food & drink

matcha-almond génoise cake

I recently purchased a couple 5 x 2 inch cake pans so that I can make smaller cakes. Having baked for my family a number of years, I have come to the conclusion that whatever is made, no matter the amount, it will be consumed within 24 hours.

This, folks, is very scary.

Watching this cake get devoured was quite a sight!

But oh, what a light, delicate, and guilt-free cake! This Matcha Green Tea & Almond Génoise Cake was topped with stabilized and whipped heavy whipping cream and a sprinkle of green tea powder. The cake itself was moist and soft, like eating air but with calories.

The recipe came from this wonderful blogger: Sprinkle Cakes. Here’s the recipe if you want to try! (I strongly recommend you do).

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food & drink

chocolate macarons

Did you think that I forgot about macarons?

Hah! As if I could. When something I do is less than perfect, I get a bit obsessive compulsive until I Get. It. Right.

Here are some chocolate macarons with a simple vanilla buttercream filling. The recipe I followed is from this blog, ‘Food is My Life’ (http://foodismylife.wordpress.com/2012/03/19/chocolate-macarons/).

I am still confused about the proper oven temperatures… the same batter (I promise I didn’t mix it more when I made subsequent batches!) results in a variety of macarons: ruined, utterly hopeless, to nearly perfect.

Too bad I don’t have an oven thermometer. There is no way to measure these changes quantitatively otherwise…

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food & drink

lemon chiffon cake with lemon curd filling

One of the benefits of having chickens in our backyard is a fresh supply of eggs. These chickens are free-range, grass-fed (they like to mow our lawns for us), and as natural as it can get in a suburb in the post-industrial information age of the ‘West’. These eggs are not like the store-bought ones. We had always bought organic / “cage-free” eggs, but their yolks are a pale and sickly color compared to the egg yolks of our backyard chickens. The latter are so bright and yellow that there would be absolutely no need to add in extra yellow food-coloring to make a convincingly yellow lemon chiffon cake with lemon curd filling.

For this cake, I adapted a basic chiffon cake recipe to fit my new 5′ aluminum cake pans, used the lemon curd recipe from joyofbaking.com, and whipped up a cup of heavy whipping cream, 2 Tbs granulated sugar, 1 tsp vanilla extract for the frosting.

The lemon juices and grated peels of two large lemons went into the cake and the curd, so a strong sweet and slightly sour flavor of lemons dominate the palate. Like my own and my family’s preference, the cake is not too sweet.

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The past weekend, my sister and I went to Balboa Park in San Diego to take photos of flowers, butterflies, and other creepy crawlies. The weather was warm (a bit too hot, actually. Is it strange that I long for the overcast days of England?!) and the breeze from the nearby ocean made the strong sunshine bearable.

I took these photos in one of the smaller gardens at Balboa Park, the Monarch Butterfly Gardens. The butterflies fluttered around quite a bit, but it was still mating season and they stood still long enough for me to take a couple shots and for them to attract the opposite sex.



food & drink

balboa park, san diego

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food & drink

seeded bread rolls, inspired by trip to germany

During my last term at Oxford, I went to Cologne, Germany with a friend. We saw the small German town and hopped on a train to go to Venlo, Netherlands to check out their horticultural festival. At Cologne, we visited the Chocolate Museum, ate some Wienerschnitzel, and tasted their local beer (which I didn’t like, but I don’t really like beer). Of course we visited the famous twin-tower Cathedral, the Kölner Dom, which is apparently one of the tallest cathedrals in Europe (The title of biggest goes to St. Peter’s in the Vatican, I think).

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My short time in Germany left me with one main impression: Great Bread. This isn’t the kind of bread that France is famous for— the pain de baguette made with white flour. Nope, this is a bread made of whole wheat, rye, spelt, and unabashedly rich in fiber, dark, and dense.

Like most cities in Europe (I presume), Cologne was studded with bakeries at nearly every street corner. In one of the bakeries we went to, there were walls with shelves of different kinds of breads. This wall was partitioned to two parts: mid-dark breads and dark-breads. It seems that white flour was reserved for pastries and pretzels, while most bread rolls and loaves contained a large portion of wheat.

