Friday, May 1, 2009

Look out Needless Markup...Here I Come!

I've been to Neiman Marcus a few times for lunch and it has always been a pleasant experience that started with some heavenly consomme and this ginormous muffin thingy that looked like it belonged to the giant in Jack & the Beanstalk. So I just happen to be channel surfing and come across Alton Brown's Good Eats and what is he up to? Ginormous Muffins! only he wants to call them POPOVERS. So I promptly head over to their website to get his recipe - only because it seemed like magic on tv. Drippy, runny batter in, beautiful pouffy muffins out. How in the world did it happen? I HAD to try it out for myself. The recipe looks way too easy to have such a result that was shown on the telly. 5 ingredients and 5 steps - see for yourself:

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted and cooled, plus 1 teaspoon room temperature for pan
4 3/4 ounces all-purpose flour, approximately 1 cup
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup whole milk, room temperature

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Grease a 6-cup popover pan with the 1 teaspoon of butter.
Place all of the ingredients into a food processor or blender and process for 30 seconds. Divide the batter evenly between the cups of the popover pan, each should be about 1/3 to 1/2 full. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 40 minutes. Remove the popovers to a cooling rack and pierce each in the top with a knife to allow steam to escape. Serve warm.

The only thing I did differently was to heat my pan in the oven for a little while before pouring the batter in. Not because I thought it was some top secret trick for making better popovers... truthfully, I was too lazy to grease the pan with butter so I figured I'd drop a little blob of butter in each one and it would melt. All I had to do was tilt the pan around to coat the sides a little. I amaze myself sometimes.
I have to admit - saying I was skeptical is the understatement of the year. As I was pouring, yes, literally pouring this runny batter (think soupy) into my popover pan I was wholeheartedly hoping it will come out right, but then again, I was not holding my breath.
Side note: I've had this popover pan for a few years. I picked it up at a thrift store with every intention of using it but instead, it collected dust. Alas, it has finally seen the light of day evening.. I didn't get a "before" picture, but here they are in the oven about halfway through, so about 20 minutes in. Try to ignore the water spotted oven door.

YES! They are out of the oven and lookin lovely.
Can you believe it - they even have the prerequisite holes inside!! I had to try one right away. Then I had to try another. You know, just in case the first one was a fluke. lol! Slather on some butter and passion fruit jelly. *sigh* why didn't I try this sooner? My popover pan will definitley be getting some serioulsy good use for some seriously Good Eats! Just thinking about all the variations I can try.....mmmmm!

No more Needless Markup for me....I'm making my own popovers from now on!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Daring Bakers April Challenge......
The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge.

This was a very straightforward recipe, which was nice. This made it very easy to play with the flavorings. My only regret is that I made a plain cheesecake. In hindsight, I would have just made a whole bunch of different flavored cheesecake minis.

It all started like this.....crust:
2 cups / 180 g graham cracker crumbs
1 stick / 4 oz butter, melted
2 tbsp. / 24 g sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract

3 sticks of cream cheese, 8 oz each (total of 24 oz) room temperature
1 cup / 210 g sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup / 8 oz heavy cream
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tbsp. vanilla extract (or the innards of a vanilla bean)
1 tbsp liqueur, optional, but choose what will work well with your cheesecake

DIRECTIONS:1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (Gas Mark 4 = 180C = Moderate heat). Begin to boil a large pot of water for the water bath.
2. Mix together the crust ingredients and press into your preferred pan. You can press the crust just into the bottom, or up the sides of the pan too - baker's choice. Set crust aside.
3. Combine cream cheese and sugar in the bowl of a stand-mixer (or in a large bowl if using a hand-mixer) and cream together until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, fully incorporating each before adding the next. Make sure to scrape down the bowl in between each egg. Add heavy cream, vanilla, lemon juice, and alcohol and blend until smooth and creamy.
4. Pour batter into prepared crust and tap the pan on the counter a few times to bring all air bubbles to the surface. Place pan into a larger pan and pour boiling water into the larger pan until halfway up the side of the cheesecake pan. If cheesecake pan is not airtight, cover bottom securely with foil before adding water.
5. Bake 45 to 55 minutes, until it is almost done - this can be hard to judge, but you're looking for the cake to hold together, but still have a lot of jiggle to it in the center. You don't want it to be completely firm at this stage. Close the oven door, turn the heat off, and let rest in the cooling oven for one hour. This lets the cake finish cooking and cool down gently enough so that it won't crack on the top. After one hour, remove cheesecake from oven and lift carefully out of water bath. Let it finish cooling on the counter, and then cover and put in the fridge to chill. Once fully chilled, it is ready to serve.

