I'm going to try to do as much as I can in advance, which brings me to the recipe for this entry: orange-infused cranberry sauce. I encountered this incredibly simple recipe on this beautiful blog. All you need are cranberries, sugar, orange zest and juice. And all you gotta do is combine them and roast for 45 minutes! How much simpler can it get? And hey, it doesn't hurt that it's wonderfully tasty and so pretty to look at ;)
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Sunday, November 4, 2007

A perfect Sunday morning breakfast is...

Sunday is my favorite day of the week. I find that it is the only weekend day when I can totally rest, wind down and really think of things that I don't have the time for during the work week. My favorite Sunday ritual?

Poring over the Sunday paper with a pair of scissors by my side over a mug of perfectly brewed green tea and a simple breakfast. "Why the scissors?", you ask. I'm actually a closet coupon-lover! I'm one of those geeks who loves the bulky coupon section of the Sunday paper, haha! Anyhoo, yesterday morning, I had the perfect Sunday morning breakfast of a mug of green tea (as usual) and a warm, flaky chocolate croissant fresh out of the oven.
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I certainly do not have the skills to make croissants myself! I know it's an extremely labor-intensive process and from what I hear about the amount of butter that is used in making them, I would rather not visually witness the ton of butter that goes into my croissant. I actually bought a pack of frozen chocolate croissants from Trader Joe's, one of my favorite grocery stores ever. EVER!

Before I rave about this awesome product, let me just clarify that I do NOT work at TJ's or even own their stock (though I believe it's a privately-held company, but if they were to go public, I'd actually get some of their IPOs, that's how much I love TJ's!). For the benefit of those of you who do not live near a TJ's, it is an awesome grocery store that is most famous for the quality and range of products that they sell under their own name. They carry a lot of natural, organic stuff and are very very reasonably-priced. They're probably most widely-known for their two-buck-chucks (or three bucks in Chicagoland), their own brand of white and red wines that are pretty damn good for a few bucks. So anyway, I decided to try out their frozen chocolate croissants during my sojourn to TJ's this past Saturday.
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In order to enjoy these croissants, you have to plan in advance (like, one day ahead) because you have to take them out of the freezer and leave it at room temperature overnight (approximately 9 hours) so that they can rise (or proof, in bake-talk). Check out how big mine grew!
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After it proofs, all you gotta do is put it in a 350 degree F oven for 20 minutes and you can enjoy a warm, buttery, decadent chocolate croissant. My verdict? It is pretty darn good, actually! It's very buttery and rich, though not as flaky as some great croissants that I've tasted before. However, it's also definitely better than some croissants I've had from some bakeries too! I will totally buy this again because not only are they delicious, they are also so cheap and so easy to make! Seriously, $1 a piece for warm, fresh-out-of-the-oven chocolate croissants? It doesn't get any better than that :)
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Friday, November 2, 2007

Autumn is here...

I adore cinnamon! There's just something about the way it can make almost anything from cookies to oatmeal taste, smell and look better. I also associate it with autumn, my ultimate favorite season. The earthiness of cinnamon simply embodies the cool, calm comfort of fall days and it inspired to bake the ultimate cinnamon cookie: the snickerdoodle! In retrospect, part of the reason I baked snickerdoodles was that "snickerdoodle" is such a fun word to say. Haha!

Anyhoo, the snickerdoodle is a simple sugar cookie that has been coated with cinnamon sugar. It normally has a crackly appearance and variations include the use of nutmeg, raisins, or nuts. The recipe for snickerdoodles is also rather unusual for cookies because it uses a leavening agent, usually cream of tartar, which is not used in the average cookie. Another reason I decided to make these is that I've never had a snickerdoodle before! I thought a batch of these cookies would be a great autumnal treat for another autumnal rite of passage: the Halloween party (which will be a different post altogether).

As with any cookie recipe, this starts with the creaming of the fat (shortening, in this case) with the sugar, before the sifted dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, cream of tartar and salt) are stirred in until just mixed. One of the things one should never EVER do with cookie dough is to overmix it. This usually results in frustratingly tough cookies instead of the desired chewy yet slightly crisp texture that I personally love. The dough is the rolled into walnut-sized spheres before they're dipped into the sugar/cinnamon mixture before they're baked.

The cookies were delicious, crumbly and simply melted in my mouth when eaten fresh. I brought the rest of the cookies to a friend's Halloween party the next day. Although they weren't as good the next day, they were still delicious and the flavor wasn't lacking at all. So try out a snickerdoodle (if you haven't already) for the perfect fall treat with a tall glass of ice cold milk!
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Recipe for Snickerdoodles

1 cup trans fat-free shorteneing
1 1/2 cup white sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 3/4 cups AP flour (can substitute some with whole-wheat)
1 teasp. baking soda
2 teasps. cream of tartar
1/2 teasp. salt
2 Tbsp. white sugar
2 teasps. ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 375 deg. F.

Cream the shortening with 1 1/2 cup sugar until smooth. Stir in the eggs.

Sift together the flour, baking soda, cream of tartar and salt. Stir the flour mixture into the creamed shortening/sugar mixture.

Stir together the 2 Tbsp. sugar and cinammon in small bowl.

Roll cookie dough into walnut-sized balls before rolling it in the cinnamon sugar mixture. Place the sugared cookie dough on a baking sheet, about 2 inches apart.

Bake 8-10 minutes or until edges are browned. Do not overbake unless you like snappy cookies.


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