Sunday, September 30, 2007

Look At These Pretty Buns

I have never made cinnamon or sticky buns before, and I have never been a Daring Baker before. Put the two together and what do you get? My first ever Daring Baker challenge for the month of September, of course! I was pleased, honored, and excited when I became a member of the Daring Bakers for I knew that I would be joining a rather talented bunch of people who month after month have been creating many mouth-watering, tantalizing treats that I admired. Needless to say, I was a bit nervous and a lot excited when I found out that this month's recipe was for cinnamon and/or sticky buns. I love to eat both of these sweet treats (who doesn't like Cinnabon, right), and I decided that I wanted to try my hand at baking both. This month's challenge was hosted by Marce of Pip In The City. Looking at the recipe, I found it to be pretty easy to read and follow, and I even had most of the ingredients on hand already. As expected for yeast-bread recipes, this one takes a long time because of the two fermentation processes (the first one being about 2 hours and the second one close to 90 minutes). Otherwise, the actual dough-making, the dough-rolling, and the prepping of the caramel for the sticky buns and fondant glaze for the cinnamon buns was not very time consuming at all. I think I worried a little when it looked like my dough was not doubling up in size during the two hour rising process. I wondered if maybe my house was a little too cool on this particular evening? By the time the two hours rolled around however, the dough had risen but still not sure if it was actually "double" like the recipe stated. I kept my fingers crossed and proceeded on anyways, hoping that everything would work out in the end. And pretty much it did! The baking time for the sticky buns may have been a little too long for my oven (I baked them for 33 minutes), because the raisins looked a little burnt but otherwise, the buns looked and tasted great. My boyfriend was partial to the cinnamon buns and my brother liked the sticky buns. Me? Well, I liked both and am quite relieved I made it through my first challenge!

Friday, September 28, 2007

Breakfast In The Reyn

Step inside the Reyn Coffee Shop and you might feel like you've stepped into a coffee shop time warp. The Reyn has the look and feel of something right out of the 1970's, complete with its powder blue-vinyl booths, large drop-down shaded lamps, and linoleum flooring. Interior decorating aside however, the Reyn offers up some good, basic, homey food, and an excellent cup of Joe. We stopped by one Sunday morning to try out their breakfast offerings and were not disappointed with what we found. Though the restaurant has quite a selection of both pancakes and French toast, we were more in the mood for eggs on this particular day.
My order of two perfectly cooked poached eggs and bacon came with some of the crispiest hash browns that I've had in a long time. I was surprised at how non-greasy these were, and boy, were they good! My order also came with a delicious, slightly toasted slice of homemade banana bread. My boyfriend decided on the Canadian bacon, scrambled eggs, and fruit (unlike me, he doesn't like hash browns). The four generous pieces of Canadian bacon were thick and full of flavor, and proved to be more than enough for my BF to finish, even with me stealing one of the pieces!
As we enjoyed our meal, I couldn't help but feel like I was eating in a good friend's house. That's just the feeling you get while eating at the Reyn Coffee Shop, and I'm already looking forward to my next visit there. Maybe I'll get the pancakes next time.
The Reyn Coffee Shop
635 N. Lake Ave.
Pasadena, CA. 91101

