Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy 2009!

Wishing everyone prosperity, joy and good eating in 2009!

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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Banana Nut Bread

I have a recipe card for banana nut bread from long long ago. Where I got it from, no one knows. But the Mister really likes it.

The Mister loves banana nut bread. And since there were a few very ripe bananas laying around, I thought I'd make a couple of loaves for him. (Ain't I sweet and thoughtful? hehe)

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup walnuts , toasted and chopped
3 very ripe bananas, mashed completely
1/4 cup plain yogurt (I use non-fat)
2 large eggs
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter , melted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Grease a 9" loaf pan. I use Pam because it's simple and quick.

Position oven rack to lower position and preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Combine flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and walnut together in large bowl. Set aside.

Mix mashed bananas, yogurt, eggs, butter, and vanilla in medium bowl.

Fold banana mixture into dry ingredients until just combined. The batter will be thick. Put batter into prepared loaf pan. Bake for 55 minutes until loaf is golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the middle. It takes about 60 minutes in my oven.

Cool in pan for 5 minutes on a cooling rack. Then remove the loaf from the pan and finish cooling on the cooling rack. Serve warm or at room temperature. The Mister likes to butter his. I store the extra in an airtight container, which will keep for about 3 days. I haven't tried freezing it yet but since I made 2 loaves this time, I might have to try it unless the Mister is a total pig about it. (ssshhhh, don't tell him I said that).

Hope everyone got what everything they wished for from Santa. I did!

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Season's Greetings

From my family to yours, we wish everyone a wonderful holiday season!

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Sunday, December 21, 2008

Prepping for Christmas Dinner

So it's been decided. We are having standing rib roast for Christmas. Whew, thank goodness because that I can do (over the turducken). I put the 4-bone roast in the refrigerator for aging yesterday. Ahhhh, can't wait! The Mister is planning on making his garlic mash potato. We'll also have sauteed mushrooms, au jus, corn, and probably something else. Ahhhh, can't wait! Oh, did I say that already? hehe

If you're still debating as to what to make for Christmas dinner, and you like an awesome prime rib, give the recipe a shot. Everyone who has tried and and reported back said it turned out great. Accolades to all those who made it and ate it. No kidding, really. I'm not joking. And the best thing is that everyone will think you worked really really hard on it to make it that perfect. Hey, let them think that, you deserve it!

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Saturday, December 20, 2008

Chinese Hot Pot

I had a craving for hot pot a few weeks ago when the weather finally started to feel like Winter. Hot pot is something that can very simple or elaborate, depending on the occasion. Growing up, my family traditionally celebrate Chinese New Year with hot pots with 20 different dishes (for over 30 people) but they really can be, and has become, more than just for celebrations. With restaurants like Little Sheep, hot pot should be enjoyed whenever you like!

My homemade hot pots are pretty standard. A plate of 2-3 different meats. On this day, I bought some shabu shabu sliced prime steak and ribeye as well as Birkshire pork (all on sale at Marukai that week).

I also picked up pea sprouts, various mushrooms, kamaboko, fish balls, and frozen taro.

I also love cellophane noodles with hot pot. One of my favorites next to the kamoboko and fish balls.

The broth I use at home is very simple, store bought low sodium chicken broth. Can't get any easier than that. I had debated about getting one of those yin-yang hot pots like the ones at Little Sheep but decided against it. I really just like it simple when making it at home. I'll leave the fancy half-half for when we got out for hot pot!

I use an electric wok as our hot pot. Works great. I can adjust the temperature as needed and the width of the wok makes it easy to access everything.

I also concoct a very simple dipping sauce: sesame paste, soy sauce, chili garlic paste. The dish with what looks like soy in that last picture was a shabu shabu sauce I picked up on sale at Marukai. It tasted a bit like ponzu sauce but think I'll pass on it the next time.

There really isn't else much to say about hot pot. It's that simple and very fulfilling on a cold (and maybe wet) dreary day. So what are you waiting for? Go and eat well.

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Sunday, December 14, 2008

Pizza (Dough!)

I've read that if one can make yeast bread successfully, one can make pizza dough. I think that's a pretty true statement. As a matter of fact, pizza dough, as I found out a few months back, is one of the easiest yeast doughs to make. That is, once I found the right recipe. Once again Betsy Oppenneer comes through with her pizza dough recipe. I love this recipe because I can make 4 12" pizza crust, prebake them, and freeze 2 of them for later. Really is nice in a pinch when time is short. And depending on what you like on your pizzas, this can be a very inexpensive meal, maybe even for a $5 Friday meal.

As far as preparations, you'll need about 1.5 - 2 hours to make the dough. I like to prebake the crust since I like my crusts crunchy and I can also freeze what doesn't get used.

2 (1/4 oz each) packages of active dry yeast (2 scant Tbsp)
2 1/2 C warm water (105-115 degrees F)
2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp sugar
2 Tbsp olive oil
5 1/2 - 6 1/2 C unbleached all purpose flour


In a large bowl, soften the yeast in the water.

Add the salt, sugar, oil and 3 cups of flour. Beat vigorously with a dough whisk or heavy-handled spoon for 2 minutes.

Gradually add more of the remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until the dough forms a mass and begins to pull away from the side of the bowl. Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface.

Knead the dough for about 8 to 10 minutes, adding a little flour at a time as needed to prevent sticking. The dough is ready when it becomes smooth, elastic and blisters begin to develop on the surface.

Put the dough into a lightly oiled bowl. Turn to coat the entire ball of dough with oil. Cover the bowl with a tightly woven towel or plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm spot for about 1 hour or until doubled in size.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly oiled work surface. Divide the dough into 4 equal parts. Each part will make 1 12" round and 3/8" thick pizza. You can divide the dough however you like if you like deep dish, really thin crust, or undivided, which will make a 1 13x18" rectangular pizza that's about 1" thick.

Pat the dough into shape with your fingers and heel of your hand. I like to shape on top of a piece of parchment paper lightly oiled. I find this to be the easiest way to get the dough onto the pizza stone. It makes for easy removal too. No need for a pizza peel.

Cover the dough with a kitchen towel and let it rest for 20 minutes. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. (I've gone as short as 10 minutes and had no problems.)

Just before baking, prick the dough in several places with a fork. Put the crust directly on the pizza stone. If you don't have a pizza stone, you can place the dough on a well-greased baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes. Check at the 5 minute mark for bubbles. If there are bubbles, use a clean towel to push the air out of the bubbles. At 10 minutes, the crust should be slightly firm and pale. Remove immediately to a cooling rack.

You can start building your pizza! Depending on what the toppings are, the general rule of thumb is to bake for 10 minutes. I bake mine at 450 degrees for 10 minutes. I recommend starting there and then adjusting the temperature and the time to get the perfect crust browning and to cook the topping. For deep-dish pizza, bake for 15-18 minutes.

If you are freezing the crust, make sure the crust is completely cooled. Wrap with plastic wrap and then foil. Will keep in the refrigerator for several months. When you want pizza, just take it out of the freezer, add your toppings and bake in a preheated 450 degrees oven for 10 minutes. No need to thaw the crust! How easy is that?

The pizza in the picture above had a simple tomato sauce, shredded mozzarella cheese, onions, mushrooms, spicy Italian sausage (precooked), and pepperoni. Yum!

Hope everyone is having a great weekend. Now go and eat well.

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Jeong Won Korean BBQ - Revisit

To kind of celebrate the holidays with some friends from work, we decided to have lunch at Jeong Won Korean BBQ yesterday. Ms. L and Mr. S were with me the first time in May. And since Ms. L and I noticed some differences between the 2 visits, I thought it was worth mentioning.

We also brought along Mr. T (no fool, not that Mr. T!). We got there a little after 11 am, the first customers of the day through the door. A very pleasant lady brought our menus and another very pleasant lady took our drink order. The first thing I noticed was that the menu has changed for the AYCE section. (Sorry, forgot my camera at home and had to use my Blackberry to take this photo.)