One of my favorite breads was the seeded wheat bread rolls that were used to make hearty, meaty sandwiches. I still dream about them sometimes. So instead of dreaming, I decided to make it. Below is my white-flour adaptation of the seeded bread rolls I fell in love with at Cologne.

Seeded Bread Rolls

Ingredients

Dough A:
1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoons yeast
1/2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup water

Dough B:
1 & 1/2 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 egg

Seed Mixture:
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
2 tablespoons of sesame seeds
1 tablespoon caraway seeds

Directions

Combine the ingredients for Dough A. Shape into a rough dough, do not knead overmuch. Let rise for 1 hour.

Combine the ingredients for Dough B and then Combine Dough A with Dough B. Knead into a smooth ball. Let rise 1 hour and thirty minutes or until doubled in size.

Divide the dough into 8 equal parts and shape into a roll. Let rest for about 5 minutes, then cover the dough with the seed mixture.

Let rise for about 1 hour and 30 minutes to 2 hours.

In a 375F preheated oven, place the tray of seeded bread rolls for 5 minutes, then decrease the temperature to 350 F for 8 to 10 minutes or until golden brown.

These rolls were soft, light in texture, and full of flavor from both the slightly sweet rolls and the variety of seeds. I hope to make a wheat-flour version soon!

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food & drink

rosemary ice cream

Rosemary Icecream

a variation on David Lebovitz’ Mint Chip Ice Cream Recipe

Ingredients

1 cup soy milk
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups heavy cream
pinch of salt

1 cup rosemary, with stem removed
5 large egg yolks

Directions

Basically, follow the directions for David Lebovitz’ Mint Chip Ice Cream recipe but instead of soaking the mint in the milk and sugar mixture, put 1 cup of rosemary instead.

There’s a wonderful fragrance of rosemary and works well with the creaminess. I wonder if it’s possible to do a rosemary & olive oil ice cream?

Incidentally, how in the world does one take photos of quickly melting ice cream in the heat of southern california?!

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food & drink

step-by-step: how to bake french bread (pain de baguette)

Having lived in Berkeley for four years, I have become accustomed to the ease with which one can obtain high-quality artisan breads. Acme Bread and Cheeseboard’s Bakery, to name a few, create wonderful pieces of carbohydrate-goodness. Yet I grew up in the back countries of suburban Southern California and the closest thing I had to a bakery was Panera. Honestly, someone needs to take the bakers at Panera to Paris or San Francisco to show them what bread is supposed to taste and look like.

Lacking any proper boulangeries but dreaming of real bread from pictures on the internet,  I spent my pre-college years attempting to bake the quintessential french bread, or baguette de pain. Now, after my foray into the gastronomical worlds of the Bay Area and Paris, I am still ever obsessed with bread. So basic and fundamental, so easily ignored on a table full of exciting appetizers and gorgeous main dishes, excellent bread is, however,  a life-changing experience (if only for a few minutes of consumption and mastication).

[As a side note, one must go to Germany to eat the bread there as well. Their breads are more dense, chewy, often made with whole-wheat flour and covered with a wonderful combination of seeds. One major thing I remember about my trip to Cologne was the bread.]

So, because of a couple of requests from friends that I teach them to bake bread and the rather unfortunate fact that the process takes a little under two days, I decided to create a step-by-step tutorial on the how-to’s of creating artisan-style French bread. First, the recipe:

French Bread Recipe

or pain de baguette… recipe adapted from Peter Reinhart’s.

Ingredients

2  1/4 cup flour (all-purpose or bread flour and/or wheat flour; it depends on how dense you want this bread. N.B., the more wheat flour you use, the more water you would need to compensate)
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp instant yeast
3/4 cup + 2 tbs water, room temperature (add 1 tbs at a time as necessary, since humidity, type of flour, etc. changes how much water you need for a proper dough).

You need the above ingredients twice, as you make the first half of the dough 24hrs to three days before, keeping it in the refrigerator, and the second half on the day you wish to bake the bread.