Thursday, September 27, 2007

A Pineapple Dance

I baked a batch of pineapple muffins to bring into work today for a breakfast potluck. The breakfast is in honor of a fellow employee who is retiring tomorrow after 30+ years of hard work! This recipe is adapted from one that came from the cookbook, Vegetarian Nights by Bonnie Mandoe. Though this is the first time I'm actually posting from it, I've used quite a few recipes from this cookbook which is a compilation of both savory and sweet recipes from the author's native Hawaii. As you can see from the ingredients, the Hawaiian "touch" in these muffins would be the use of both pineapple and macadamia nuts. It also uses relatively little oil, and lots of whole grains like wheat germ, bran and rolled oats. Pretty healthy, yes, but what about the taste? Sorry to say that I'll have to find out later on today after our breakfast event to tell you that answer. Congratulations, Mike!
Pineapple Muffins (adapted from Vegetarian Nights): yields 14 standard size muffins
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour (can also use 1/2 cup AP and 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry)
1/2 cup wheat germ
1/2 cup wheat bran
1/2 cup old fashioned rolled oats
1 tablespoon baking powder (aluminum free)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup canola oil (or try coconut oil)
1/2 cup honey
2 eggs
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 cup minus 1 tablespoon milk (I used non-fat)
3/4 cup chopped, sweet pineapple (can use fresh or canned--make sure it's well-drained)
1/2 cup golden raisins
Macadamia nuts for garnishing
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F; combine the dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl.
2. In another bowl (medium size), whisk together the wet ingredients, then fold in the pineapple and the raisins.
3. Add the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, mixing only to moisten the batter thoroughly.
4. Distribute the batter evenly into a standard size cupcake pan (can use paper liners also). Place 1 macadamia nut in the center of each muffin.
5. Bake the muffins in the center of the oven for about 15 minutes--do not overbake! (do the toothpick test--insert into the center of a muffin--if it comes out clean, it's ready).

okay, it's well into lunch time now and I've taken a few bites of these muffins and...I like them a lot! They are sweet without being too sweet, and they're light; sort of reminds me of a chiffon or sponge cake. Hard to believe there's all that good-for-you fiber inside of them. If you give the recipe a try, do let me know what you think!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

A Nutty Sweet Treat

My boyfriend happens to be particularly fond of cashews (macadamia nuts are pretty high up on his list too). So when I came across a recipe that combines both cashews and chocolate, I knew this was something I wanted to bake for him. In addition to chocolate and cashews, this rich and gooey recipe calls for a few more ingredients you probably already have in your kitchen: brown sugar, butter, condensed milk, and saltine crackers. See, easy as pie! Or, in this case, easy as cashew bars! You can get creative and maybe do a mixed nut version with some pecans, macadamia nuts, and almonds. I was also thinking that some chopped up dried fruit would work out nicely. Or, just keep it simple like I did, allowing yourself to savor the lovely combination of semi-sweet chocolate and buttery cashew nuts. Oh yeah!

(Click here for the recipe).

Monday, September 24, 2007

Pumpkin Risotto

When I saw that Sathya and Elizabeth from The Baker and The Currymaker were hosting their first ever blogging event, The Risotto Relay, I knew I wanted to join in on the challenge. I have never made risotto before and wanted to give it a try. Since it's now a new season and autumn always conjures up images of Halloween and pumpkins for me, why not make a pumpkin risotto? I love pie, bread, muffins, and yes, now even risotto! And since I happen to keep my cupboard pretty well-stocked with canned pumpkin puree, this recipe was really a breeze to prepare. Just make sure you give yourself plenty of time in the cooking process though; risotto requires lots of attention and plenty of stirring! I found this recipe on the website, The end result was a creamy, delicious, rich risotto with a subtle pumpkin flavor. Someone summed up risotto this way: it is elegant comfort food. I'd have to agree.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Saturday Slow Cooking-Soy Ginger Chicken

Today is the last full day of summer, can you believe it? Another thing that may be hard to believe is the rainy and cool weather we've been having here in Southern California the last couple of days. The premature fall-like climate made me feel like cooking something comforting and filling. I came across this recipe for soy ginger chicken in the Martha Stewart publication, Everyday Food, and since I made a trek to Costco today and bought a boatload of chicken, it was an easy choice. I also liked the fact that I had most of the other ingredients in my pantry and left out whatever I didn't. The dish is actually quite simple to put together--just combine all the ingredients in a pot and let your oven do the work. That's what slow cooking is all about. The end result is a deliciously tender chicken that we ate with some brown rice. So long, summer.
Soy Ginger Chicken (adapted from Everyday Food December 2006)
4 chicken drumsticks and 4 thighs (total of about 2 and 1/2 pounds)--skin removed
4 medium carrots--cut up in chunks
1/2 cup low sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 cloves garlic, sliced thin
1 small piece of ginger (about 2 inches long)-peeled and cut into thin strips
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
2. Using a 5-6 qt. Dutch oven, mix the soy sauce, brown sugar, garlic, ginger, vinegar and pepper.
3. Add the chicken and carrots and toss well to coat; add 1 cup of water.
4. Cover with tight fitting lid and transfer to oven. Cook about 1 and 1/2 hours until chicken is tender.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

