Monday, September 28, 2009

Volcano of Bread and Cheese!!!

Okay, so I know I just made a post, but this just came out of my oven, and I'm too excited, because it looks like a fountain (or a volcano) of CHEESE AND BREAD!!! And apparently, my life just doesn't get more exciting than that:

Although, doesn't it kind of look like a cartoon squid monster thing? It's really reminding me of a cartoon, but for the life of me, I can't remember what. So, I'll just show you a picture of how I see it. :P

More on this later. ...When I'm a little more sane.


Zucchini Turkey Lasagna

Hi all.

So it's been a few days, and there's a backlog of baking to write about, including that zucchini turkey lasagna I made. I haven't quite been in the mood to write much... the insane amount of cover letters going out and the few responses, much less callbacks for interviews (read: basically none) has been getting to me. Still, I feel like I owe it to my zucchini turkey lasagna to write about it! That, and my friend had introduced me to Matt Costa, who is currently rooting me on the write something. That, and my kitchen currently smells of baking bread and melting cheese, and is begging me to write about it, and I don't want to have to write a thesis worth of food blogging in a couple of days. :P

So last week I made a zucchini turkey lasagna, which can be easily transformed into a vegetarian zucchini lasagna. Honestly, I didn't follow any specific recipe... I kind of tossed together 4 or 5 various lasagna recipes together, and came up with this one. I didn't exactly take notes, but I plan to make it again (and make it better!), and I will let you guys know the recipe later. :)

But until then... look at the layers building up!

And look at the beautiful zucchini slices all lined up and pretty! ...It took a few tries to figure out how to properly slice the zucchini all nice and evenly (zucchini are not uniform in size, boo!)

The top looked pretty after baking!

Okay, so it was really hard taking pretty pictures... hot lasagna falls apart really easily! Especially when it's got giant layers of cheese in between the zucchini. Basically, a general ingredient list is:

* tomato/pasta sauce layer: tomato paste, diced tomatoes, ground turkey, onion, dahs of brown sugar, oregano, basil (I got to use my fresh basil from my sad little abused basil plant... yay!)
* cheese layer: ricotta cheese, egg, grated Parmesan, shredded mozzarella cheese
* zucchini layer: zucchini!

I wasn't completely happy with it... I'm not sure if it's because of the cheese to zucchini or tomato sauce, or if it's because I didn't think it was flavorful enough. I might try and add a little spicy kick to it, or add a starch to it... either brown rice or some quinoa (I bought a bag of quinoa... I'm still finding something awesome to make with it!).

That's about it for now... I did have a chance to bake some chocolate chocolate fudge cookies and some chewy oatmeal raisin cookies.

I have also had a chance to hang out with some of the old (and new!) Chinese dance girls! And, of course, it's not an FTD gathering unless we have food:

I made a casatiello and a batch of cinnamon buns. :)

So much home-made food, eating, and laughter. ^_^

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Camping and Flourless Cakes

Hi all! So I was hoping to update more than just once a week, but the past week has been ridiculously crazy, some of which involved doing this whole hiking up Half Dome thing. It was awesome.

Yes, that's the top of Half Dome. That pose is a lot harder in hiking boots and on top of an uneven rock. :| Oh well.

Don't want to say too much, because hopefully I'll update my travel blog some day... some day... (As I said earlier--I'm notorious for not updating these things, but I'm trying!) The night before we summit Half Dome, we car camped at Upper Pines Campground in Yosemite Valley (by the way, I've decided I despise car camping, and I hate RVs even more... backpacking is definitely the way to go!). At least with car camping, you can go a little more gourmet with food. We opted not to really focus too much on the fine foods:

We just prepared one-bowl foods and just dug in... I mean, who really wants to wash more bowls than necessary, especially while camping? Not me. But we just made sure we had a more or less balanced meal... protein, carbohydrates, and vegetables/fruits/fiber... all in all, it wasn't too horrible.

I mean, who can deny this beautiful pot full of whole wheat rotelli pasta with marinara sauce?

At least we don't have to chow down on pine cones, right? Although, this little dude seems to be enjoying it a whole lot.

Well, fat squirrels aside, back to the whole baking thing! I received a food processor that I ordered in the mail last Tuesday night... so of course, I just had to use it! That, and it was Ezra's birthday (the guy who helped push for the generous gift certificate at my old work place!) on Thursday, so who needs more of a reason to try out this lovely flourless chocolate hazelnut cake??

