Friday, March 29, 2013

Decorated Chocolate Sugar Cookies for Easter

It's full swing into baking sweets for me now! Woohoo :) I'm technically still on bootcamp until at least tomorrow, which means I can't taste anything I bake until then. That's okay because I just got to make and decorate sugar cookies so in a strange kind of way, I feel somewhat satisfied. I miss eating sweets, sure, but I also missed baking and especially decorating bakes. I get to be crafty and creative whenever I bake pretty things and this month has been simply boring for me. Lame, actually :(

I feel somewhat alive again after making my Easter cookies. Ah :) It's funny because I didn't even make my first sugar cookie until a couple of years ago. I wasn't even interested in eating them back then. I was only drawn to them by how lovely they looked. Then I realized they were not only pretty, but they also tasted a lot like shortbread and I love shortbread! They were challenging to make but once I got the hang of things, I was addicted. I'm so glad I started baking there because after making and decorating sugar cookies, everything else just seems easy.

These cookies took forever to do! Well, at least a good half day! I made 9 cookie pops, 10 large cookies and at least 30 small to medium cookies. The cookie pops were both thick and large. Each cookie pop would probably be equivalent to around 4 small to medium sized cookies. The cookies had to be really thick so that I could insert the cookie sticks in them. I forgot how thick those sticks were so I busted plenty of cookies before I finally gave in and made them super thick. Gah.

These are more like giant cookie pops! Heavy too.

I LOVE these wooden baskets from Williams-Sonoma.

My 4 year old and little kitchen helper :)

We also painted egg cartons for the presentation. Chocolates, anyone?

The cookies I made were the same ones that I made for Valentines. Sweetapolita has my favorite dark chocolate sugar cookie recipe! Everything on these Easter cookies is royal icing. I especially liked how the cookie pops turned out. I wasn't too sure about them at first. When I piped out the bunnies onto parchment paper, they didn't look as cute as my drawing. But then when they were dry and I attached them onto each iced cookie pop, they looked so much better! However, the parchment paper wasn't completely flat when I piped my bunnies, nor were the surfaces of my already iced cookie pops so when I attached them together, the bunnies totally stuck out. Oh well! It actually makes it look more 3D. Lol. Maybe next time I could try piping my image directly on a silicon baking sheet. It might be too hard to trace my design though.

3D Bunny cookie pops.

Chocolate sugar cookies decorated as speckled eggs.

For my small to medium cookies, I decided to do something simple and do speckled eggs. I first saw them on Bake at 350 and thought they were really cool. Instead of using my fingers though, I just used a small paint brush to flicker and splash the specks on them. It actually wasn't too messy. Then for my large cookies, I had to make chicks. You can't have eggs without chicks, right? :)

Happy Easter! If you are fortunate to be in the Vancouver area like me, this weekend is going to be a gorgeous one. We can actually have an Easter hunt outside and be guaranteed dry and warm weather. How awesome is that?! :)

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Fig Anise Dutch Oven Bread

Have you ever tried Terra Breads? In Vancouver, that is one of our favorite brands of bread. They even sell them at Save-On Foods now. We love all the ones we have tried like their French baguette, olive breads, and fig anise breads. It will cost you around $5 for a relatively small loaf though. That's expensive to us but then again, we're still used to our cheap great bread days back in Paris :)

When I started making artisan bread with my dutch oven, I fell in love with the idea of making my own bread. In fact, that blog post is my third most visited blog post to date. Even when I mess up here and there, the bread still comes out alright. It really is a fool proof recipe! I credit my dutch oven for baking it like magic every time.

First attempt: Looked great but didn't taste right.