So I went ahead and made a plain ol' cheesecake:

Then the fun began. I knew I wanted to make a pomegranate flavored cheesecake with this little bottle of heavenly scented red liquid that I've been dying to use. I added a tiny bit of food coloring to get the nice pink coloring in this mini.

Next I did a large cupcake pan of cheesecake minis. I started with Lavender. I bought these dried lavender flowers at a health food store and thought this would be a good opportunity to try them out. Then I did a praline/Hazelnut Kahlua, a lime mini with a drop of green food coloring, an almond extract flavored mini, a mango flavored one, and a peanut butter flavored one.

In the picture above, it's Mango, Lime, Kahlua in the top row and Peanut Butter, Almond, Lavender below. Hmmm...maybe I should have combined the Kahlua, Peanut Butter and Almond ones together?

So everything went fairly well in the oven. I used a water bath, lowered the temp to 325 and set the oven to convection bake. This automatically adjusted the temp down to 300 degrees, which was my goal.

I was nice and patient. Really. I let them cool off and didn't even pester them to hurry up. They cool sufficiently, and using my little parchment "handles" I gently remove them from the pan. good little cheesecakes. They were on their best behavior. Then along came Mr. Mango, the rebel of the bunch. He just would not cooperate. He got his just desserts, though. No, wait. Actually I got my just desserts. I.ate.him. Without thinking twice. And I enjoyed every bit of it. Notice the very conspicuous void in the picture? Yea....Mr Mango didn't quite live up to plating standards.

Now there was a lesson to be learned here. Mangoes are tasty, there couldn't possibly be too much of a good thing, could there? I guess I have to accept reality. Pureed mango makes for runny cheesecake when you dont measure it out. LOL! that's okay it still tasted soooo good. In fact it was so good, I'll be making a mango-flavored cheesecake (not too much mango in the batter) with a nice mango glaze. Now if only those darn mangoes would hurry up and grow and ripen so I can pick them!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Road Trip Hawaii? YES! I know it's not a real road trip, but when you live on an island, sometimes you have to make do with what you've got. People who live on large continents don't usually understand when someone who lives in Hawaii balks at driving 40 miles (that's like driving halfway around the island!) to get somewhere. Driving around the island is something I haven't done in a while so I thought this weekend would be a good time since the weather was nice. A little too windy and hazy for my liking, but still nice. And the bonus of it was that my daughter and I got to spend an entire day together.... plus we got out of the house and away from the madness. We've already decided that we need to do this more often s0 hopefully every month we'll get to fantasize about living in some fabulous beach-front mansion. Come along with us and enjoy our little weekend outing!

Our first stop was Keehi Beach Park. Not the best beach on the island, but popular with the paddlers for practicing.

This isn't really scenic, but we did stop to visit my favorite homeless kitty that I have so affectionately named Cujo. Before you bite my head off, I know he's not a dog, I know he's not rabid, and wait a minute...I'm not 100% sure it's a he and not a she. I'm sticking with HE. He's a sweetie and I visit him a couple times a week...along with the other kitties that hang out at this park.

We did drive by Ala Moana Beach and Waikiki, but no photos since we didn't stop and get out of the car. Besides, there are a million billion beach shots of those on the Internet.

This next one is one of the scenic stops along Diamond Head. Notice there's no one on the beach? Yea, that's because you have to hike down from the parking area and for what? To lay on a beach that's full of rocks. This area is popular with wind surfers.