I was running low on ingredients, but I found a bar of good dark chocolate, and bought some whole hazelnuts from Trader Joe's.

First, I prepared all the ingredients--separated the eggs, measured out the chocolate, the brown sugar, the butter, the cocoa powder, and the water. I even toasted my own hazelnuts!

Then, I ground the hazelnuts in my spanking new food processor!

To do this, take the toasted hazelnuts, and add a few tablespoons of sugar per cup of nuts in order for the sugar to absorb the fats released, so you don't end up making hazelnut paste (which could be good, but probably for something else). Just don't be like me, and think that you put in all the sugar when you really didn't, because I realized I forgot about half the sugar until after I folded in the egg whites...

And yes... hand-beaten egg-whites!

What a very tiring process... my right arm was definitely about to fall off, especially after the first dance class after a whole month of nothingness. But look... still peaks, yay!

Another thing that made me so excited was to use my fair trade cocoa powder!

I used Green & Black's organic fair trade cocoa powder! If you don't know what fair trade is, look it up. I just received Black Gold, an awesome documentary about the coffee industry and how fair trade works. I originally saw it in my global poverty class, and hope to make everyone I know watch it. ...I'll be sure to discuss it along with so many other food issues some other time.

Anyhow, so after mixing everything together and folding the laboriously hand-whipped egg whites and pouring it into one prepared 6" cake pan and one prepared 3" sprinform cake pan, I realized that I had about 3/4 of the brown sugar left that I had forgotten to mix in.

Well crap.

What I did was mix in the brown sugar with what was left of the batter (about 1/3 cup?) to incorporate it, pour the batter from the cake pans back in, and fold the two batter together. That way, you won't over-mix the batter even more than necessary, flatten all the egg white bubbles that you so tiringly created, and come out with a hockey puck for a cake.

It still turned out delicious.

And more or less pretty... the final cake had a piece that fell off.

I wanted to make a layer of dark chocolate chocolate ganache to pour over the top to set, partially because it would hide the ugliness of the cake, and because chocolate ganache is oh so tasty. Unfortunately, I was out of heavy cream, and basically had no time to run/bike to the store and get some. So, I improvised, and just melted some left-over chocolate from making the cake with butter, and made a drizzle pattern over it. Then, I topped the cake off with some candied rose petals and candied mint leaves that my roommate had bought me a while bag because I was eying them at The Pasta Shop in some ritzy place in Berkeley. They didn't quite go with the cake, and I would have preferred to do a really dark chocolate and a white chocolate drizzle pattern... that would have been fun, but I was already running late, and I had a lecture I wanted to go to, and I wanted to add some color to the otherwise monochromatic cake, so the candied floral would have to do. ...In the end, I think it turned out. (If I were smart, I would have put the candied petals and leaf where the hole was but no... I'm not that smart.) In the end, I ended up with one 6" cake, and two 3" cakes. ...They were all well-received. :D

A final close-up.

So I made this cake bright and early in the morning... so it was ridiculously rushed. BUT, at least I was able to use natural lighting for my pictures, buahaha!

Anyhow, the past week also involved another Anadama bread that a wonderful fellow friend ordered, but that's about it. Last night, I made a Turkey Zucchini "Lasagna," which turned out okay, but definitely something I want to play with more. I'll write about it later. For now, I should probably step away from the computer and tend to my poor, ache-y muscles.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Cinnamon Buns and a Humble Dinner

So apparently I was inspired enough to bake last night after all. I think part of it has to do with the fact that, since the only people that end up eating my baked goods are people at my roommate's office, I needed to get the baking out of me since he's not able to have any modes of transportation up here for basically the rest of the week.

First, I just wanted to show off a picture of my humble dinner, a simple pork soup.

This tends to be generally what I go for when I make dinner... often it's a nice pot of soup or stew, or the simplest stir-fry ever. I actually missed my simple home-cooked meals a lot during the mini road trip down south... I hadn't eaten out so much in such a short period of time in a while. Home-cooked meals are so nice, and can be so simple... not to mention healthier and cheaper, too! This soup is very simple. Beforehand, you get some pork ribs/bones from the market (in about 1-2" cubes) and parboil them to get rid of some of the excess blood, fat, and marrow, and then freeze that for a later date (or, just use right away). On the day you want to cook it, you boil a nice big pot of water with a slice of ginger. After it comes to a boil, you toss the pork in, let it come back to a boil, turn it down to a medium-low, and let the meat stew enough to make a tasty broth (use a ladle to scoop away the frothy bone marrow that floats to the top). Season with salt to taste. In the mean time, when it gets close, prepare your noodles. This time around I used... thick green bean noodles (also known as cellophane noodles, glass noodles... I think? I know the Chinese name...! English names are so confusing!) which I soaked in water first. Tossed the noodles in for a few minutes, tossed in (many) handfuls of spinach, and voila, it is done!