Also, I like to use SAF Red Instant Yeast, which allows you to skip the ‘add warm water to yeast and wait 10-15 minutes’ part. It’s quite reliable and lasts for a long time in the refrigerator/freezer. It’s available in Costco and online.

Directions

Step 1: Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl. As you can see, I accidentally added a bit too much water and it’s a bit gloopy. Not to worry if this happens, you can just knead for a longer time when you combine this dough with the second half of the dough (more preferable), or add a bit more flour (not too good, since it messes a bit with the salt/flour/yeast ratios).

Step 2: Cover and let rise 1 hour, and then knead a bit to let out some of the gas that has been developing in the dough. Place in the refrigerator for 24 hours (up to three days). Make sure that this bowl is big enough, since that yeast will make the dough rise to twice its size! I’ve made a mess in the fridge before when I unthinkingly put a large chunk of dough to let rise in the fridge over night. There was a carb-volcanic explosion the next day.

As you can see from the photo below, the consistency of the dough has changed. It’s more bubbly and a bit more smooth.

Step 3: Remove the dough from the fridge and let sit for 1 hour. You want to make that cold cold dough come back closer to room temperature!

Step 4: Mix the ingredients listed above to make the second half of the dough and add it to the first half. Knead it to a rather rough ball. You don’t want to knead it too much in the beginning, it’ll be a waste of energy anyway! You’re not trying to develop the gluten at this point. The dough should come together and look something like this:

Step 5: Let rise for approximately 2 hrs, or until the dough doubles in size. 

Step 6: Knead the dough until it forms a smooth ball. This should not be too hard since letting the dough rise will have allowed the gluten to form all by itself. I wanted to get photos of my kneading, but it was hard to do since I need both hands. Suffice it to say that you take the end of the dough farthest from you, fold it towards you and push down into the rest of the dough by the heel of your hands. If this is hard to visualize, there are a number of videos you can find on youtube.

Step 7: Divide the dough into three pieces after letting the dough rise for another hour.  

Step 8: Shape the three pieces of dough. First, fold the dough into itself to create a single seam and to begin making a loaf shape. Let rest for 10 to 15 minutes when the dough starts pulling back into itself. 

Step 9: Roll out the dough into long, baguette-shaped pieces as pictured below. Let rise for 1 hr and 3o minutes. 

Step 10: Move onto a cookie sheet drizzled with some olive oil. Then, score the dough with a sharp knife. I sprinkled sesame seeds on top of one and caraway seeds on another. You can brush the tops of the baguette with egg whites. It will allow for a darker color and for the seeds to stick to the dough.

Step 11: Place in oven that is preheated at 375 F for 35-45 minutes or until golden-brown. I also like to put a small baking pan on the rack below, filling it with 1 cup boiling water right as I place the dough in the oven. This creates steam, making the bread rise longer. 


Although this bread tastes wonderful all by itself, I decided to make some bruschetta for lunch in order to get some vegetables in our diet.

Bruschetta

serves 4-5

Ingredients

3 medium-sized tomatoes
1 small onion
1/3 cup fresh basil
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black peppers
5 cloves garlic
if you don’t have fresh herbs on hand,
1/2 tsp dried parsley
1/2 tsp dried basil

1/4 cup grated parmesan or sharp white cheddar cheese

Directions

Dice the tomatoes, onions, and finely mince the garlic. Combine and add the olive oil, salt, pepper, and herbs.

Place a spoonful of the mixture on slices of bread that are lined up on the baking sheet. Grate some cheese over the bread and pop in the oven. Broil for 4-5 minutes or until cheese is slightly browned and the bread nicely toasted.


Or, you could just slather on some blueberry-goat cheese…

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food & drink

mint mojito iced coffee

It’s been almost a year since I left the Bay Area, and one of the things I miss the most is food. I miss my friends too, I promise. Philz Coffee has a delightful mint mojito iced coffee concoction, but I never really liked Philz because it was a bit too strong and the coffee always left a strange film-y feeling over my teeth. Am I the only one with this problem?