First off, it's now $19.85 per person (up $2 since May). And vegetable and seafood combos have been added. Notice the hours of operation on the right side. Happy hour starts at 11 am Monday through Friday! That means lunch hour discounts! Also, senior discounts and kids prices have been added. I did find the age of the kids price interesting. What about kids under the age of 6?

We ordered the galbi, boolgogi (bulgogi), dak gooi, and saewoo gooi to start (these spellings are throwing me off). They left one of the menus for us for re-order (nice!). Soon the panchan came. Not too different from the ones I remember from back in May. Then came the meat entries. Right off the bat, I noticed the much smaller plate, like the size of a small dinner salad. Hmm, might be a problem if they are slow on re-ordering of meat but we'll see. What I was really happy to see is that the galbi had actual ribs on them! This might be a not-so-good thing for those who just want the meat but for me, I like the taste of galbi with the bones. Well, because I'm a bone picker (sounds kind of weird now that I think about it). I also noticed that the marinade for the bulgogi and the galbi were on the darker side.

The young lady who served us was very nice and gave extra guidance to the guys. They did look a little perplexed, actually (hehe). Ms. L thought everything was better than the first time we were there. I definitely think the galbi had much better flavor although a bit on the sweet side.

The service was great. The servers changed out our grill plate 3 times. One of them suggested trying the beef brisket. It was good but our favorites were still the bulgogi and galbi. We also tried the squid and it was okay but liked the shrimp better. We were all pretty full by the end, although one of the servers thought we hadn't nearly enough and said there was still plenty of food in the back. Ha! But we were all pretty stuffed by then.

They still offer the free soft serve and juice, although the soft serve machine was on the blink yesterday. So overall, everyone really enjoyed the meal. I've read some reviews in the past month how the quality has gone down but we didn't find that to be the case on our visit. Mr. T even said he wanted to bring his wife for dinner.

Jeong Won Korean BBQ
4690 Convoy St., #104
San Diego, CA 92111
Hours: Sun-Sat 11:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m.
Happy Hour $16.85: Mon-Fri 11:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.; 9:00 p.m-12:00 a.m.
Senior Discount $16.85 anytime
Kids Discount (6-9 years old) $8.85

Hope everyone isn't going too crazy with holiday shopping. And remember, always stop to eat well to keep your energy up!

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Monday, December 8, 2008

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Pearl Harbor

Growing up in Hawaii, specifically on Oahu, December 7 was always a day of remembrance. I couldn't tell you how many times I've been to the USS Arizona Memorial, well into the teens. But even now, I still can't help feeling all sorts of emotions whenever I visit the Memorial. I took the above picture on the USS Arizona Memorial during one of my visits in 2006. It is one of my favorite pictures.

Here is another one of the Memorial from a different angle. You might notice that the flag was at half-mast. It was because I took this picture on Sept. 19, 2001, just 8 days after Sept. 11. Our plane tickets to Honolulu was scheduled for Sept. 12. Yup. Flights were cancelled and TBD as to when the airlines were going to resume flights. Although we lost our vacation enthusiasm (among other things), after some discussion, we decided to reschedule our flight as soon as possible, which was 4 days later. Fundamentally, the terrorists attacked our nation, our way of living, our believes, and our freedom. We felt at the time that it was best to continue on with our plans and that it was our way of giving the terrorists (how ever small) the Mainland Shaka (aka the Bird). That was also the year we purchased one of the flags that was flown on the Memorial. Quite fitting, I thought.

It's been kind of a military-themed week for me. Yesterday I attended a Change of Command Ceremony on the Midway. The tourists visiting yesterday certainly got their money's worth! While waiting for the ceremony to start, I had quite a few tourists ask me about the event. Not too many people outside the military gets a chance to see this time honored tradition. I've been lucky to have attended my first one in Hawaii last year. That one was held on the USS Missouri. Both ceremonies had Admirals as guest speakers (very cool!) and I enjoyed them both.

And today, as I like to do every year, pay homage to those who serve this country, those who stand in harms way to protect us and what our great nation stands for. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

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Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Tuesday Ramblings

I've already gotten several emails asking for Christmas dinner suggestions. Of course if you're not all turkey'ed out by then, consider a turducken, or a brined or fried turkey. For me, I'll be doing my usual standing rib roast, I think. And if you've been following along, I had promised the Mister to get a turducken if he still wants it. He hasn't made up his mind yet but I have a feeling he's a bit turkey'ed out. But we'll see. So what was my point? Oh yeah, Christmas dinner suggestions.

My MIL has bought honey roasted ham a couple of times before but since none of us are huge ham fans (except for me in sandwich form), we don't have this too often. It's never crossed my mind to make ham (do people actually make ham??) but I suppose that's an option. It's an easy one too if you buy it.

We've also had Chinese roast duck too, and I love it when we do this! Less work for me and I just love Chinese roast duck! (Dagnammit, now I'm craving roast duck) We usually buy 2 ducks (sometimes 3 so there's leftovers for everyone). As far as trimmings, I make brown rice, a veggie dish, some char siu (Chinese BBQ pork), and King's Hawaiian Bread. Very easy, very delicious.

Now if you want to do something different and make a family event out of "making" Christmas dinner, how about making tamales? You can read all about the tamale's symbolism from Ed's (mmm-yoso) post here. I'm the only one that likes (loves!) tamales, so to go through the effort (aka sweat and pain) to make these and then be the only one to eat them wouldn't be worthwhile. I would be happy but no one else would be.

Or, how about some Chinese water dumplings (shui jiao)? Or even Chinese hot pot (or Japanese shabu shabu)?

Or how about a themed potluck? Kind of like Iron chef. A friend of mine was thinking of doing this last year but chickened out. She wanted to pick a "not-so-secret" ingredient and every family member had to make something using it. Sounds fun and certainly adventurous.

Those are all the things my poor brain can come up with for now. Feel free to add your suggestions.

Have a good week. Now go and eat well.

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Saturday, November 29, 2008

Winner, Winner, Turkey Dinner!

Well, Thanksgiving has past and I'm thankful that I didn't gain 10 pounds the day after! Just a quick report on the fried turkeys. We ended up frying two 12 lb turkeys, one was an organic turkey from Costco and the other, my usual and dependable Butterball. Both cost around the same price, I think.

The turkey in the back is the organic with a Cajun rub. The front is the Butterball with a salt, ground pepper, paprika and Thyme rub.

I forgot to take a picture of the Butterball because by the second fry, we were all starving and and I was working hard to get everything else on the table. But here's the organic and the Butterball looked similar.

Results: both were fried for the exact recommended amount of time (as per instructions) but the Butterball was by far the better turkey. The organic turkey's breast was dry and the drumsticks were just so-so, and the rub didn't penetrate the meat as much. The Butterball was moist and tender with great flavor, just like what I've read a fried turkey should taste like. Lesson learned. Now I know why I stick to Butterballs every year. Thank goodness we got the Butterball or else we would have been sorely dissapointed with frying.

Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving!

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

Wishing everyone a wonderful and tasty Thanksgiving! Hope everyone eats well.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Tuesday Ramblings

I'm cleaning up some old pictures on my Blackberry today so just a few ramblings on a couple of places I've eaten in the last week.

When the weather stays cool and even dreary like today, it's hard for me not to think of noodles everyday. Yesterday, I met some friends at Santouka Ramen for a quick bite to eat. These are the same friends who I used to meet at Chopstix at least twice a month for ramen (or katsu curry) fixes. But we haven't done that for a long time. Apparently, a couple of them have made Santouka their new lunchtime stomping grounds. All 5 of us ordered the shoyu ramen. I should have followed suit and ordered the large bowl because by an hour later, I was hungry again.

The broth on this day was very good and very hot, almost burned my tongue. The meat was very tender and I enjoyed all 3 pieces of it! The ramen was cooked al dente, just the way I liked it and I really enjoyed the pull to it. All in all, a good bowl of ramen. You can read about Kirk's (mmm-yoso) meals here and here.

