Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Pancakes and Chicken Giouvetsi

Hiiii! One thing that I've realized about keeping this blog updated is that it has required me to try and, you know, bake and cook new things. Often, I jump to my usual cupcakes or muffins or banana bread, but who wants to read and see pictures of the same food every day?? Not me.

That said, I have billions of different and new recipes to make, but I never get around to them because I keep on finding excuses not to do it--I don't have anyone to eat it, I don't have all the ingredients... you get the idea.

That said, I tried a new pancake recipe! Okay, I'm going to say right now, I don't really like pancakes. I don't even really like cupcakes or cookies--but I'll get back to that some other day. I don't really like pancakes, but I know that other people like pancakes and other such breakfast items. So, one of the things I love to do is make breakfast for people! I've made scones, home fries, french toast, blueberry syrup for said french toast... you name it! So this time around, I wanted to try these cinnamon apple whole wheat oatmeal pancakes! Doesn't it sound almost like it's healthy? I used Closet Cooking's Apple and Cinnamon Oatmeal Pancakes recipe, and it was a great hit! The only thing I did differently is that I didn't grind up the oats in a food processor since, well, I don't have one... I just used a knife and a cutting board to the oats, haha. That, and I added a bunch more cinnamon, because, well, it's cinnamon!!

On the frying pan...

And onto the plate.

Yes, those are hearts. You got a problem with that? No? Good. I didn't think so...

These pancakes were well-received, yay! They weren't your usual affair of buttermilk pancakes, but personally, I like them better that way. There were chunks of apple, and tasted of whole wheat and oatmeal goodness. :d Yum. I even liked them. Then again, it's got apples and oatmeal and cinnamon--hard to go wrong there! Hehehehe...

I've also had a chance to play around with his Chicken Giouvetsi, which apparently is a Greek dish. I've had a bag of whole wheat orzo sitting in my pantry for goodness knows how long, and I've been dying to find a good reason to use it. I've debated between making a Parmesan orzo dish, but I don't really like creamy things, or making some sort of orzo pasta salad... but nothing seemed to be that appealing. Finally, I've been staring at this Chicken Giouvetsi recipe and decided that I had to try it. I love tomato cooked things, and chicken is just awesome, so why not?

Pan-frying the onions with the pepper.

I used an Anaheim pepper because, for the life of me, I could not find a cubanelle pepper (even at Whole Foods and at Berkeley Bowl!!), and Google search told me that I could use it, so hah! I don't know how it is with the cubanelle pepper, but it was pretty fantastic with the Anaheim pepper that adds just a hint of a spicy bite to the dish.

After adding the chicken stock and the tomato puree, you transfer it all into a baking dish with the chicken pieces (I didn't have a whole chicken, so I just used two chicken drumsticks and two chicken breasts), and bake it until the liquid evaporates and the top turns gold brown.

Then you plate it, and then dig in! (Or, in my guest's case, just take a giant spoonful to the baking dish, tsktsk.)

My photo doesn't look as tasty as Kevin's, but needless to say, it was still awesome. It's a one-pan and then one-baking dish type of dish. It's fairly simple, and the part that took the longest was just waiting for it to bake (I had also added an extra cup or so of chicken broth since that was all that was left in a giant can of chicken broth). The two of us finished off half of the entire thing, and then proceeded to finish off the second half the next day. Still great out of the microwave!!

Anyhow, that's all for now. The next few days involve birthdays and parties and meeting new people, so I'm sure that there will be something cooked or baked or whatnot coming up in the next week!

I hope everyone's week is going well.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Scales, Cinnamon Raisin Bread, and Julie&Julia

I have decided that I have a fascination with bread, out of all the things that I bake. Cookies become a pain in the butt--seriously, all the scooping and plopping and individual things... what a pain! Bars are easy but boring, and fancy cakes... well, it's harder to know what to do with a giant 3-tiered 9" cake, you know what I mean? However, bread is fantastic. There is something so therapeutic about kneading bread, and for some reason, it's fascinating for me to watch it rise. The repressed biology nerd inside of me squeals a little squeak of joy thinking about the gasses created by the yeast... also, it just reminds me of genetics lab when we were replica-plating oh so many yeast plates...

That being said, breads are less fudge-able to me. I can usually play around with a quick bread recipe, or a cupcake recipe, but bread recipes... I try and follow the steps important to the chemistry of rising bread to the tee. So, with my gift certificate that my old work place gave me (I love them all--they ate through batches of cookies and cupcakes and bars during my undergraduate career, and when I graduated, they left me a gift card with a very generous sum... many thanks to dearest Ezra who is supposedly the one who put it all together), I bought myself a scale and a microplane zester. I'll spaz about my microplane later. For now, I have a beautiful black scale sitting in my kitchen, helping me measure out just the right amount of bread flour. I hate sifting my flour, and this beautiful machine allows me to just dump my flour out into a bowl--how amazing is that!?

I present to you, my beautiful new kitchen scale:

We'll see how long this baby will last.