Last week, I decided to tackle one of our favorite flavored breads from Terra Breads: fig anise bread. I didn't expect it to be exactly the same but this bread served as my main inspiration. My first attempt looked great as usual but the taste was totally off. I added too many anise seeds and that made it somewhat bitter. We ate it with lots of honey and then it tasted great. Lol. My husband said it was still good. The bitterness of it bothered me though. I was determined to improve on it right away so this week I made it again. I knew exactly what I wanted to change and couldn't wait to experiment. It's a good thing we bought a giant bag of dry figs from Costco!
The results? Well, obviously good otherwise I wouldn't be here blogging about it! :) No seriously, it was DELICIOUS. Especially, if you eat it with a bit of butter or a bit of honey (wink, wink ;). I absolutely love it with a bit of both butter and honey.  I made this bread for our breakfast so I tried to keep it tasty but somewhat plain as well since we would likely toast and then put butter or jam on it. It tastes good alone as well but if you really just want to eat it on its own, then I would recommend making it a bit sweeter.

Second attempt: Success!

We served the fig anise bread tonight with some soy cheese. It was actually pretty good, even with soy cheese. Lol. I think it would be awesome topped with brie or cream cheese and then drizzled with a bit of organic honey. Sweet and savory goodness. I'm drooling just thinking about it. I sort of want to bake this bread again next week, except that would make it three of the same bread back to back. Our family lives for food variety so I probably should move onto my next bread project :) Sigh. I'm so glad I have this blog to document my food experiments. Even if no one comes to my blog to make this, I know I certainly will :)

Add figs last.

Done. Now we wait.

18 hours later.

Flour it well, wrap and let it rise another 2 hours.

And in the hot oven it goes!

Done. What a cool looking bread!

See all those fig pieces?

Fig Anise Dutch Oven Bread
Serves 8

3 cups flour
3 cups whole wheat flour
2 tbsp wheat gluten
1 tbsp salt
2 tbsp muscovado sugar
1 tbsp anise seeds
2 tbsp molasses
1/2 tsp active dry yeast + 2 tbsp warm water
3 1/3 cup cold water
3/4 to 1 cup dry figs, soaked and cut into small chunks

1/3 to 1/2 cup flour for forming into a ball later

Add the yeast to the luke warm water and let it sit in a cup. Measure and combine the flours, gluten, salt, sugar, anise seeds, molasses in a large bowl. Add the cold water. Stir the yeast mixture a bit and then add the yeast to the large bowl as well. Using a big fork or dough hook, just mix it all up until all the flour is incorporated. Add figs and mix some more until evenly distributed. Cover with saran wrap and let it sit at room temperature for around 18 hours.

Use the 1/3 to 1/2 cup of flour to flour your hands and the dough so that you can work it into a rough ball. Dust the parchment paper with flour. Lay the dough on it and dust the dough with more flour. Wrap this entirely with parchment paper and then wrap over with a clean kitchen towel. Let this sit for around 2 hours so it can double in size.

Preheat oven to 425 F with your dutch oven inside. When the temperature is reached, remove the dutch oven and carefully dump the dough inside. The dough will likely stick on some parts of the parchment paper but try your best to get all of the dough into the dish. Bake covered for 45 minutes. Remove the cover and bake for another 10 minutes. Broil for another 2 minutes, if you need to brown the top a bit. Take out the bread and let it cool for about 15 minutes. Remove the bread from the dutch oven and let it cool further on a cooling rack.

Don't want to waste the oven heat? Once the bread came out, I inserted a tray of almonds and then turned the oven completely off. After 12 minutes, I gave the almonds a stir. Almonds then went back in the oven. When the oven cooled down after 30 minutes or so, the almonds were perfectly roasted :)

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Vietnamese Rice Roll Salad with Vegan Deli Meat

Rice roll salads are a lot like sandwiches because you don't really have to cook anything. You just need to get the right stuff and assemble it. It's definitely one of my favorite salads while growing up. My parents made it quite often at home and we would eat huge plates full. It's a lot of vegetables and light so it was easy to eat a lot of it. The most costly item in the salad is the Vietnamese deli ham. A roll of ham wrapped in banana leaf is around $5 or $6. Since we were a big family, we would all get a huge plate of mainly lettuce, bean sprouts, and other greens, some rice noodles, and a few slices of ham. Now for my small family of three, we basically eat like royalty. I have some vegetables and then I pile on the rice noodles and ham :) Every time I eat this salad, I think about how lucky and fortunate we are.