Santouka Ramen
4240 Kearny Mesa Rd
(Mitsuwa Marketplace Food Court)
San Diego, CA 92111

Another place that I wanted to mention is Caliente Mexican Food. It was my first visit and stopped by for lunch at the invitation of a friend (one of the Ramen boys). Caliente is one of those local small Mexican eateries that draw a lot of business from the surrounding business buildings. I used to drive by all the time but just never stopped in for a bite to eat. Mainly because I end up at Primo's on Mira Mesa. But that's another post.

Caliente offers daily specials at a decent price. On this day, one of the daily specials was 2 carni asada tacos with rice, beans and a soda for about $6. Can't beat that.

Sorry the shot of the inside is a bit blurry but you can see the guacamole (those premade kind, a bit watery) and the salsa. The tacos were decent size and the meat was a little bland but nothing a good douse of hot sauce won't cure!
The only thing about Caliente is that it takes a while to get your food from the time of order, and this is before the lunch crowd rushes in. By the time we left, there was a huge line out the door and most of the tables (only outside seating) were taken. Get there before noon to avoid the lunch rush.

Caliente Mexican Food
11815 Sorrento Valley Road #F
between Carmel Mountain Rd & Industrial Ct)
San Diego, CA 92121
858) 259-9579

That's it on this dreary Tuesday. I hope everyone has a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday!! Now go and eat well.

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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Thinking about Thanksgiving

So it's Sunday morning, I'm sitting at the computer with a cup of coffee and a Spam musubi I made yesterday (breakfast of champions!) and all I can think about is the Thanksgiving meal coming up. About a month ago, the Mister, without any provocation from me, blurted out, "I want a turducken for Thanksgiving." I knew he meant business just from his tone. Hoo boy. This is not the first time he's mentioned it before but for some reason, my heart started pounding and all I can think of was how the heck am I going to do this right?

I immediately began my search for a place to order one since I've already researched how to make one last year and wasn't sure I wanted to go that route. Turduckens are a bit expensive, whether you order one or make your own. Granted it's not that much more expensive than getting an organic free-range turkey but the shipping cost if ordering by mail does add up.

I also started to read some reviews on Chow and other food forums and to my surprise, a good number of people didn't care for turduckens, some said it was okay but nothing special. Nothing special? I'm going to pay $130 for a nothing special meal?? Hmmm, let's rethink before I commit. Up to now, I have yet to commit to the Mister, just said I'll look into it, hehe.

I calculated I could make one for about $50-60, including 3 different stuffings. But I would have to start at least 48 hours before dinner to complete this task. Still, no guarantee that we would like it. I mean I think anything with duck would taste wonderful (ahhh, roast duck!) but those "nothing special" comments kept haunting my thoughts. And have you ever had those moments where the more you thought about something the more you talked yourself out of it? Yeah, I was there.

Time for a little chat with the Mister. I told him I was not so worried about the "nothing special" comments but the fact that I won't be off work before Thanksgiving and that it will take some time (bought or homemade) to cook that sucker. And for something this labor intensive, I don't want to be rushed. If I was off that whole week, it would be a different story.

I suggested we (I) try our (my) hands at frying a turkey instead. He agreed. Then I felt bad because I know he had his heart set on it. He even said he would still like to try one someday. So I offered that if he still wants one come Christmas, I'll make one since I'll be off for 2 weeks. The deal was struck.

Oops, now I had to figure out how to fry a turkey without blowing myself up. Ironically, a perfect example of going from the frying pan into the fire. After more research and watching some funny (and very scary) videos on YouTube of stupid people frying turkeys, I decided to order an electric turkey fryer from Masterbuilt. It should be here tomorrow. And the turkey is in the refrigerator, thawing (and a second one in the freezer ready to be thawed).

So after my not-so-short story, here's the menu for Thanksgiving (whew, anyone still awake out there??):
  • Fried turkey (or 2)
  • Rustic Rolls (made yesterday and in the freezer)
  • Red potato and sweet onions
  • Candied sweet potatoes (making on Wednesday)
  • Cranberry dressing
  • Pumpkin Pie (making the pie crust today and freezing)
  • Chestnut stuffing (the MIL will be making this)
  • Sauteed green beans (MIL, too)

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that I'm planning on making some torpedos using the French bread recipe on Friday for leftover turkey sandwiches!

So what's your Thanksgiving plan?

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Friday, November 21, 2008

Lucky Pho'

After my so-so pho experience at Kim's Vietnamese Chinese Restaurant, I was jonesing for a really good bowl of pho. Kirk (mmm-yoso) really enjoys the pho at Lucky Pho (read his review here), so I decided it was finally time to try it. Hey, Kirk hasn't steered me wrong yet (and a few hundred, maybe even thousands, of other San Diegans). With my friend, L, in tow, we headed over for lunch last week.

I've shopped at Lucky Seafood Supermarket many times but never eaten in the adjoining restaurant. And it dawned on me that I rarely eat at any "adjoining" type of establishments. Most likely some subconcious idiosyncrasy I got from my mom (I have a few of those!). She believed the food to be subpar from a "real" restaurant. Why? I never bothered to ask. But I had no trepedations about trying Lucky Pho. As a matter of fact, L and I were quite eager.

The restaurant was clean, less than half full when we got there around 11:15 am. We were greeted by a pleasant young man who escorted us to our table and gave us menus. L decided on a bowl of rare steak and medium flank and me the rare steak and tendon, our modus operandi. Shortly after, our bowls came. We noticed right off what Kirk described as a beefy broth. I immediately took a sip and sighed a happy "ahhhhhh." L agreed that this was the best broth that we've had. Rich, beefy, good depth, and nicely seasoned. It was so good, I didn't add anything else to it so I can enjoy all its richness as is.

This is my bowl. You can still see a bit of rare in one of the pieces, and the tendons were incredibly good. When I first picked up a piece of steak, I was a bit worried it might be tough because it was thicker than those in other pho places. But was I wrong. These steak and flank were the most tender we've had. And there was lots of it.

Okay, so all the add-ins are great. Moment of truth -- the noodles. After breaking it apart (the typical lump of noodles), I had my first bite. Ahhh, al dente, cooked just right. It had good pull just like Kirk described. Wonderful! Exactly what I was craving. L and I kept making "mmm-mmm-mmm" sounds as we finished our bowls. There was no doubt that these were the best bowls of pho we've had. As a matter of fact, we enjoyed it so much, we're going back today.

Thanks, Kirk, as usual.

Lucky Pho (next to Lucky Seafood Supermarket)
9326 Mira Mesa Blvd.
San Diego, CA 92126
(858) 586-7979
Hours: Mon-Sun. 7:00 a.m. - 10:00 p.m.

Have a wonderful weekend everyone! Now go and eat well.

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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Red Velvet Cake

I have a couple of friends who love red velvet cake. They get all giddy just at the mention of it. After all the drooling stopped, they asked (insisted was more like it) if I would make one with cream cheese frosting. I've never made it before so once again, I was on the hunt for a good recipe. I settled on Emeril Lagasse's "Sylvia" recipe because I wanted a butter recipe and not a traditional shortening recipe. I just prefer butter cakes.

I also took this opportunity to try a homemade marshmallow fondant (MMF) recipe. Why not? Could be great, could be disastrous. I was up to the challenge because I too like to live dangerously! My plan, 2 smaller cakes, one with cream cheese frosting and the other one with buttercream and fondant.

The MMF cake turned out pretty good for my first fondant cake ever. I used only a touch of a red gel color, trying to achieve a pink marble look on the band and the dots. The taste of the MMF is quite sweet but it was good, certainly better than some premade fondants out there (that Wilton stuff tastes awful!). With the MMF being so sweet, I probably could have even gone thinner on the rolling. Next time.

Here's anther picture of the buttercream and fondant version.