A Visit To Claim Jumper Restaurant

As much as I enjoy baking and cooking, I also enjoy eating out. This weekend was no exception since I was feeling a little under the weather and couldn’t seem to get myself going in the kitchen. So, we decided to treat ourselves to lunch at, where else, but Claim Jumper. I can’t seem to recall if I’ve ever eaten at this popular West Coast chain before. I just know that this restaurant is known for its huge portions and huge crowds, especially on the weekends. Since we had a late lunch (around 1pm-ish), we got our table-for-two right away. The place was still bustling with the Sunday afternoon crowd but we didn’t have to wait very long at all before our waiter came by with menus and took our drink orders. My boyfriend already knew that he wanted a hamburger but just in case you’ve never been to a CJ’s yourself, be forewarned that their menu is pretty vast and they have about a half-dozen different types of burgers. He decided on the “black and bleu” burger—half a pound of ground beef with blue cheese and applewood bacon on wheatberry bread (he’s not a huge fan of hamburger buns), with a side of french fries. After much page turning and changing my mind several times, I chose the roasted turkey sandwich on tomato herb bread with a side of Thai peanut slaw. I was very pleased with my turkey sandwich. First of all, the tomato herb bread was quite good—think of foccacia with that wonderful rustic flavor, speckled with sun dried tomatoes. The texture had a nice chewiness to it and the generous amount of turkey slices, lettuce, and tomatoes in between the bread made for a very hearty lunch. The Thai “slaw” that came with my sandwich was also tasty and light. This is not your typical creamy coleslaw but is instead a slaw that’s been lightly tossed with a tangy, vinegar and sesame oil-based dressing with lots of chopped up veggies like zucchini, carrots, and Napa cabbage, with some roasted peanuts tossed in. I liked the slaw so much that I’m hoping to make something similar in the near future! My BF was also singing praises for his burger which was cooked just as he prefers, medium rare, topped with bacon and served with a side of blue cheese. In fact, he found the beef to be so juicy and flavorful that he didn’t think all the additional accoutrements were even necessary. The shoestring fries were also a big hit with him which says a lot because he is one person who certainly knows his French fries! Overall, I really enjoyed this visit to Claim Jumper Restaurant--high quality food, great service and reasonable prices. See, taking a little break from cooking does have its perks too!
Claim Jumper Restaurant
820 W. Huntington Dr.
Monrovia, CA.
(various locations in California, Colorado, Washington, and Arizona)

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Sunday Sweets--Black-Bottom Cupcakes

If you're in the mood for something creamy, chocolaty, and yet pretty simple to make, then how about trying this recipe for black-bottom cupcakes? It combines the two delicious flavors of cream cheese and chocolate into one, resulting in a cupcake that would be perfect for that next office potluck, or for a quick and convenient breakfast. The recipe comes from The Great Book of Chocolate by David Lebovitz. Let me know what you think!

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Eat Your Oats!

I've been hanging onto this recipe for Crumbly Apricot Oat Bars for some time now and finally got around to baking this last night. It's yet another recipe that contains some good-for-you oats and is loaded with lots of fiber-rich, heart-healthy apricots. According to the website, The World's Healthiest Foods, apricots are rich in Vitamin A which is a powerful antioxidant that promotes good vision, and they are also a good source of beta-carotene and lycopene which help prevent heart disease. Yes, these bars do have their fair share of butter and could even pass as a dessert, but hey, when something is packed with so many other health promoting ingredients, I say, let go and enjoy. Plus, they taste so darn good! One side note, you may have noticed that the fruit filling is more of a deep purple color, not at all apricot-looking. Well, I realized at the last minute that I didn't have any apricot preserves on hand so I simply substituted with some low-sugar blueberry preserves instead. I thought the combination of apricots and blueberries made a very nice pair. Oh, and if you're feeling particularly indulgent, top these off with some vanilla ice cream (or frozen yogurt).