It's just loaded with stuff we like! :)

The rice roll salad I would like to share is adapted from the one my parents used to make for our family. Instead of using Vietnamese deli ham, which I absolutely love, I decided to use the vegan turkey deli that my husband made. The vegan deli meat doesn't make this dish vegan since the dressing is a fish sauce. The rice roll I used also had shrimp and green onions in them. If you are cool with seafood and still want to avoid meat, then this salad is something you could try. My husband is actually more of a Pescetarianism than a strict vegan. He doesn't want to eat animal flesh or animal products like dairy and eggs but he will seafood and honey without complaints.

Now, I still much prefer the real thing but the turkey deli we used still made the dish pretty good. In fact, I thought the homemade turkey deli meat was quite good and it had potential. My husband loved this Vietnamese rice roll salad a lot more than I did but I think he is quite biased. But let's face it, anything with fish sauce dressing is pretty darn good :)

Vietnamese Rice Roll Salad with Vegan Deli Meat
Serves 4

1 package rice roll, sliced into chunks
1 English cucumber or 5-6 Japanese baby cucumbers
2-3 cups bean sprouts
1/2 cup fresh mint, chopped
1/2 chunk vegan turkey deli, thinly sliced
1/2 cup pickled carrots and daikon (optional)


3/4 to 1 cup fish sauce dressing (or Nuoc Mam in Vietnamese) - quick recipe below
1 tbsp srirachi sauce, mix into Nuoc Mam (use more if you like it spicy)
4 tbsp fried garlic oil (crushed garlic fried in oil)
4 tbsp roasted peanuts, crushed (optional)

Quick fish sauce dressing: To make the Nuoc Mam, combine 1/3 cup fish sauce, 1/3 cup sugar, 1 cup water, 1 tsp vinegar and mix until dissolved. Refrigerate until needed.

Microwave cook the bean sprouts. Microwave warm the rice roll chunks. Assemble each plate by splitting up all the ingredients, with the toppings going on last. Serve right away.

Made it another time here with fried shallots instead of fried garlic oil. Also no peanuts.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Fish Curry Pot Pie for Pi (π) Day

Last post, I declared I was getting fat and went on bootcamp. Don't laugh but in this post, I will be talking about pie and telling you that I made one today and ate it. It was delicious but it certainly did not satisfy any sweet craving I had :)

Today is March 14th (3/14), otherwise known as Pi (π) Day. I knew about this in advance so I actually planned on making pie just for today. I'm on a no-sweet diet so I opted for a savory pie. It's basically the type of food we would normally have for dinner anyway, except that this one was inside a crust. I got to try out a new crust recipe that is made with coconut butter instead of butter so it's healthier too. To complete the meal, I coated the bottom of the crust with quinoa so that it would absorb the sauce and cook in the oven. The crust was crispy as a cookie in the end! I was worried about it being soggy but in fact the quinoa sucked up quite a bit of liquid and since the the top was partly exposed, it dried up a bit as well. Next time, I would add a bit more sauce or water. It was still moist but I would have liked it to be creamier.

Here is something that totally blew my mind. Today, I learned that a guy back in 2004 recited Pi to 22,514 digits from memory. It took over 5 hours! Some of the audience members cried out of sheer emotion from his delivery of π. Wow. Had I been there, I would have cried too.

Did you make pie for Pi day today? I can't be the only math geek and foodie around :)

Quinoa layer at the bottom

π = 3.14159 26535 89793 23846 26433 83279...

Quinoa fully cooked at the bottom of the pie.