However, the combination of mint and coffee is very refreshing, and makes even filter-brewed coffee a multi-dimensional experience. There is a hint of lightness from the mint leaves that add to the dark and earthy coffee flavors.

Although there are various methods, I prefer this mint + coffee beans filtering method because the mint is not too over-powering. I did add mint leaves to the final drink for aesthetic appeal, but a note of caution: mint leaves floating into your mouth whilst you’re trying to drink coffee is a bit disturbing. It’s the texture, I think.

Mint Mojito Iced Coffee

serves 4

Ingredients

6 cups water
3-4 tbs ground coffee (or according to one’s own preferred coffee bean to water ratio)
1 cup mint leaves

Directions

In a conventional filter drip coffee-maker, place the mint leaves on top of the ground coffee beans.

Turn on coffee-maker to make coffee as usual.

Let cool and add some left over mint leaves for extra flavor and color if desired.

Add ice cubes and serve.

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food & drink

mango mascarpone macarons || sesame seed and red bean paste macarons

As mentioned in my previous post, I think I have definitely a case of macaron-fever. This is a disease most prevalent in bakers. Common symptoms include: buying mass quantities of almonds or almond flour, eggs, and powdered sugar; kneeling in front of the oven for 15-18 minutes at a time in supplication to the fabled macaron-gods; crying and laughing alternately in an overall instability of mood.

But! Now I’ve really got it! I finally figured out the correct consistency needed for the macaron batter (it took about three tries). Also, I figured out that I needed to whip the crap out of the egg whites— no bec d’oiseau for us! Lastly, I messed up a couple batches trying to get the oven temperature and positioning of the trays correctly.

Now, just to reiterate and add to BraveTart’s macaron myth-busting. Fresh eggs, old eggs, it doesn’t matter. I used both old eggs as well as eggs that had come out of our chickens that same morning. The main point of making a good macaron is good technique: whipping the meringue and doing the macaronage correctly. 

French Macarons Recipe

from Bravetart (http://bravetart.com/recipes/Macarons)

Ingredients

115g blanched almonds or almond flour
230g powdered sugar
144g egg whites— temperature, age, and farm-freshness or store-bought, all not important.
72g sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp salt

Directions

Preheat 300F

Place the almonds and powdered sugar in the food processor. For the mango mascarpone macarons, I just used the normal macaron batter but added a bit of yellow/red food coloring. Blend and put through a sifter.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, add salt and the vanilla extract to the egg whites. Whip on low speed and when it gets foamy, add the sugar. Increase the speed to medium and then medium high.

Whip the egg whites until stiff peaks form. It should have the consistency of shaving cream.

Place the meringue in the almond mixture and perform the magical art of macaronage.

When you get to that perfect molten-lava consistency, pipe your precious macaron batter on a cookie sheet.

Place in the oven at 300F for 15-18 minutes depending on the size of your macs.

For the filling, blend 1 cup mango, 1/2 cup mascarpone, 1 Tbs heavy cream and 1 Tbs powdered sugar. I really enjoyed this flavor. The filling was light, delicate and balanced well with the shells.

The sesame seed red bean paste macarons were quite simple. I just blended a handful of sesame seeds and added it to the dry ingredients while making the macaron shells, and filled them with red bean paste that my mom had made a while back.

mango mascarpone macarons

 

sesame seed and red bean paste macarons

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food & drink

mama’s cooking

One of the best things about summer and winter breaks. Alas, having now graduated, hopefully forever, I will no longer have those! Right now, I am (f)unemployed and pretty much enjoying it as much as possible. As a goal-oriented individual obsessed with planners, schedules, and to-do lists, I try to keep the day full. As evidenced from the photos below, I obviously like to keep my stomach full as well.

During the school year, it is quite hard for me to find my balance between the body, mind, and spirit. Quite often, the mind is favored to the detriment of the body and spirit. What does this mean in practical terms? I gain an unsightly amount of weight from eating improperly, sleeping badly, and not exercising. I also get a bit sad and lonely; my spirit shrinks and disappears into the abyss of books and papers.