Meanwhile, there were tasty things on the rise...

Now it should start looking familiar...

Especially after being baked...

And finally, glazed!

Yes, if you can't tell already, those are cinnamon buns. :d

I used Peter Reinhart's recipe this time around. I used to use just a recipe I found on which was fun, but a lot messier. Comparing the two... honestly? I don't know if I can tell the difference. It's been over half a year since I made the other cinnamon buns, though, and I wasn't as good at baking with yeast back then either. In fact, cinnamon buns were the first yeast breads I made! I think, in the end, Peter Reinhart's dough recipe stood up to the test, though... just with regards to how it tasted after it cooled down and how well it stood together. Another big difference between this cinnamon bun and any others I've seen is that the filling isn't overwhelmed by butter. Most other ways I've seen it done is rubbing softened butter all over the insides before sprinkling it with cinnamon and sugar. Personally, I like this way better, but that might be because I don't like butter. It's definitely a lot less rich and a lot less gooey and sticky, but it tasted wonderful, especially still warm. I decided to use a simple white glaze, which hardened beautifully. I usually prefer a cream cheese frosting, but since these were going to be eaten a whole day later by people running around the office... I figured this would be a nice solution... and it was great! It hardens ever so slightly when cooled, making it less messy (even though working with it was kind of messy!).

I heard reception at my roommate's office was good. :D This shall be my new go-to cinnamon roll recipe. ...I want to make the sticky buns some day. :D

Does it look amazing? (And so cute! It's like a little snail shell...)

(order some now! :P)

Oh yeah! And I baked another banana bread again... low fat, again, as usual, with whole wheat flour (half white whole wheat, and half whole wheat), and this time, with sugar cut down and replaced with agave nectar. That stuff is interesting... I need to experiment more with it at some later point. I also added some extra spices, and I think that they added a nice touch without really being over-powering, or even discerning. Must play around with that more as well... I have another 3 bananas frozen in the freezer...

Also, I totally need to just bake during the day instead of at midnight... my pictures turn out so much prettier with natural lighting, sigh.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Casatiello and Pasadena/LA Foods

Greetings! So it's been a while since I posted about baked goods, but it doesn't mean that I haven't been busy with my lovely oven (Oh yes, I love it so... it's big enough to fit my large baking sheet, as opposed to my old oven in my old apartment which was tiny.) Also, I just went on a mostly spontaneous trip down to Pasadena with one of my good friends from high school, visiting his old college, Caltech, and his old college friends. It was a fantastic trip full of fantastic food... I haven't eaten out so much in so many days in a row in a while. Though, I suppose that's what happens when you go on a trip. I'm genius.

On the way down, we took Highway 101, a longer, but definitely more scenic drive down from the Bay Area down to the South. On the way down, we stopped by Morro Bay with its ridiculous fog, giant platters of salads, and shell stores, then Solvang, a quaint little Danish town (unfortunately, we arrived around 6:00, so everything was closed for the most part), and Butterfly Beach in Santa Barbara to walk along the beach at dusk (we missed sunset by about 15 minutes).

At Morro Bay, we stopped by Outrigger Restaurant, and I polished off a giant plate of Caesar Salad with giant prawns.

Photograph courtesy of Andrei Lita.

The giant plate sitting in front of me was an Ahi Salad with seared Ahi tuna, a delightful vinaigrette and a slightly spicy mango salsa. His was more delicious, but he decided to order it first, so I defaulted to my usual Caesar Salad with dressing on the side.

The next day, we ate at some Asian noodle restaurant in the Alhambra area for lunch, explored the Caltech campus, and eventually ended up at his newly-wed friends' house. There, we proceeded to eat dessert at Bulgarini Gelato, an amazing little gelato store tucked away in the back corner behind a Rite Aid in the middle of Pasadena. Although I wasn't too hungry, I snuck some bites from everyone else. Their chocolate gelato is slightly salted and was fantastic. The hazelnut gelato is made from hazelnuts freshly roasted and ground right there, and is amazing. They also had interesting flavors such as goat's milk with cocoa nibs (I'm not a fan of the goat flavor, but I can see how somebody who likes it would love it), lime with milk, cantaloupe, and just so many different unique flavors. I wish I had a chance to take photos, but unfortunately, I wasn't able to bring my giant camera with me.