Fish Curry Pot Pie

1 fish curry recipe
Double batch of the vegan coconut crust recipe
1/2 to 1 cup of uncooked quinoa

For my fish curry, I used carrots, fennel, green peas, kidney beans, and potatoes. Basically what I had at home and what I also needed to get rid of from previous dishes we made during the week. You can add the fish last and even have it raw going into the oven. Basa fillets cook fast and when they are cooked just right, they are very juicy! Bake uncovered at 375 F for around 40-45 minutes.

Note: You will likely have leftover curry and crust. I ended up freezing my leftovers.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Candid Confession Why I Can't Bake Cake For My 1st Blog Anniversary

It has been one year since I started this food blog. Many food bloggers would jump at this chance to bake a cake and throw a party but I can't :( I certainly have thought about it a few times, but I just can't. Maybe I'll do something like that for my second blog anniversary, if I'm still blogging then. It's sad when I think about it because being this dedicated to a blog for an entire year is remarkable and definitely worth celebrating.

I'm recovering from the common cold right now and I don't have much of an appetite. This alone is a good enough reason not to bake a cake. I'm sitting here typing this post up with fingerless wool gloves on, a blanket over my back, and hot green tea nearby. I am in no mood to bake. And that is actually a very good thing :) The main reason I can't celebrate my first blog anniversary with a cake is that I've put myself in boot camp. It's my own boot camp, under my own terms, but don't let that fool you because I can be very self-disciplined when I need to be.

I'm calling it boot camp but it's really just a diet and more exercise. Basically, I eat half of what I was eating and exercise twice as much. I also have to avoid certain foods altogether. Why? Sigh. Because it has gotten to the point where I have not only reached but have also maintained an undesirable weight for several months now. Okay, I'm fat and I can't take it anymore. My clothes are uncomfortably tight and I'm limited to just wearing a few things from my closet now. My appearance and health worries me and I can't help but feel embarrassed every time I try to dress up. But most importantly of all, I have acknowledged the fact that I indeed have an unhealthy addiction to sweets.

I'm disappointed in myself for giving in to sweets as much as I have but at the same time, I feel lucky that I'm not actually heavier. Let me tell you how bad it has gotten. Before March, for several months, I have been eating some form of sweets, whether it was bakes or candy, every single day. Every single day! My typical lunch would be a cupcake and cookie. If we had more leftover bakes, I would sometimes eat sweets several times a day. For example, a cookie after breakfast, then a cupcake or two for lunch, then another cookie and cupcake after dinner. Then there was chocolate and candy as well. I have probably ingested more fat and sugar in the past few months than I have had in the few years before I became a mom. I knew this got out of hand for a while but I didn't care. Now, I want to care.

I was never into sweets that much before a few years ago. That was also the time I started baking more. My only explanation was that I developed an addiction to sweets and bakes. It became part of my daily routine to have a cookie, piece of chocolate, or piece of cake. Of course, it doesn't help that we always had those things around, nor does it help that I could easily make any of those with our huge baking supply stash at home. Some times I wonder if being a food blogger also contributed to my weight gain. I know of another food blogger who had to go on a no-sugar diet due to health concerns.

I am more disciplined than that! I don't want to give up sweets entirely but I also don't want to develop diabetes, heart disease or something awful like that just because I can't control myself now. If you had asked me five years ago if it would ever be possible for me to be this heavy or to develop diabetes, I would have laughed and said no way! Never! I've lived a healthy lifestyle and maintained a good diet all my life. I played sports since I was a child and I'm even running marathons now. I don't even want to think about what I would be like if I was not running at all. It's funny how things can just change like that.

My boot camp will last for a month and then I will evaluate and take action from there. This was not a last minute decision. I pre-planned it for March to avoid the holidays interfering with my diet. Come Easter, I should be permitted to bake again :) In fact, the day before I started boot camp, I made myself my last sweet treat. Are you surprised? Lol. My 4 year old son LOVES Darth Vader and Star Wars and I love Oreos. They were just the things I needed :)

Darth Vader Oreos
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