Here is the cream cheese version and you can see how red it is inside. I think if I used 2 oz, the red would have been deeper.

Between the two, I liked the buttercream best. The Mister liked the cream cheese. I think I would have liked it better with my own cream cheese frosting recipe, but next time. Friends split down the middle as to which they liked best.

Here's the recipe for the cream cheese version.

Cake Ingredients:
2 1/2 cups cake flour
2 teaspoons cocoa powder (Dutch processed recommended)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
2 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 - 2 ounces red food coloring
1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Frosting Ingredients:
1 (8 oz) package cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened (I prefer LAND O LAKES)
2 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Grease and flour two 9-inch cake pans. I added parchment paper to the bottom of the pan and greased with butter. To avoid white powdery look on the finished cake, I used cocoa powder to dust the pans instead. Worked great.

In a medium bowl, sift together flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, on medium-high speed cream together sugar and butter, about 2 minutes. Beat in eggs, 1 at a time. Reduce speed and alternatively beat in the flour mixture and buttermilk (1/3 flour, 1/2 buttermilk, 1/3 flour, 1/2 butter milk, 1/3 flour). Scrape down sides of bowl as needed. Add food coloring and vinegar, mix well. Beat in vanilla.

Divide the batter evenly in the pans. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Check it early because you don't want the cakes to over bake. That would lead to dry cakes and not very tasty.

Cool the cakes in the pans on a cooling rack for 10 minutes. Turn out the cakes onto the rack to complete cooling. While the cakes are cooling, prepare the frosting.

For the Frosting:

In a large bowl, combine the cream cheese and butter. Beat in confectioners' sugar until fluffy. Beat in vanilla. Use as the cake filling and frosting if desired.

Once the cakes have completely cooled (about 1 hour or so), fill and frost.

I crumb-coated both cakes and let sit in the refrigerator for 20 minutes. I should have let them sit a little longer. By the time I got to the sides, I was struggling a bit with crumbs. But nothing a thick layer of frosting won't cover up!

Have a terrific week. And if you haven't started planning your Thanksgiving dinner yet, maybe I can put the bug in your ear about brining your turkey. Me? I've talked the Mister out of a turducken and we're going to deep fry the turkey this year. Yikes!

Now go and eat well.

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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Spicy Extra Crunchy Fried Chicken

For the past I don't know how many years, I've been searching on-and-off for a fool-proof fried chicken recipe. What I am after is a flavorful (spicy actually), juicy (white and dark meat), crunchy, fairly simple frying recipe. Not too much to ask for, right? Apparently it is. I've tried several recipes and none, so far, has made my toes wiggle. (Your toes wiggle when you eat??) Ha, yeah. That's the latest phrase at the barefoot home. I was eating one of my vanilla-vanilla cupcakes the other day (after a long and stressful work day) and I mumbled on the last bite, "this is so good, it makes my toes wiggle!" And so thus a new measure of good eats has began.

So--I've got chicken fingers and fish & chips recipes that I really like, even getting the Korean fried chicken wings recipe down (which reminds me I need to do an updated post on that recipe). But the perfect fried chicken still eluded me. Until now.

A couple of weeks ago, I was watching an episode of Cook's Country and apparently, they were after the same things as me. How fortuitous for me! By the end of the show, I was so tickled with their method, I started planning on how to make it spicy. I went online to Cook's Country and to my surprise, they had a "spicy" version of their extra crunchy fried chicken! The cooking gods must have been smiling on me that day!

Due to copyright, blah blah blah, you'll need to go to Cook's Country website to get their recipe. You'll need to register (for free) which will give you access to this season's episodes and recipes. But do it before the next season starts or else you'll have to pay for them. To sum up, the chicken parts are brined in buttermilk and table salt for 1 hour for a juicy chicken. The flour was mixed with 6 tablespoon of buttermilk, so the flour becomes lumpy (kind of what the flour looks like at the end of dredging a batch). The chicken pieces are dredged, patting down the flour lumps onto the chicken pieces, then fried starting at 375 degrees F oil temperature, with the lid on. That last part was a bit of a surprise when I first heard it but it makes sense. The oil will drop to about 315 degrees and will stay there for the remainder of the fry time. This will help create even browning.

I followed the recipe exactly because I wanted a good foundation to start. Here are the results (sorry the picture was a little blurry).

You can see how crunchy the outside is. I could tell (hear) I achieved the crunchiness goal when the Mister bit into a drumstick. But was it juicy? The chicken was very juicy, even the breasts (although they were creeping up to the dry side, but a little less fry time would fix that). Okay, but what about the taste? If was very flavorful, best fried chicken I've made to date. The cayenne pepper gave it a nice little kick.

Here it is plated up with a side of All-American Potato Salad. BTW, we didn't care for the potato salad. As an afterthought, I should have cut into one of the pieces and taken a picture to show just how juicy the chicken was.

On a side note, I am lactose intolerant and seem to have a harder time digesting buttermilk, even with lactase pills. My plan is to try brining the chicken in milk and salt (possibly even just a water salt brine), and then using whole milk for the flour crumbles. I'm hoping it'll work just as nice with the milk substitute not only for digestive reasons but milk is something I always have on hand. Good for last minute meal decisions!

Hope y'all have a wonderful weekend. Now go and eat well.

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Kim's Vietnamese & Chinese Restaurant

I finally met up with some friends yesterday for lunch. We ended up at Kim's Vietnamese & Chinese Restaurant in Encinitas but to tell the truth, I was a bit reluctant because of some of the reviews I've read. But I was willing to try due to the "high" recommendation of Kim's pho from one of my friends.

It was a bit of a haul from where I work but luckily, I had a bit of time. I got there around 11:30 am and there was only 1 occupied table. One of my friend, the one who recommended the place, got there just as I did. We chatted and caught up while we waited for the others. Once everyone showed up, it was clear we were all there for pho, well, because of the recommendation. Everyone had the beef pho but I decided on the beef, tendon and tripe pho just to be different.

Not too long after, our pho came out. Other than the difference between the size of a regular and large order, all the contents looked the same. The tripe and tendon in mine were buried beneath the noodles. Sorry the picture is so terrible but we were sitting in the back of the restaurant, which was very dark, and I had to resort to my Blackberry camera with flash. But that table cloth really is pink. As a matter of fact, the whole restaurant is rather pink.

But back to the pho. The tripe was decent but the tendons were tough and hard on the tooth (crunchy), not very flavorful. Our "recommender" was going on about how great the broth was but I've had better. The broth had some spiciness to it that I couldn't put my finger on. But overall, it lacked depth and "beefiness" that I like. One of the eaters gave it a 7.5 out of 10. He thought the broth had good flavor, vegetables were fresh, but thought the beef wasn't as tender as he would like. I agree with the beef. But there was a decent amount of it. Another eater gave the pho 4.5 out of 5! Guess I'm the odd duck out, hehe. His only complaint was that he wished the broth was hotter. Another thing he noticed was that the after taste of pho didn't stay with him the rest of the day.

The side vegetables were the typical, which none of us really touched. I didn't see if there was saw tooth leaves because I was too busy (and hungry). There was a whole lotta cilantro and green onions, a bit too much for my liking. You can see some of the stalks I fished out on the side of the plate. This actually would have been a decent bowl of pho if the noodles weren't a bit overcooked and slightly mushy. But I was the only one who thought the noodles were a bit overcooked. I prefer my noodles a bit al dente with a bit of "tooth" to it. What can I say?

Although the "regular" bowl is bigger than a typical small bowl at other pho shops, at almost $10 (what a large bowl costs elsewhere), I think I'll stick to my usual haunts.

Since none of us had anything else, I can't comment on how good any of the other dishes are. But the menu is very extensive and I'm sure there's got to be at least 1 dish that I would find appealing. But I certainly wouldn't go out of my way to drive all the way back just to find out.