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Making Whoopie Pies

Actually, I should have titled these “whoop-see” pies because this was one word I yelped out while putting the ingredients together on Sunday morning. You see, I mistakenly added one full cup of both buttermilk and hot water into the mix instead of the one-half cup of each that it called for. I guess that’s what happens when one is trying to conserve energy and cooks in semi-darkness. When I noticed how liquidy the batter became and yet the directions said I was supposed to “roll” the “dough” into a ball (??!)…yeah, right. Well, that’s when I turned on the kitchen light and noticed my error. Whoops.
In any case, I did what any other wise-minded baker would—I doubled the amount of flour and baking soda, said a little prayer, and proceeded on. Don’t ask me why I didn’t double up the sugar; maybe I was trying to make it a healthier whoopie pie. As far as the cocoa powder was concerned, I ran out so I had no choice but to leave the amount as-is. Yes, call me a risk taker! And sometimes risks do pay off in life because guess what? My whoopie pies turned out just as moist, luscious, and chocolaty as I had hoped. My boyfriend took a bite and commented that it reminded him of a Hostess Ding Dong (minus the chocolate frosting), which were my sentiments too. My cousin tasted one and said it tasted like a Devil Dog cake. Well, in case you haven’t tried either a Ding Dong or a Devil Dog in your life (and I’m sorry if you’ve been deprived of such childhood experiences), think of these as a cross between a brownie and a chocolate cupcake. I think I knew I really hit the whoopie-pie-baking-jackpot though when my five year old niece joyfully consumed her pie, ran over to me with a big, chocolate smile on her face, gave me a huge hug, and said “thank-you for baking this”! She knows just what to say to her old Auntie! So,

despite my almost near miss with ruining this recipe, I learned a couple valuable lessons: first, never cook in the dark, especially when your electricity is working fine; and second, there are really no hard and fast rules when it comes to baking. Just have fun, experiment a little, laugh at your mistakes, and maybe, just maybe, things will turn out okay.

Here's my adaptation of Whoopie Pies based on Tish Boyle's Recipe:
ingredients for chocolate cookie--
4 cups AP flour
1 cup non-alkalized cocoa powder
3/8 tsp salt
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg yolk
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp baking soda
1 cup hot water
1 cup buttermilk
ingredients for creamy filling--
2 cups powdered sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla extract

directions for the cookies--
1. Place a rack in the center of the oven, preheat oven to 400 degrees F; butter or use non-stick cooking spray on two baking sheets.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder and salt; set aside
3. In a bowl of electric mixer, using the paddle attatchment, beat the butter and the sugar together at med-high speed until well mixed, about 2 minutes. Add egg yolk and beat until well blended, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Beat in vanilla extract. Stir the baking soda into the hot water. Adding one-third ingredient at a time, alternately add the hot water mixture, buttermilk, and dry ingreds, ending with the dry ingredients, and mixing just until well combined (dough should be somewhat thick at this point).
4. Using wet hands, shape the dough into 1-inch balls and arrange them 2-inches apart on the baking sheets. Moisten your palm with water and flatten each ball into a 1 and 1/4-inch disk. Bake the cookies for approx. 7-9 minutes, until the surfaces are cracked. The cookies will still be quite soft but will firm up as they cool. Immediately transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.

directions for the filling--
Using an electric mixer, beat the powdered sugar with the butter at medium speed until the mixture is crumbly, about 1 minute. Add the heavy cream and beat at high speed until smooth. Add the vanilla extract and salt and beat until blended.

assembly of whoopie pies--
Using a small offset metal spatula, spread the bottoms of half of the cookies with 1 heaping teaspoon of filling each. Top with the remaining cookies and press them together gently. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days.
Yields about 15 medium sized whoopie pies.