After gelato, we proceeded to Park's BBQ in Korea Town in Los Angeles. There, I watched what was basically 3 small-ish guys finishing off what must've been about 7 or 8 pounds of beef--2 orders of Bulgogi (seasoned sliced beef), what I think was an order of another type of beef cut, and 1 order of beef tartar, which is raw ground beef with an egg (or just an egg yolk?) cracked over it. My goodness, I wish I had my camera to show just how much meat was consumed. I can't say how good the beef is since I personally do not eat beef (although, I did eat the smallest sliver of beef tartar just as a new experience, and, well, I guess it tasted like meat?), but the others seemed to like it. There was also an order of pork belly... I'm not a big fan of slices of fat, but I can see how it was good. The meat aside, though, Park's BBQ had an amazing assortment of small Korean dishes like kimchi, pickled cucumbers, and the like. All of it was great, and if you or your friends are big meat eaters, I suggest that you try out Park's BBQ. Next time if I end up there, I would love a chance to try out their marinated shrimp and assorted mushrooms (basically the only thing on the menu not beef and not pork belly).

The next morning, for brunch we all went to Elements Kitchen, which has an amazing and fantastic brunch menu. When my friend and I arrived (late, oops), there were small slices of a raspberry cream cheese danish that was delectable, and a piece of a candied ginger scone that I did not try, but had rave reviews. People ordered an array of things from Ebelskivers to Mac 'n Cheese with Truffle Oil to Banana Fosters French Toast to a Farmer's Market Salad.

What are Ebelskivers, you ask?

Here is a look into one:

What a beautiful breakfast pastry stuffed with home-made blueberry jam. If you look closely, there's a drip of amazing maple syrup dripping from it. Unfortunately, I did not know the other people well, so I was too embarrassed to ask for photos of their food.

But my Farmer's Market Salad was beautiful.

It was a decomposed salad (Yes!) composed of beets (I usually don't like beets, but it wasn't too bad in this salad), baby zucchini, figs, strawberries, pears, and heirloom tomatoes (which weren't too flavorful, alas), candied walnuts, prosciutto, and buttered lettuce with a vinaigrette drizzled on top. It was delectable, and the vinaigrette really tied things together. I had a bite of the Banana's Foster French Toast, and although I'm generally not a fan of french toast, this one was amazing. ...Maybe it just means that other french toast, including mine, wasn't amazing enough... :|

Anyhow, that was the culinary exploration for the past few days. If you're in the area, go check out these places--you won't be disappointed.

And now, back to the baking. I've been wanting to make Peter Reinhart's Casatiello, an Italian rich bread filled with pockets of cheese and spiced salami. I haven't had a chance to, just because, although I often have left-over cheddar from making quiches and such, salami isn't in my usual pantry, but I made a trip to Trader Joe's just because, and came back with this:

Which, after much mixing and kneading (oh my goodness, the mixing and the kneading...), I placed my dough in a 9" cake pan and sprinkled it with more sharp white cheddar:

After the oven, resulting in:

Isn't it beautiful?

And it was amazingly tasty. Which is amusing to me, considering I don't really like rich breads and I don't like salami, but it was still tasty, darn it! Next time, I want to cube the cheese more than grate/shred it, but I liked the white sharp cheddar as a choice for cheese. I was debating making a sort of "vegetarian version" with just different types of cheese. :d

I also made a whole wheat, low fat chocolate zucchini bread that day. I managed to only put half the sugar in compared to the original recipe... I had planned to halve the recipe, but then decided not to, but forgot about this fact when I put in the sugar. Oops. But it still didn't turn out too bad, and was polished off by people at my roommate's workplace.

Anyhow, that's all. I'm not really inspired to make anything right now... although, I did also pick up some agave nectar when I went to TJ's, and I have some bananas in the freezer, so I might play around more with the whole diabetic-friendly (or at least, more-friendly) banana bread loaf. I hope the amount of text wasn't too over-whelming, or, at least, was informative. :)


Monday, September 7, 2009

Nerdy Moments

I don't have much time or energy to be writing up an entry full of culinary exploration, but I just wanted to give all the nerds out there a little picture of glee.

I made this about a year ago for a friend's housewarming party.