Kim's Vietnamese & Chinese Restaurant
745 S Coast Hwy 101#J
103Encinitas, CA 92023
(760) 942-4816

Postscript: One thing about pho that I've learned over the years is that every pho joint I've been to have good and off days. I've been to Pho Hoa Cali many times at 2 locations, having good and not-as-good meals. Same goes for Bolsa, Pho Ca Dao and a few other places. I haven't figured out why it's good 1 day and not another but the lesson I learned is to pick the places where I've had the most consistent "good" meals. And then throw in a few new places here and there. And with that not-so-mind-boggling insight, now go and eat well.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Happy Veterans Day

I've mentioned the history of Veteran's day here. So for this year's Veterans Day, I thought I'd go a different route. Just a few things we learned as kids growing up in this country, but so little opportunity (at least for most of us) as adults, below are the words to The Pledge of Allegiance, The Star-Spangled Banner, and God Bless America. We can always use a little refresher. And don't forget to thank and hug a Veteran today.

The Pledge of Allegiance

I pledge allegiance to the Flag
of the United States of America,
and to the Republic for which it stands:
one Nation under God, indivisible,
With Liberty and Justice for all.

The Star-Spangled Banner
Composed by Francis Scott Key,
"In Defense of Fort McHenry" in September 1814.
Congress proclaimed it the U.S. National Anthem in 1931

Oh, say, can you see, by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hail'd at the twilight's last gleaming
Whose broad stripes and bright stars, thro' the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watch'd, were so gallantly streaming
And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof thro' the night that our flag was still there.
O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

God Bless America
Words and music by Irving Berlin©
Copyright 1938, 1939 by Irving Berlin©
Copyright Renewed 1965, 1966 by Irving Berlin©
Copyright Assigned to the Trustees of the God Bless America Fund
International Copyright Secured.

"While the storm clouds gather far across the sea,
Let us swear allegiance to a land that's free,
Let us all be grateful for a land so fair,
As we raise our voices in a solemn prayer. "
God Bless America,
Land that I love.
Stand beside her,
and guide her
Thru the night with a light from above.
From the mountains,
to the prairies,
To the oceans,
white with foam
God bless America,
My home sweet home.

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Saturday, November 8, 2008

Spicy Beef Asian Noodles

I'm not exactly sure what to call this dish because it's kind of a butchered version of a dan dan mein (noodles) recipe that I found somewhere that I can't remember (ah, aging, ain't it grand?). That recipe isn't what I would consider classic Sichuan style but it's an acceptable version. But because I've substituted several of the ingredients, I don't feel calling this recipe dan dan mian completely true. So let's just stay with spicy beef noodles.

You can use any kind of Asian noodles, I just so happen to have some fresh packaged Chinese noodles on hand. I do like the thicker noodles in this dish. You can also substitute the sesame paste with peanut butter but I like the taste with sesame paste. The recipe below is for 1 person serving. I double everything when making it for the Mister and me. Also, we like it pretty hot so I usually add more of the chili sauce (the one with the rooster on front) than what the recipe calls for. Adjust heat to your liking.

6 oz of Asian style noodles

1 tablespoon sesame paste (or peanut butter)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
1/4 tsp white or rice vinegar
1/2 tsp chili sauce (can substitute with chili oil)

6 oz of ground beef (you can use ground pork but you'll have to call it Spicy Pork Noodles!)
2 tablespoon chicken broth or water
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon Szechuan soybean paste (or substitute with black bean paste)
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
1 teaspoon chopped green onion
1 teaspoon salad oil (I use canola oil)
1/2 teaspoon chili sauce (or chili oil)
1 teaspoon cornstarch and cold water, mixed

In a wok or pan, heat oil on medium-high and cook meat until done. Add all the topping ingredients, stir and cook for about 1 minute. Add cornstarch slurry and cook for another minute to thicken.

Cook noodles according to package instructions.

In medium pot, add all the broth ingredients and bring to boil. Place the broth in a serving bowl. Add noodles. Add toppings to noodles. Serve hot.

Chopped Szechuan pickles and/or dried small shrimp, and chopped peanuts can also be added on top for an additional twist. Also a quick note that the taste will vary a bit between the Szechuan soybean paste and the black bean paste. The Szechuan soybean paste is on the sweeter side, sometimes used in zha jiang mein. I actually only use miso paste for my version (actually my Mom's version) of zha jiang mein. But that's another post.

Have a wonderful weekend! Now go and eat well.

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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Vanilla-Vanilla Cupcakes

I've really become quite fond of making cupcakes. Well, and eating them too. They are quick to make and easy to eat. A cupcake a day keeps all your blues away (but not your waistline). My favorite is a yellow cupcake with vanilla buttercream frosting, which is also my basic (foundation) yellow cupcake and frosting recipe. The recipes can be modified to make chocolate or several other types of flavors.

I dubed this my Vanilla-Vanilla Cupcakes (or Vanilla Squared Cupcakes) and used vanilla sugar in the batter. Vanilla sugar is easy to make if you have a vanilla bean. Combine the vanilla bean and sugar in a jar with a lid. Close lid and let sit for several days. Sugar will smell and taste (a bit) like vanilla. I try to keep some on hand for baking.

I kind of switch back and forth in the type of flour that I use, depending on the type of cake I want. If you prefer a slightly crumblier type of cake, use only all-purpose flour. If you like more of a cakier, pound cake like texture, substitute 1/2 cup of the flour with cake flour. The recipe below is for the latter. I really enjoy pound cake and find that this vanilla frosting goes very well with the cake. The vanilla frosting is sweet but not overly sweet like many of the ones out there. I have yet to try the recipe with all cake flour.

Makes 12 cupcakes

Cupcake Ingredients:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar (vanilla sugar if you have it)
1 stick (1/2 cup) of unsalted butter, softened (I like to use LAND O LAKES)
2 eggs
1 teaspoon real vanilla extract
1/2 cup milk (I use whole milk)

Vanilla Frosting:
1 stick (1/2 cup) of unsalted butter, softened (I like to use LAND O LAKES)
2 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
1/2 teaspoon real vanilla extract
1 pinch of table salt

Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Note that I actually use 325 degrees because my muffin pan is the non-stick, darker kind. By turning down the oven temp and "maybe" extending the cooking time (just a wee bit) will prevent the cupcakes from getting a little too dark on the bottom and sides. Keep them light and tender!

In a bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt.

Beat sugar and butter on medium speed until creamy, scraping bowl occasionally to ensure thorough mixing. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each one. Add vanilla. Reduce speed to slow and alternately add flour mixture and then the milk, mixing after each addition. I add 1/3 of the flour mixture and mix, followed by half of the milk and mix, then anther 1/3 flour mixture and mix, then the remaining milk and mix, and finally the remaining flour mixture and mix just until everything is incorporated. (Did you get all that?) Don't over beat the batter or the cupcakes can get tough. Scraping down the sides of bowl down as needed will help. Remember, keep them light and tender!

Divide batter into prepared muffin cups, filling about 3/4th full. Bake until the cupcakes are lightly golden on top and a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean. This will be about 18-20 minutes. If baking at the lower temperature, I still recommend checking the cupcakes around 18 minutes but it usually takes 20 minutes in my oven in my pan.

Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool for 5 minutes. Then transfer the cupcakes to the rack and cool completely. You can use a butter knife to help get the cupcakes out of the pan. Cooling can take anywhere from 30-60 minutes.

Prepare the frosting while the cupcakes are cooling. Put the butter in a bowl and beat on medium-high speed until the butter is creamy and pale in color. This may take up to 2 minutes. Reduce the speed to medium and add the sugar, 1/2 cup at a time. Mix well after each addition, scraping the bowl as needed. Add vanilla and salt. Increase mixer speed to medium-high and beat until smooth, for about 1 minute.

Frost the cupcakes. I like to use an open flower tip to create various decorations just because I suck at frosting with a small offset spatula. I also don't mind too much on cleaning. I'm still practicing with other type of tips, too, just for the fun of it.