Now, however, I feel that my trinitarian balance is regaining equilibrium. You have to take my word that my spirit is burning a bit brighter, but I have photographic proof that my body is quite content. Witness ‘Exhibit A’: the product of hours of labor, home-made dumplings! We made our own dough and filling for these dumplings, and they were excellent both steamed and fried.

Although making dumplings is hard work, if you have a few friends or family members and a bit of time, it’s enjoyable (chatting with friends/family) and productive (results in a bunch of dumplings that can be eaten immediately and frozen for next time).

Exhibit B, my mother made a Korean bean-noodle dish (콩국수). It’s cold, savory and above all, it’s 고소해. There is no good English translation for this last phrase, as it may be singularly a Korean’s flavor palette. As an attempt, it usually describes a taste to a dish that includes sesame seeds or sesame oil. It’s a certain type of flavor that reminds me of Korea, the soft sweetness of my grandmother, and the rare breezes during a hot Korean summer. In any case, this is a must-try dish!

My last example, shown below, is sushi! Although the fish isn’t home-made (Wild Tuna), the sushi rice sure is! We had this twice the past week along with some wonderful udon-soup.

Anyone else making use of their free time in like manner? I’m a bit of a hedonist when it comes to food and I must admit that what is shown on this blog is but a fraction of what actually ends up in my mouth.

For those who want to try making Korean dishes but sadly lack a Korean grandmother/mother/aunt to learn from, I highly recommend the food blogger Maangchi. She has how-to videos and recipes for all sorts of Korean dishes!

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food & drink

matcha green tea macarons and mint ice cream

Hurrah! I almost made myself sick trying to get these right, but I finally did it! I made the perfect macarons! It was so hard to blend the blanched almonds with powdered sugar, get the right consistency of whipped egg whites, and exercise proper macaronage technique. Last year when I had first tried this, my heart broke every time a batch of cracked macarons came out of the oven.

Not this time, folks! Here’s to tenacity and stubbornness— voici beautiful matcha green tea macarons!

The feet are not as developed as it should be (okay, so they’re not perfect), but next time I’ll let them sit out for 30-60 min and see if that helps with anything. Bravetart’s blog has an awesomely helpful post on macarons, which really helped me realize that the main two issues in making perfect macarons are 1. the whipping of the egg whites and 2. the macaronage, or the mixing of the wet and dry ingredients to the so-called ‘lava’ consistency. Unfortunately, I have never seen lava flowing down a volcano, so it was a bit hard to imagine how that would translate to macaron-batter. I think I have some idea now, however.

French Macarons Recipe

Of all the various macaron recipes I’ve tried, Bravetart’s seems to be the best. So below are the ingredients and their amounts that she listed. See her website for more details on process and technique: (http://bravetart.com/recipes/Macarons)

Ingredients

115g blanched almonds or almond flour
230g powdered sugar
144g egg whites— temperature, age, and farm-freshness or store-bought, all not important.
72g sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp salt

Directions

Preheat 300F

Place the almonds and powdered sugar in the food processor. For the mango mascarpone macarons, I just used the normal macaron batter but added a bit of yellow/red food coloring. Blend and put through a sifter.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, add salt and the vanilla extract to the egg whites. Whip on low speed and when it gets foamy, add the sugar. Increase the speed to medium and then medium high.

Whip the egg whites until stiff peaks form. It should have the consistency of shaving cream.

Place the meringue in the almond mixture and perform the magical art of macaronage.

When you get to that perfect molten-lava consistency, pipe your precious macaron batter on a cookie sheet.

Place in the oven at 300F for 15-18 minutes depending on the size of your macs.

Apologies for the not-so-aesthetically-pleasing photo of the mint ice cream. In any case, this home- and hand-made ice cream was absolutely delicious. I used David Lebovit’s recipe (here) and the mint leaves from the plant in our backyard. The freshness of mint perfectly accompanied the sweet softness of the ‘cream’. For those without an ice-cream maker (i.e., me!!!), it is quite possible to make ice-cream by hand (David Lebovitz has another handy article on how to do so).

I think I’ve got macaron-fever…

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