A tribute to Amelia Diamond Head.
I've lived here my entire life (so far) and this is the first time I've seen this rock. I'm not even sure what it's doing here. Oh wait..I remember now. I read the rock and it said she was the first person to fly alone from Hawaii to North America in 1935.

This is the view from one of the Diamond Head scenic stops. That lump in the background is part of the old volcano named "Koko Head."
The white structure near the center of the photo, that's my house. Oh no...was I dreaming again? Sorry.

Koko Head is sort of whale-shaped. Come on, use your imagination... here's the whales tail (below). If you look closely, at the middle of the tail you can see the hiking stair trail that we plan on doing someday.

We stopped by the Halona Blow Hole but the tide was low and not much blowing was happening. As you can see, it's a beautiful area, but the surf is pretty rough and being windy just makes it worse. We didn't stay long at all because I'm a wimp and don't like cold & wind.

It's been a couple of hours and we're needing a bathroom break. Of course there is no bathroom here and I'm not about to jump in the water. So we drive just down the road a little to Sandy Beach. It's been a long time since I've been here so I didn't know what I was in for. We find a parking space near one of the bathrooms; yippee, there are actually doors on the stalls! That's probably the only thing this bathroom has going for it. Of course, it's not a clean bathroom, what was I expecting - but that's not the best part. Have you ever seen those documentaries that show you the inside of a prison cell? That's the kind of toilet that was in this bathroom! I kid you not.... stainless steel bow with no seat. I guess it's hover time. At least there was some tissue and I didn't have to resort to the fast food napkins sitting in my glove box. There's an experience I could have done without. I'm sure we'll be laughing about it soon.

Ah, Chinaman's Hat or Mokoli'i "Little Lizard."

It doesn't look very far, does it? If you're a good swimmer, you can swim out to the island. Otherwise, you can walk out during low tide or paddle out on a kayak, raft or surfboard.

This is why I wouldn't swim out. It's far!!

okay, it's not that far, but I had a bad experience here as a child that involved Portuguese Man-o-War and lots of screaming on my part. I told you I was a wimp. Still, it's farther than I would want to or am even capable of swimming.

So we finally made it to the north end of the island and stopped at the famous - or is it infamous? Shrimp Truck. There are more than a few shrimp trucks in Kahuku that sell plates of Kahuku Shrimp, but this one by far has the largest reputation. This was more than evidenced by the long wait to get our order. Once we ordered, number 43 was ready for pick up and our tag said 6. Yes. 6. Just before we started freaking out that we would be there until sunset, we realized the numbers ended at 50 then started again. Still we had to wait through 13 plates before they called our number. Was it worth it? Not just no...hell no. $12 for 12 pieces of overcooked shrimp with 2 scoops of rice. I can do way better at home. Was it an experience? Yes. Now we can say "Been there, Done that." Once was enough.

We drove on through the North Shore and stopped at Pupukea. Once again nature was calling and we drank too much soda. This bathroom rivaled the Sandy Beach bathroom in more ways than one. There was a line at this one. One stall had no paper! But there was a normal toilet so I didn't feel like an inmate. Luckily, there was a smart person in line who brought a roll of paper towels with her - bless her soul. Paper towels = ouch. but better than nothing.

We were going to stop for some shave ice in Haleiwa, but it was getting late, we were getting tired, and the lines were insanely long. I personally don't get it. People drive miles and miles to these shave ice stands where parking is very limited so they can stand in line for over 30 minutes, fight off the bees and pay way more than they should for ice with flavored syrup. But hey, that's just me. I own a small shave ice machine and can make my own at home...and WalMart sells the syrup really cheap :)

Well that was our day. We visited beautiful beaches, said hello to my cat friends, experienced a few undesirable bathrooms, dreamed about living in a celebrity crib, ate overcooked shrimp, and best of....created memories.

Friday, March 27, 2009

My first Daring Bakers challenge

Wow! Where did the time go this month? I have so much to post, but no time to do it. It's a good thing there's a target date for Daring Bakers or I probably wouldn't get this up in time.