Frosted cupcakes can be kept in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Now go and eat well.

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Monday, November 3, 2008

French Bread (Baguettes)

Hope everyone had a great Halloween. To counter all that candy and chocolate, here's another bread recipe that I made this weekend. It's a simple French Bread recipe from Betsy Oppenneer's The Bread Book. Oppenneer called it French "style" because authentic French bread is made from French-milled flour that creates a lighter loaf. Whatever because these are light enough for me.

See all those holes? Pretty light. And the crust was just crusty enough but not as thick or hard on a tooth like rustic breads can be. Using a steam pan really does the trick to develop a beautiful crust and easy enough for a beginner home baker like me.

I made 4 loaves of baguettes on Saturday and there's only a half loaf left this morning. We had them plain with butter, toasted with butter, for breakfast with over easy eggs, toasted with Chopped Liver, toasted and grounded to make bread crumbs for meatloaf, and toasted for leftover meatloaf sandwiches. Mmm-mmm-mmm.

As with most basic yeast bread recipes, this one took time, a little more time than some. This particular recipe used cool water and longer than usual rising time to build more flavor and the airy texture that a good french loaf should have.

You might think 4 loaves is a lot but these are smaller than those you find at stores, only about 14" long each. But they keep well wrapped up and retoasts nicely.

I used a baguette pan for 3 of the loaves (because it only holds 3 loaves) and then 1 on a baking sheet. To my surprise, the one on the baking sheet crusted up better than the baguette pan's. The top crusts were pretty much the same, but it was the bottom crusts where the difference was. The pan produced almost a par-baked bottom. I think the reason is because the bottom of the pan is perforated and sat right above the steam pan. I ended up rebaking the loaves upside down for another 10 minutes on the baking sheet and it crisped up nicely. Kind of like the par-baked breads from the store, except that the loaves were completed cooked through and are much lighter and airy. And IMHO, much better tasting. Now I'm completely spoiled.

The other difference in using the baguette pan was that the loaves proofed into very nice rounder loaves, like what store bought baguettes looked. I liked the looks of the loaves but tastes were the same as the one baked on the baking sheet.

I think the next time I make these (and I will soon), I'll still use the baguette pan but will also add my pizza stone on the bottom to see if that helps with the bottom crust. I also think I will try preheating the oven at 450 degrees F instead of the recipe's 425 degrees. From everything that I've read, a higher temperature when first inserting the loaves is key to rise and crust formation.
I decided to use the stand mixer to do the initial mixing since that is much easier on the arm. I sort of followed Oppenneer's recommendations and I think I finally have it figured out. The recipe below is for initial mixing with a stand mixer. If you want to do this manually, you might want to read what I did with the basic white bread recipe.

1 package (1/4 oz) or 1 scant Tbsp active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water (105-115 degrees F)
2 cups cool water (45-55 degrees F)
5 1/2 - 6 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tsp salt
Cornmeal (if using baguette loaf pan)

Using a large bowl (or stand mixer bowl), soften the yeast in the warm water.

Add salt to bowl. Use the paddle attachment for this step (NOT the dough hook). On medium speed (#4), add 3 1/2 cups of the flour, about 1/4 to 1/2 cup at a time to prevent flour from getting everywhere. After the flour is incorporated, beat for 2 minutes. The dough will still be fairly sticky at this point but it's ready for kneading.

On a well-floured work surface, turn out the dough, using a dough scraper if needed. Flour your hands and the dough surface really well and start kneading. Add a little bit of flour as needed to prevent sticking, for 8 to 10 minutes. I ended up adding almost another cup of flour but how much will depend on each particular situation.

Use a dough scraper to scrape the dough if it sticks. The dough is ready when it's smooth, elastic, and you see blisters (small bubbles beneath the surface) on the surface.

Put the dough in an oiled bowl and turn to coat the entire ball. Cover with a tightly woven kitchen towel or cover with plastic. Let rise in a cool place (about 60 degrees F) for about 3 hours or until triple in size. Since the house was on the comfortable side (about 73 degrees) that morning, I had to find a place where it was a bit cooler, I chose a spot on the floor tile, in the corner of the living room.

I checked on it after an hour and it seems to be rising a little bit faster than it suppose to. So I put the bowl on the top shelf of the refrigerator for 30 minutes to slow things down a bit. I then placed the bowl back in the corner on the tile floor for another hour. By then, it looked like it was ready to flow out of the bowl so I put the bowl back into the fridge for the remaining 30 minutes.
Prepare the baguette pans by oiling and sprinkling with corn meal. If using a baking sheet, oil the baking sheet, no corn meal.

Turn the dough out on a lightly oiled work surface. Divide the dough into quarters. Roll out each piece into an 8 x 10 oval and then fold it lengthwise in thirds. Flour the rolling pin to prevent sticking. Use the side of your hand to make a lengthwise crease down the center. Fold it in half and pinch the seams closed. Make sure you pinch the seams hard enough to keep it closed. Taper the ends a bit. This and the folding will help develop the skin on the dough that is crucial for good final crust formation.

Starting in the middle, use flat palms to gently roll the dough back and forth to form a even 14" cylinder. Try to make the cylinder about the same thickness its entire length. But if it's a bit off, don't worry about it. Close is good enough.

Repeat this with the remaining 3 pieces of dough. Put the loaves seam side down on the prepared pan or baking sheet. Cover with a towel and let rise at room temperature for 40 minutes.

While the loaves are in their final proofing, preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Place a shallow pan on the lower shelf of the oven. I used the bottom of an old roasting pan.

Shortly before baking, make diagonal slashes in the loaves, about 2" apart and about 1/4" deep. I like my slashes to be just a bit deeper, about 1/2". I think it's prettier that way. Use a sharp serrated knife.

Lightly (very lightly) brush the top of the loaves with cold water and let sit uncovered for 5 minutes. Brush with cold water again just before putting into the oven.

Heat up 2 cups of water, doesn't need to be boiling, just hot.

Place the loaves into the oven. Carefully and gently (but quickly) pour the hot water into the preheated pan on the bottom shelf (see warning below about steam). Be careful of the hot steam, keep your head back. Close the oven door immediately to trap the steam. Bake for 18-20 minutes or until they pull slightly from the pan and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.
The internal temperature should be 200 degrees F.

Remove from pans immediately and cool on racks.

WARNING: I have read on a couple of bread sites that some home ovens have problems when using the steam method. Apparently some of the newer electric ovens are shutting off due to the extra steam. So please read your owner manuals and/or contact your oven manufacturer if you have any doubts before trying this or voiding your warranty. I have a very old basic oven with no electronic brain to screw up and found no ill-effect of the steam.

That's it. If this is too many loaves for you to eat, share it with friends and family. Receiving home baked items made with care and love is one of the nicest things in the world, IMO. Now go and eat well.

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Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloweeen!

Have a creepy and ghoulish Halloween, everyone!

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Monday, October 27, 2008

Basic White Bread

I've been a baking fool lately. Blame it on the baguette and sourdough. With my so-so result with the sourdough bread the last go around, I thought I'd abandon all mixer and do the next batch of loaves all by hand. Yup, all by hand. I thought handling the dough from beginning to end will give me a better feel for the white bread since this was my first attempt at white "sandwich" bread.

Since I've had good luck with Betsy Oppenneer's recipes, I decided to try her basic white bread recipe. Results? Wonderful! I hadn't had white sandwich bread since I craved a rousong sandwich on Wonder Bread over a year ago. I wish I had some rousong now! Anyway, on to the recipe.


2 (1/4 oz each) packages active dry yeast
2 1/2 cups of warm water (105 to 115 degrees F)
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
2 Tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoon salt
5 1/2 to 6 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

Using a large bowl, soften the yeast in the warm water. Add oil, sugar, salt, and 3 cups of the flour. I mixed about 1/2 cup at a time to help with the manual mixing. Beat vigorously with a dough whisk or a heavy-handled wooden spoon for 2 minutes. Make sure the wooden spoon is a sturdy one for risk of breakage.