Recognition, anyone? :)

Thursday, September 3, 2009

A week of baking: Oreos, Galettes, Banana Bread, Crostatas, Brioche, and Tortes

Why hello there. It's been a while... the past week has been full of baking, and not much blogging. Still, it's now ridiculous o'clock since I have screwed up my sleeping schedule for the past 2 days, and since I am still running off the energy of just finished cleaning up my kitchen from a week of crazy baking, I figure why not bombard you with a ridiculous amount of pretty photos of food? (So I might also be running off of the bleach fumes from cleaning the kitchen... but that's aside the point)

First off in this ridiculous week of baking are home-made oreos from Wayne Brachman's Retro Desserts. If you love Oreos, but love softer cookies, this is the cookie for you. It's amazing how ridiculously close the taste is to the true Oreos. (By the way, Double-Stuffed Oreos are the best things. Ever.)

The cookies themselves are of the softer variety--though, if you bake them longer, they get crunchier.

Aren't they pretty? They're even prettier when stuffed full of unhealthy, but ridiculously tasty filling. Yum.

The same day, I also worked on these hand-sized berry galettes for dessert, which turned out better than I thought they would. I basically took 4 or 5 different galette recipes and combined them all to suit what I needed. I don't think they turned out too bad. I'm still trying to figure out the type of dough I like for something like this... I used a different type of crust than the usual one I use for pies and quiches, but I'm not sure which one I like better yet.

Galettes are fun to make, and it really does save on the trouble of rolling out the crust to make it all fit into a pie dish properly, but it's also a little harder to cut. I do like the rustic look to it, though. (Not the best photograph in the world, but it'll do for now.)

Oh yes, and I just have to say: Berries are the best food group. Yes, that's right, food group. :)

I could probably live off of blackberries and never get sick of them. <3 True, I might get diabetes, but who cares... they're blackberries. They're just amazing when you squish them against the roof of your mouth with your tongue. :)

That was all one day, then a few days later, I baked two loaves of brioche for my mother's birthday--she claims she doesn't like sweets (I'm not sure I believe her, still!), but she does love a good loaf of soft bread--and an apple crostata and a lemon torte for a lazy Sunday afternoon BBQ. This required staying up until 2:00 am and waking up at 6:30 in the morning in order to bake the brioche (which required resting in the fridge overnight after ridiculous kneading and 4 hours of rising and being attended to). It was worth it!

The brioche was probably the hardest dough to work with. I used a recipe from Epicurious. In retrospect, I'm not sure why I chose this recipe instead of another one, for example, from Peter Reinhart's book. But I did, and it was too late to change it after I had already warmed my 3 sticks of butter to room temperature. Yes, this recipe made one loaf in my 8" and one in my 9" loaf pan, and it required 3 sticks of butter and 3 eggs. Next time, I'm going to try and make it and cut the butter down by half a stick, because I think it was unnecessarily buttery, even for a brioche.

The dough was ridiculous, and veeery hard to knead by hand. It took a ridiculous amount of arm strength, and I swear my right arm is becoming a lot stronger than my left arm, but I did it, yay! What was frustrating was the part of waiting 2 hours for the first rise, and then constantly deflating the dough in the refrigerator for another 2 hours, then needing to wait for the dough to rest overnight before shaping and allowing for another rise before baking. Still, they still came out beautifully and they were well-received, yay! Unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture of the inside of the bread, but it was definitely one of the softest breads I've ever made!

So, for the BBQ, I used the left-over crust dough from the berry galettes for an apple crostata. It was fairly tasty. It's basically the pie crust, apples (I used granny smiths, as per the usual apple affair), and a cinnamon-sugar crumb topping.

Then, I wanted to use up all the lemons I had bought from Berkeley Bowl earlier in the week!

So, I used them and almond meal to make a lemon torte:

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get a picture of it sliced, but the torte had a nice, dense crumb. This lemon torte is not the flourless type of torte, but does use almond meal with the flour. I think it was pretty darn good, especially with the lemon glaze, yum.

Oh yeah! I had bought almond meal from Trader Joe's, and I had actually used it to make more banana bread for somebody who was diabetic, so I had used whole wheat flour and substituted almond meal for half of the flour, reduced the sugar, etc. It was supposedly received very well, so yay. In fact, I actually baked TWO loaves of banana bread on the same day, hehehe.

Hopefully loading this page wasn't getting ridiculous with all the pictures. Now I need to decide what to make next in my sparkling clean kitchen... :)