I was so excited to receive my email letting me in on this exclusive society and just couldn't wait to get started on my first challenge. I have to admit though, I was a little disappointed that it wasn't a dessert - for some reason I just associate baking with dessert, rather than main meal dishes. After reading the quite lengthy instructions, it was abundantly clear that this was really going to be a challenge after all. Anyway..... on to the lasagne!

And now the requisite info to prove I actually did it:
The March 2009 challenge is hosted by Mary of Beans and Caviar, Melinda of Melbourne Larder and Enza of Io Da Grande. They have chosen Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna from The Splendid Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper as the challenge.

This could probably win the award for longest recipe I have ever made. One part of this challenge was to make the lasagne noodles by hand. Yikes! Have you ever tried making pasta by hand? Quite a challenge indeed. Luckily, I just happen to own a pasta machine that has only tasted pasta once before in its lifetime. Let me just state for the record that I tried to hand roll the pasta but there was just no way they were going to get as thin as I wanted them to.

Here's the recipe:
#1 Spinach Egg Pasta (Pasta Verde)
Preparation: 45 minutes
Makes enough for 6 to 8 first course servings or 4 to 6 main course servings, equivalent to 1 pound (450g) dried boxed pasta.
2 jumbo eggs (2 ounces/60g or more)
10 ounces (300g) fresh spinach, rinsed dry, and finely chopped; or
6 ounces (170g) frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry
3 & 1/2 cups (14 ounces/400g) all purpose unbleached (plain) flour (organic stone ground preferred)

Here's what a 16oz bag of frozen spinach looks like when all the water is squeezed out. Sheesh - good thing I didn't buy the 8oz box or I'd be making another trip back to the store. It was nice of them to put exactly 6oz of spinach in a 16oz bag.
LOL!! Part of the instructions say "Don’t worry if it looks like a hopelessly rough and messy lump." There's the understatement of the year. I thought it would never come together and transform into a smooth elastic ball of dough.
Maybe it was because I took a shortcut... I beat the eggs, then mixed them with the spinach before mixing it into the flour.

Here's mr. egg-enriched spinach awaiting his destiny to meet the love of his life, ms flour.

After much rolling and passing through the pasta maker, finally, success. I had no idea I would be making so much pasta! Wow, I could've had a block party and fed everyone with this recipe.

I think my noodles were fairly successful. They were thin, kind of transparent (I could see my hand through them), but best of all, they tasted Yum-O! Not even very spinach-y.
The only weird part was that it looked like I was hanging a bunch of nori around the kitchen.

Phew! wasn't that tiring? And that was only one part of the recipe.

Onward to Part 2: (yes, I had to be a rebel and do them out of order)
#3 Country Style Ragu’ (Ragu alla Contadina)
Preparation Time: Ingredient Preparation Time 30 minutes and Cooking time 2 hours
Makes enough sauce for 1 recipe fresh pasta or 1 pound/450g dried pasta)
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (45 mL)
2 ounces/60g pancetta, finely chopped
1 medium onion, minced1 medium stalk celery with leaves, minced1 small carrot, minced
4 ounces/125g boneless veal shoulder or round
4 ounces/125g pork loin, trimmed of fat, or 4 ounces/125g mild Italian sausage (made without fennel)
8 ounces/250g beef skirt steak, hanging tender, or boneless chuck blade or chuck center cut (in order of preference)
1 ounce/30g thinly sliced Prosciutto di Parma
2/3 cup (5 ounces/160ml) dry red wine
1 &1/2 cups (12 ounces/375ml) chicken or beef stock (homemade if possible)
2 cups (16 ounces/500ml) milk
3 canned plum tomatoes, drained
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Okay, I had to make some substitutions here. First of all, veal shoulder.... um, no. Can't do anything with veal because it goes way against my conscience. Let the substitutions begin.

