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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Thursday, October 9, 2008

Shhhhh, Don't Say Anything

There is one fast rule that I abide by when having a conversation with people other than the Mister: I don't discuss religion, politics, or sex. No negotiations. I do, once in a blue moon, discuss politics with some family members but those conversations don't usually last long. And with the presidential election coming up soon, some people have the urge, nay, feel they have the obligation to discuss politics, which sometimes lead to religion, then ultimately to sex. But not me.

Reason? I find most people are pretty steadfast with what they believe in when it comes to all 3 topics. And it doesn't matter what I think or someone else might say, we will continue believing what we did before the conversation started. And besides, I hate ending conversations with "You're in an idiot [or some other epithet that pops into my head]."

Another reason is that the people who like to engage (seek) discussions on either or all of these subjects have almost a bible-thumper mentality about their views. I don't know if these people just like to hear themselves talk or pontificate to try to prove how smart they are. But it won't matter what anyone else says (if they even have a word in edgewise), these people will go on and on, usually with illogic and purblindedness. And in some (most) cases, I walk away thinking less (or "even less") of that person.

Besides, let's just admit it. Lately, I've had a pretty low opinion of the "general" public and I hate being so pessimistic. If given a choice, I'd rather "look on the bright side" of things, maybe even a little Pollyanna if I can stomach it. So in an almost self-preservational way, before you open your mouth, shhhhhhhh. Let me walk away into the sunset with the illusion that maybe you are smarter than you look and that there might exist some form of intelligence, how ever small and alien, in that cave of yours you call a brain. And what a beautiful sunset it is.

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Monday, October 6, 2008

Thai Drunken Noodles (Pad Kee Mao)

One of my favorite Thai dishes is Pad Kee Mao, also known as Thai Drunken Noodles or Thai Spicy Noodles. I've been playing with the idea of making some Thai dishes at home since a friend of mine said it was easy. I've tried making Shrimp Pad Thai (the Mister likes Pad Thai) and although it turned out pretty good, the recipe needs some adjustment for my taste. So I'll wait to post on that once I get the right adjustments in place.

But I think I'm pretty close on the Pad Kee Mao as to how "I" like my Drunken Noodles. As usual, I searched various food blogs and recipe sites as a starting point. One thing I learned was that there are as many variations of Pad Kee Mao as there is Pad Thai and meatloaf. So the task at hand was to figure out which recipes sounded good to me. Keep in mind that I'm not too fond of very vinegary type dishes so I knew I had to make adjustments some of the recipes. I narrowed it down to 4 different ones and started my plan of attack. I made my grocery list and headed over to 99 Ranch Market for supplies.

For some reason, I was a bit out of sorts that morning and had a hard time finding things on my list. I arrived at 99 Ranch a little later than I typically do so maybe the crowd was throwing me off. Anyway, I had sen-yai noodles (wide flat rice noodles) on my list but I just couldn't seem to find them on the shelf. So rather drive myself nuts, I settled on a bit wider rice noodles than those you normally have with Pad Thai. I also decided to go with fried tofu instead of firm tofu. I don't know why, it was just some spontaneous moment lapse of judgement. I decided to go with shrimp since that's what I usually order at restaurants and the shrimp looked good that day and on sale, double bonus!

The one thing I've learned about working with rice noodles is that you kind of have to work quickly with it or else you risk of creating a gigantic clump of sticky mess. So I pre-measured all my ingredients before cooking, but with more ingredients within quick reach for taste adjustments. I also boiled a pot of water and then turned the heat off so it will be all ready to cook the rice noodles. Don't blink because the rice noodles will cook that fast, which is why I have the pot of hot water ready and waiting.

With very little hiccup, the final product turned out better than I had expected. Not that I expected to completely bomb but I wasn't sure how close these recipes were to the restaurant Spicy Noodles that I love so much. I think I came pretty close. On a scale of 1-10 for heat, this was about a 2-3. I usually like it around 5 so that's definitely something I'll play with more in the future. But I really enjoyed the overall taste and the Mister gave it a thumbs up. Here's the final product.

CAB's Shrimp Pad Kee Mao

8 ounces (about 1/2 package) of sen-yai rice noodles or other wider rice noodles
1/2 lb of shrimp, shelled and deveined
1/4 cup of firm tofu, cut into small cubes
2 cloves of garlic, minced and split into 2 piles (1/2 for shrimp, 1/2 for noodles)
1 medium onion, halved and sliced thinly
1 Tablespoon of minced onion (I took some of the onion slices and minced)
2 Tablespoon Canola oil (1 Tbsp for shrimp, 1 Tbsp for sauce/noodles)
2 Tablespoons rice vinegar
3 Tablespoons fish sauce
1 Tablespoons soy sauce
4 Tablespoons oyster sauce
2 Tablespoons lime juice
2 Tablespoons of palm sugar (or brown sugar)
2 Tablespoons ground red chili (adjust to desired heat level)
1/8 teaspoon (a dash) white pepper
1 jalapeno peppers, finely chopped (optional, adjust to desired heat level)
1/2 cup fresh Thai basil leaves
1/4 cup of chicken broth (as needed to keep noodles from sticking)

Soak the rice noodles in water for 15 minutes. Drain and set aside. Start a pot of water (about 4 quarts) to boil. Turn heat off.

In a bowl, combine rice vinegar, fish sauce, lime juice, palm or brown sugar, dried ground chili and white pepper. If you are adding tofu, you can marinade the tofu in the marinade to enhance the flavor. Leave the tofu in the marinade as you prepare the rest of the dish.

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in wok on medium high heat. Add 1/2 of the minced garlic and the minced onions and cook for 30 seconds. Add the shrimp and cook until all pink and almost done. Remove from heat and set aside. Don't cook the shrimp all the way through because you will be adding the shrimp back in with the noodles at the end.

Add the soaked rice noodles into the hot pot of water. Taste the noodles at 60 seconds to test for al dente. Don't let the noodles cook too long or else you'll end up with mushy noodles. As soon as noodles are al dente, drain and rinse with cold water. The cold water will stop any further cooking.

Add 1 tablespoon of oil to wok and heat for 30 seconds at medium-high. Add the sliced onion, jalapeno and garlic and cook for 1 minute. Don't brown the garlic.

Before adding the rice noodles to the wok, check to see if there are any sticking. If so, rinse with cold water to break up any sticking of the noodles.

Add noodles and tofu and marinade to wok. Turn the heat to high. Stir frequently. As the sauce begins to reduce, add basil leaves, oyster sauce, soy sauce and cooked shrimp. Combine thoroughly and heat through. If the noodles start to stick, add chicken stock to help loosen up the noodles. Taste and adjust with more fish sauce and chili pepper flakes as needed. Serve hot.

I think this is one of those dishes where it'll continue to evolve and change as I tweak it based on what my taste is on that day. But this certainly provides a good foundation to work from.

Have a wonderful week. Now go and eat well.

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