With this sleek and simple, and yet useful, new scale of mine, I made two loaves of Peter Reinhart's Cinnamon Raisin Walnut Bread, sans walnuts (Yes, I don't like nuts of any sort in my baked goods, blasphemous, I know), which I suppose means just a Cinnamon Raisin Bread. This bread turned out to be one of the softest bread I made. Unfortunately, I dried out kind of quickly after being sliced--I'm not sure what to do about that. But the next day when it was just sliced, the bread was amazingly soft and tender.

Mixing all the ingredients together. That's right, metal bowl and a wooden spoon--no fancy, expensive Kitchen Aid for me. It's okay--I actually like it this way:

The dough after kneading and after the addition of the raisins waiting to rise for the first time.

After the first rise, the dough is then divided (this time with my awesome new electric scale!!!) and rolled into a loaf to rise a second time:

Doesn't the final product look SO GOOD?

I think it does. And it is very awesome indeed. I personally prefer a little more cinnamon flavor to the bread... I actually already added more than the recipe called for. Maybe it's something to make up for since I don't add walnuts in. I was thinking of giving it a little bit of a cinnamon swirl to it, or adding dried cranberries to it instead.

There has been a little more baking here and there--a chocolate chip chocolate fudge cookie, which screams of chocolate... perfect for those choco-holics out there. There has also been some breakfast fun with a whole wheat apple oatmeal pancake, but I'll inundate you with more food porn later.

Oh yes! And I had a chance to watch Julie&Julia, and it was an AMAZING film. To all the guys out there, it wasn't just a silly chick flick. It was great. How do I know? I dragged three other guys with me, and they all loved it. ...So they weren't the manliest of men, but it was still a good movie. It was sweet, and also hilarious. Meryl Streep is an amazing actress, and she was perfect for the role of Julia. :) You should ALL go see it.

Time to get back to those cover letters...

I hope everyone is doing great, and thank you guys so much for the comments and to those of you who are reading this! :)

Monday, August 17, 2009

Backpacking and Banana Bread

Yay alliteration! ...Kind of.

So in the past week or so, there has been some banana bread and backpacking at the Emigrant Wilderness. The backpacking was amazing. Three of us, Mike, Ben, and I, went to the Emigrant Wilderness to go on a supposed 3-day backpacking trip. Seeing as this isn't a backpacking blog (unlike my travel blog), I'll just give a brief account. Basically, a 3-day backpacking trip was turned into a 2-day backpacking trip, but highlights of the trip involved:

Three people crammed into what was supposedly a queen-sized bed, but I swear it was a full-sized bed in kind of a creepy hotel in Jamestown:

Amazing views of granite landscapes and of gorgeous lakes:

And lots of snacking under beautiful weather:

Photograph courtesy of Benjamin Bracamonte

I look tired and miserable there, but I swear it was a blast--the whole 6.5 miles in and 6.5 miles out. :)

That said, I had made a banana bread the day before heading out. It was great--I had tried out this new banana bread recipe found on a baking community (Unfortunately, it is a locked post, and I do not feel comfortable re-posting other people's recipes without giving proper references, I will not be posting the recipe) and had only tried it out once. It was a hit--it was moist, without being overly dense and heavy. This time around, I switched up the ratios of the ingredients a bit, substituted ingredients, and used only white whole wheat flour since I was still out of all-purpose flour. Personally, I think it turned out even better than the original recipe. :P

Whole Wheat Banana Bread

Isn't it gorgeous? The texture was great, and was the perfect way to use up the last 3 bananas that were definitely turning black. I think I always insist that my roommate buy bananas (I don't really eat them, but he likes them), just so that I can make banana bread.

That's all for now--mostly cooking has been backpacking pantry including tuna from a bag, instant oatmeal, and experiments with cous-cous. I hope to be making a nice loaf of bread soon, because it's something that's definitely missing in the apartment. AND, I just got all purpose flour from Costco, so yay!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Oops, I've been busy

Why hello again! It's been a little bit since the last post... I've been ridiculously busy. Sadly, the vetekran I mentioned last was the last time I was baking something. However, it turned out a lot prettier than the previous one! And was just as tasty... and I remembered the glaze this time! :)

This was after the second rise, ready to put in the oven...

And voila! The final product!

Since then, I have not had a chance to bake with this whole... having a life recently. However, I did have a chance to make some dinner for people, and that was awesome, because I love cooking dinner for people. Dinner was Chinese, and consisted of Ma Po Tofu (i.e. Mabo Tofu, Spicy Tofu, etc), Tsao Mi Fun (basically a stir fry of vermicelli), Tze Ma Chou (Sweet Sesame Rice Balls). Forgive my inability to Romanize the Chinese language... I'm horrible at it (it could have to do with my lack of knowledge of the exact way to pronounce things in Mandarin in the first place, but sh!)

Ma Po Tofu consists of soft tofu cut up and cooked with ground meat (I don't eat beef, but I used pork, but I've also used ground turkey before.) and a spicy sauce, and in this case, I used a spicy black bean paste thing (sadly, I can recognize the bottle, but don't know what it's called).