I used Italian sausage with fennel since I couldn't find any that was made without it; I used some nice boneless short rib meat for the beef since that's what was on sale; I threw in a few pieces of bacon instead of prosciutto and some homemade Canadian Bacon instead of the pork and pancetta. I know... I'm weird.... but I really like trying to make things that most people buy (Canadian Bacon, cheese, etc) So I put all those meats through my Kitchen Aid grinder (I looove that thing!) and browned all of it together in a pan. Can I just say Wow!? This meat sauce was out of this world. It must have been the red wine, heh, heh! I wanted to have just the meat sauce for lunch. It smelled heavenly while it was cooking! Lucky for the rest of the family that I resisted and we all had something to eat for dinner.

And finally, Part 3:
#2 Bechamel
Preparation Time: 15 minutes
4 tablespoons (2 ounces/60g) unsalted butter
4 tablespoons (2 ounces/60g) all purpose unbleached (plain) flour, organic stone ground preferred
2 & 2/3 cups (approx 570ml) milk
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Freshly grated nutmeg to taste

This was a new one for me. I gotta say, I tasted this while it was cooking and, er... ick! not tasty at all! Flour-y milk. No excitement there. Even with added butter and probably more nutmeg than necessary. Fortunately, once it was assembled and baked and everything melded and married - it blossomed into something nice.

Here's a before and after baking:

Of course I couldn't make my life easy and just make one lasagne. Noooo, of course not, I had to go and make three. Yes, you heard me correctly, I said three. One had to be vegetarian for my daughter - instead of meat sauce, that layer was replaced with a spinach sauce, then there was the cheesy lasagne (with homemade mozzarella of course) because what is lasagne without all that gooey cheese :) and then there was the recipe version. I'm exhausted!

Left to Right: Cheesy Mozarella-added Lasagne, Spinach Lasagne, Lasagne of Emilia-Romangna
And the finished product - drumroll please...........

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Bento #2 - still such a novice!

Here is my bento #2. I know I have such a long way to go to get even halfway to the level of the wonders I see online. This is a bento from last week that I didn't get a chance to post online. You know how it is when you actually have to work while you're at work? I can't stand it when work gets in the way of things I'd rather be doing. Lol!

Once again it is a bento for two. The first layer on the left has some shelled edamame, sliced tamagoyaki, sliced star fruit (thanks to my very generous neighbor who has a very prolific tree), and some corn. The second layer is just sweet potato and some "sort-of" sukiyaki topped with green onions. I say "sort-of" because I always change recipes to my liking. Sometimes so much that it's nothing like the recipe it started out being. Hopefully, this month I can be a bit more productive and get more than one posting done.

Monday, February 9, 2009

My First Post!!!

Aloha and welcome to my first blog and my first post of my first blog. I know...such an original title, but hey, what can I say. I'll only be able to use it once, so why not, right? Ok - enough rambling and onto the real reason this blog is here. I was busy working one day, oops, I mean I was busy looking like I was working when I stumbled onto a blog about bento. I thought "How absolutely CUTE!" Gosh, I make bentos all the time and never even realized it. I just called them lunch. Of course mine were not anywhere near cute, just functional. I thought to myself, what the heck, I eat lunch every day, I bring lunch to work most days, so why not make it cute so I can enjoy it just a little more. Thus my life was forever changed into being bento-crazed. I immediately went out and bought some cutesy little things to dress up my lunch and spent probably way too many hours pondering what I would put in my first bento. Then I spent way too many hours cutting, cooking and assembling it. But it was so worth it! Here is the result of many hours spent thinking about bento:

I have not figured out how to do those neat things where you can click on the picture and a little blurb comes up so please bear with my old-skool ways until I figure it out.

I already know what you're thinking... whoa, that's a lot of food for lunch! Relax, it was a bento for two :) The top tier has some shrimp and a little side of pickled ginger, sliced mango and strawberries, star and heart-shaped boiled eggs. I love those cute little egg molds! The bottom tier has some (very dark) chicken karaage, spam katsu, octo-dogs and a sprinkling of cucumber and carrot flowers everywhere. Oh yea, there's some dipping sauce in the blue container.

And to round out the meal..... some arare cookies: no, there wasn't just one, but this was the best picture I found.

So this was my first real attempt at bento. Hopefully, there will be more to come. After all, since I bought all those little bento gadgets, I'll have to start making use of them. Until next time....happy bento-ing!