If you have a dough whisk, this part will be much easier with one. I don't have one but I do have a cheapo Whisk Magic that I got for free and it's doing a pretty good job as a stand-in. You've seen those Whisk Magic flat whisk infomercials that touts its 5-in-1 use, or something like that.

Add remaining flour, 1/4 cup at a time, until the goop forms a mass and begins to pull away from the side of the bowl or you can no longer mix with the whisk or spoon. I was able to incorporate about 5 cups of the flour before my arms became really tired. If it's really sticky, make sure you flour your work surface and your hands really well.

Turn dough out on the floured work surface. Knead, adding a little bit of flour as needed to prevent sticking, for 8 to 10 minutes. Try to use as little as necessary. Use a dough scraper to scrape the dough if it sticks. If you don't have one, a spatula can help. The dough is ready when it's smooth, elastic, and you see blisters (small bubbles beneath the surface) on the surface.

Put the dough in an oiled bowl and turn to coat the entire ball. Cover with a tightly woven kitchen towel or cover with plastic. Put it somewhere warm with no drafts and let rise for about 1 hour or until doubled in size.

Turn the dough out on a lightly oiled work surface. I use my cookie sheet. I find that the surface is easier to oil than a wooden board. Divide the dough in half. How to describe folding a sandwich loaf can be hard so I'll try my best. I searched YouTube for some videos and there are all sorts of variations to do this. So pick one that works well for you. Here's what I did.

With one of the cut sections of dough, use your fingers to gently press the dough into a rectangle, about 10 x 14 inches. With the short side facing you, fold the right side to about 1/3 over. Then fold the left side about 1/3 over, overlapping the folded right side. Fold the top over in half to the bottom. Take the bottom and roll up into a tight cylinder, carefully to keep the surface tight but not broken. Gently shape into a roll. Pinch the seam to seal and the ends to seal them. I tuck the ends over onto the seam to give a better finish. Repeat with the other half of the dough.

Place both loaves pinched-side down (seam side down), into well-seasoned loaf pans. I used canola oil in 9x5 loaf pans.

Cover with a towel and let rise until almost doubled. It took about 55 minutes for mine.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Just before putting the loaf pans into the oven, I made a slash with my serrated knife on top of each loaf. I thought it would be pretty this way.

Bake for 30 minutes, or until the internal temperature of the bread reaches 190 degrees F.

Remove immediately from pans and onto cooling racks. This will prevent the crust from getting soggy. Let the loaves cool before cutting. Or if you rather just rip into the warm, delicious loaf, go ahead.

Here's what the slice of bread looked like after I let them cool for about an hour. Notice all the air holes, airy, soft, tender, and very tasty. The crust was light and for once, I actually ate the but of a sandwich loaf. Yummy.

Mmmm, it tasted wondeful toasted with peanut butter on it. I bet it's great with PB & J. You can sort of see the folding pattern in the sliced piece. Next time I'll try to dust off the flour as much as possible when I'm doing the final folding.

Have a wonderful week. Now go and eat well.

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Friday, October 24, 2008

First Sourdough Loaf Attempt

I received my live sourdough starter last Friday from Breadtopia and I have been feeding it for the past week. I highly recommend getting a sourdough starter to anyone who don't want to attempt making his own. I love the smell and power of the starter from Breadtopia. It started to bubble within a few hours after the first feeding. So no question that it's very active.

I've been looking through recipes trying to decide which one as my first. I decided on Betsy Oppenneer's basic sourdough recipe that uses sourdough starter and a sponge. So after getting home from work yesterday, my sponge had been bubbling for about 24 hours, just waiting to blossom into bread.

I also decided to do the kneading not by hand but rather with a Kitchenaid Pro 600 mixer. Some of you are asking right now, hey, don't you already have a stand mixer? You are correct! I do have the Bosch mixer but after a year, there are a couple of things that convinced me that I also needed, well, still wanted a Kitchenaid mixer. The price has gone down dramatically (a huge deciding factor since I got an outstanding deal on it), and Kitchenaid has switched back to an all metal chasis house, which was the primary cause of all those motor burn-outs. (Yes, I took apart my mixer to see if mine had the metal chasis, and it did. whew.) Another reason is that a Kitchenaid mixer is much easier to use for certain types of batter and what nots, has a narrower footprint so I can leave it on the counter without sacraficing too much space.

Anyway, back to bread. I wanted to test out the Pro 600 motor although I knew it wouldn't even come close to the Bosch's 800 wt power. Sure enough, I could already hear it struggling a bit with the dough. Conclusion, I won't be using the Pro 600 to kneading any kind of stiff dough like bread, it's not what I bought it for anyway. I'll save that for the Bosch! Besides, I'm convinced that hand kneading yeast dough produces the best results.

The resulting loaves were a bit disappointing, to my standards. I wasn't expecting great results primarily based on Oppenneer's comments with using stand mixer instructions. But I wanted to try anyway. The 2 things going against me was that the Kitchenaid did the kneading and I ran out of unbleached flour half way through. These 2 reasons contributed to a much denser loaf than I like. But the taste was wonderful and I got a little practice on using a pizza stone.

So I'll be off to the grocery store tomorrow morning to stock up on unbleached all-purpose flour and some more bread flour. I'm going to attempt to make the no-knead sourdough this weekend so stay tuned.

Have a wonderful weekend. Now go and eat well.

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Water Fountain

Someone at work sent this video to me. Very very cool!

Anyone know how to read kanji backwards?

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

50 Dark Movies, Hidden In A Painting

To help people get into the spirit of Halloween, M&M's has provided a very fun game that you can play. Well, it's fun if you like movies, dark movies to be specific. It's a painting that has 50 movie titles hidden within. Each title has a picture clue, some obvious, some not so much. But still fun. I knew all the movies, seen all of them except 6. So nothing too obscure. Just a small hint, some of these movies were also TV shows.

It took me about 30 minutes, with some minor interruptions. The majority only took about 15 minutes. It was the last 15 that took the most time. Some of them hurt my brain because the clues were so obvious and tricky. Try talking through them. And have fun!

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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Cinnamon Rolls with Cream Cheese Icing

I have a love-hate relationship with cinnamon rolls, that is if it's even possible to have a relationship with a food item. I love cinnamon rolls but hate the time-intense home baked ones. Don't misunderstand me, it's not hard to make cinnamon rolls, it just takes time. But every now and then (or once a decade), on a lazy Sunday morning, I actually feel like making them. My last batch of homemade cinnamon rolls were made from a recipe that came with the original Breadman bread machine. Come to think of it, cinnamon roll dough was the last thing that machine ever churned out. Then it was packed in its box, moved to a new house, then sat in a closet for nearly 5 years before it was donated to charity. Oh well, I wasn't a big fan of that bread machine anyway.

Although I have several recipes for cinnamon rolls, I wanted just a simple one that didn't have nuts and didn't require anything I didn't have on hand. Well, Mr. Alton Brown came to the rescue. His Overnight Cinnamon Rolls recipe looked easy and simple enough for me to adjust to "same-day" cinnamon rolls (hehe).

I substituted a couple of things on the recipe, whole milk instead of buttermilk, and dry active yeast instead of instant dry yeast. No big issues here. Amount of ingredients did not change. So just print out AB's recipe and follow along.


For the dough, I heated 1/4 cup of the milk (between 105 to 115 degrees F) and added the yeast to soften it. I used a stand mixer with the whisk attachment to whisk the egg yolks, whole egg, sugar, butter, and the rest of the milk. Add approximately 2 cups of the flour along with the yeast mixture and salt; whisk until moistened and combined. I then switched to dough hook, added all but 3/4 cup of the remaining flour and knead on low speed for 5 minutes. Scrape as needed to get everything incorporated. Check the consistency of the dough, add more flour about 1/4 cup at a time if necessary; the dough should feel soft and moist but not sticky. Knead on low speed 5 minutes more or until the dough clears the sides of the bowl. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface; knead by hand about 30 seconds (I just counted 30 kneads). Lightly oil a large bowl. Transfer the dough to the bowl, lightly oil the top of the dough, cover and let double in volume, 2 to 2 1/2 hours.