Tsao Mi Fun is a vermicelli stir fry that consists of Taiwanese cabbage, shiitake mushrooms, and carrots. Usually you add these little tiny shrimp, but I forgot about them this time around. This was the first time I made it, (and accidentally woke up my mom to ask her exactly how to cook it) so I wasn't sure about the ratio. I think I had too much vermicelli around this time because I didn't realize how much noodles make, and how much the vegetables cooked down. Still, it was tasty. :)

Unfortunately, I don't have a picture of the sweet sesame rice balls, but basically, they're these frozen little balls that you get that consists of a sweet black sesame paste wrapped with a rice flour paste/dough that you just toss into boiling water and let it simmer until it floats... it's really simple, but so tasty.

Amongst all this food, there have been trips to San Francisco, Casa de Fruta, the Santa Cruz beaches, and hiking in Pt. Reyes.

My friend living in SF took me around, and we explored much of San Francisco by foot, and yes, that includes climbing up and down all the gigantic hills. Actually, I also had a chance to take one of those cable cars that you see dinging by filled with tourists, not that I should be talking because I became one of them. I took surprisingly few pictures... I have a love/hate relationship with my 50mm fixed lens currently. It's great because it's lightweight and it's got an amazing aperture. However, it makes it VERY difficult to take photographs of people, especially at a distance, and often makes it hard to frame pictures in a place as crazy as SF.

However, while walking through the Ferry Building, I couldn't resist the beautiful colors of the tomatoes and the amazing textures/patterns that the colors created.

Aren't they beautiful?

I think they're heirloom tomatoes.

I also had a chance to visit Casa de Fruta, a "fruit stand" in the middle of nowhere in Hollister, and has the most amazing variety of dried nuts, dried fruits, chocolate-covered whatevers ever! They also have a great Casa de Sweets which has a bunch of old-school candies. Overpriced, but amazing dried nuts and dried fruit! If you haven't been there, and are heading around Santa Cruz or Monterey, it's worth a trip. If you go in the spring-time, the hills will be rolling in green with beautiful blue skies.

Don't they look so good? They have some of the best flavors... it's worth a visit if you ever make it down/up there. :)

I have a couple bananas sitting in the kitchen, so hopefully the next post will be about banana bread, and will be soon. I can't promise anything, though, since it's been crazy busy, and my roommate and my other friend and I are going backpacking at the Emigrant Wilderness this coming Thursday --> Sunday! I'm excited, since I haven't had a backpacking trip since late December... maybe I can post about the "gourmet" backpacking foods that we will be eating. :P

I leave you with a note telling you to go visit the beach and run around and spin around and leap on the sand and go let the waves wash over your toes.

Photography courtesy of Ben Bracamonte.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Lemon Meltaways and Dill Bread

I'm out of flour! I know, ridiculous. But I'm out of plain ol' all-purpose flour. Oops. I do have many pounds of bread flour, whole wheat flour, and white whole wheat flour. ...I just don't have good old all-purpose flour. Oops. Consequently, I now have a(nother) vetekran dough resting on my counter made up of part all-purpose flour, part white whole wheat flour, and part bread flour. ...This'll be an interesting experiment, since I have always been shy about trying out different flours in recipes. Oh yes, and I forgot to mention last time that this recipe is from the The Great Scandinavian Baking Book by Beatrice Ojakangas.

The past few days have been pretty filled with baking... I received an order for a batch of ginger cookies, lemon meltaways, and a cream cheese dill bread. Then, I figured since I had left-over cream cheese and the whole wheat bread was running out, I might as well make another loaf for myself.

Doesn't it look tasty?

I've discovered it's amazing with something like one of those wedges of Laughing Cow Original Swiss and slices of turkey deli meat. Yum.

After the first rise:

After the second rise:

I have decided that there is just something so beautiful about risen dough. Whether or not that is because I'm biased and it means I did it right is another matter. :P

So yeah, I also realized that the bread is giant and fits in a 9"x5" loaf pan, not my 8"x4" loaf pan, so I need to make a change of that and the amount of compensation for that... oops.

Oh yes, and the lemon meltaways! I think that this batch of lemon meltaways weren't the most lemon-y of lemon cookies. I think it might have something to do with my lemon... I realized afterwards that the lemon itself wasn't the most fragrant of lemons, which probably resulted in a less lemon-y cookie. It was still tasty, though, I think.

A close-up, to address all your food porn needs:

Don't they look good? These cookies contain powdered sugar and cornstarch in the dough, resulting in a lighter, crumbly cookie that melts when you bite into it--much like a Mexican Wedding cookie, but without the nuts.

Anyhow, my new vetekran dough should be rested enough to roll out... I made it last night in part for my roommate. We were in a car accident last night on the way back to our apartment, and he was freaking out a little. We are both okay, but just a little shaken, and no other car was involved, thank goodness. Originally, he was going to stay at home and fix the car, but I convinced him to still go into work. ...Unfortunately, that means that he's not even going to be here now when it comes out of the oven! Alas.

Oh yes, and here is the second order! (I swear I'll stop posting pictures of my orders eventually, but I just think the scrapbook paper are so cute! That, and I'm obsessed with really cool boxes and packaging, and I had a field day at Joann's and at Michael's last week... I still need to find a cheaper way of packaging, though...)