This is what the dough looked like after 2.5 hours. Beautiful!

Combine the brown sugar, cinnamon and salt in a medium bowl. Mix until well incorporated. Set aside until ready to use.

Butter a 9 by 13-inch glass baking dish. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Gently shape the dough into a rectangle with the long side nearest you. Roll into an 18 by 12-inch rectangle. Brush the dough with the 3/4-ounce of melted butter, leaving 1/2-inch border along the top edge. Sprinkle the filling mixture over the dough, leaving a 3/4-inch border along the top edge; gently press the filling into the dough.

Beginning with the long edge nearest you, roll the dough into a tight cylinder. Firmly pinch the seam to seal and roll the cylinder seam side down. Very gently squeeze the cylinder to create even thickness.

Using a serrated knife (hopefully it's sharp so it won't schmush the roll), slice the cylinder into 1 1/2-inch rolls. The recipe says it yields 12 rolls but I got 14 rolls. Arrange rolls cut side down in the baking dish. As you can see below, I left a lot of room between each roll because they will "poof up" and you want to give them room to expand.

Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let rise for about 45 minutes. If the room is on the cold side (below 68 degrees F), you can put the pan in the oven with the oven light on. The heat from the bulb will warm the oven enough to give yeast doughs just the right temperature to rise. And after 45 minutes, this is what you have.

Here's a close-up of these beauties.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

When the oven is ready, place the rolls on the middle rack and bake until golden brown, or until the internal temperature reaches 190 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer, anywhere between 20-30 minutes. Check it around 20 minutes. Mine took about 22 minutes. Remove from oven and set on a cooling rack. (Don't these look golden delicious?)

While the rolls are cooling, make the icing. You'll need a hand held mixer or a stand mixer for this part. Whisk the cream cheese in a bowl until creamy. Add the milk and whisk until combined. Sift in the powdered sugar, and whisk until smooth. I did it in batches. Spread over the rolls and serve immediately. I drizzled and dolloped mine. Be careful when removing. These babies can still be pretty hot.

And here you have it, beautiful, warm, fluffy, moist, delectable cinnamon rolls. Taking a bite into one makes the time invested worthwhile. Well, at least when I have a lazy Sunday to spare. And the whole house smelled (smelt?) wonderful. Cole was sitting right by my feet the whole time I was in the kitchen making these. Guess he knows when his Mommy is making something good!

Have a wonderful week. Now go and eat well.

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Sunday, October 12, 2008

Tomato Basil Baguette

With the weather starting to actually feel like Autumn lately, I've been in more of a mood to cook and bake. And with a hankering for some home baked bread the last few days, I thumbed through The Bread Book by Betsy Oppenneer (her second bread book) looking for inspiration. I decided on a recipe for Tomato Basil Baguettes that was marked by an old, discolored piece of paper flagged from who knows when. After a few minutes rereading some of Oppenneer's tips and advice, I was ready to get kneading!

I made some substitutions and modifications to the original recipe but overall, kept the theme. I used my standing mixer to do the first mixing and kneading but did the rest by hand. You can do everything by hand if you don't have a stand mixer or you can do the entire kneading with a stand mixer. Here's the ingredients but I'll note on some recommended changes in my results. Makes 4 loaves.


1 Cup finely chopped onion
8 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/4 cup sun dried tomatoes, chopped
2 Tablespoon olive oil
1/4 oz active dry yeast (2 scant Tbsp or 2 packages)
1/2 cup warm water (105 - 115 degrees F)
1/2 cut chopped fresh basil leaves (or 3 Tbsp dried basil)
2 teaspoon salt
1 cup tomato juice
2 Tablespoon sugar
5-6 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 oz (~1/2 cup) finely grated Parmesan cheese (opt.)

In a small saucepan on medium-low heat, cook the onions, sun dried tomatoes and garlic until transparent, about 3-5 minutes. Don't let the garlic brown. Set aside and cool to about lukewarm.

In a large bowl, soften the yeast in the water. If your yeast is past its expiration date and you want to see if the yeast is still good, add 1/2 teaspoon of sugar to the warm water, whisk to dissolve the sugar, then sprinkle the yeast on top of the water and whisk again. Make sure the warm water is within the recommended temperature. After about 5 minutes, you should see a creamy foam on top. It's ready to use. If you don't see any foam, your yeast is dead, kapoot. Throw it out and start again with new yeast.

Some recipes don't call for proofing yeast but I like to proof active yeast as kind of a boost to get things started and I know for sure that my yeast is good. It sucks to have done all that kneading work to have flat, unrisen dough. If a recipe calls for rapid-mix yeast, I typically follow the recipe's directions in activating the yeast, that is unless my yeast is past its expiration date and I need to proof it.

To the bowl, mix in the cooled onion, tomato and garlic, basil, salt, tomato juice, sugar. Add 3 cups of flour, 1 cup at a time, mixing after each flour addition. Beat vigorously with a dough whisk or a heavy-handled spoon for 2 minutes. (This is why I like to use a stand mixer for this part.)

Gradually add more of the remaining flour, 1/4 cup at a time, until the dough begins to pull away from the side of the bowl and forms a mass. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface.

Knead the dough for 8-10 minutes, adding a little bit of flour as needed to prevent sticking. Try to use as little flour as possible. I flour my hands slightly and then rub the work surface as I go along. Knead until you have a smooth, elastic dough. If you need help on how to properly knead your dough, check here for a very good video.

Put the dough into an oiled bowl and turn the dough to coat the entire ball with oil. Cover tightly either with plastic wrap or a tightly woven kitchen towel. Let rise in a warm room (65-80 degrees F) for about 1 hour or until doubled in size.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly oiled surface (I used my baking pan) and divide dough into 4 equal parts. Using your hands, roll each each into a 15" rope. If you have baguette pans, oil them lightly and fit the rolled doughs into them. If you don't have baguette pans, arrange them on well-greased baking sheets, 2 on each. Cover the loaves with a towel and let rise for 45 minutes or until almost doubled in size.

When there's 15 minutes left of rising, preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Just before putting the loafs into the oven, slash each loaf with 3 diagonal slits about 1/4" deep. Make sure the knife you use is sharp to prevent from tearing the top of the loaves. Sprinkle the top of each loaf with Parmesan cheese.

Bake for 20 minutes or until the loaves pulled slightly from the pan and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom (internal temperature should read 190 degrees F). Remove from pans immediately and cool on rack. The baguettes can be stored in an airtight container or ziplock bag for a couple of days. Toast in the oven at 375 degrees F for 10 minutes to crisp up.

Results? The outer crust was delicate and um, crusty, very nice. But it wasn't thick like Parisian baguettes from a bakery. I would have liked a slightly more thicker crust but I think it's the limitations of my electric oven and without using traditional steam baking. I also think a higher temperature at the start would have helped develop a thicker crust. I'll play a bit with that next time.

The inside texture was wonderfully airy and tender, as you can see in the picture below. The Mister said these were the best breads I've baked to date. I have to agree. The flavor was on the mild side, a bit surprising considering the amount of garlic added. I like baguettes to have a bit more depth so I would recommend increasing the salt to 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons. Overall, a very nice home baked baguette that smells wonderful and has a very nice, light flavor and great texture.

Have a wonderful week. Now go and eat well.

Postscript: Since this recipe made 4 decent size loaves, I shared them with 2 friends. The report back was that the baguette had a wonderful and light flavor and was delicious when toasted and eaten warm with butter. I recommended that the baguettes be toasted since the crust was a little soft from being wrapped in foil (expected). Overall, the baguette held up very well for 3 days. I bet it would make very nice croutons, too.

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