Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Chinese New Year 2014: Year of the Horse COOKIES

If you haven't figured it out yet, I pretty much mark every holiday and occasion with homemade sugar cookies. Since I started to learn how to make and decorate sugar cookies a few years ago, I have been somewhat addicted to it. The better and more comfortable I became with decorating, the more I wanted to do. Now, I honestly feel like I can make any custom cookie I want. It's definitely nice and convenient to have the skills to be able to create any design on a cookie, especially when it comes to birthday parties. The not so nice part is that it's a little too easy to gain weight. Lol. Making pretty sugar cookies is also time consuming but so is creating art. The difference is that we can eat the cookies afterward! Just don't forget to photograph them first before you gobble them all up :)

To mark the Year of the Horse 2014 this Friday, I decided do cookies with a painted horse. I threw in some Chinese lanterns and firecrackers too so that you would get the point :) It's been awhile since I painted cookies so it was a nice change. I was intrigued by a horse portrait my husband got from his grandma's cousin from Hanoi, Vietnam. I remembered it was displayed in our apartment back in 2001 when we were married. It was perfect and it didn't take very long to paint. It's so Chinese-y, which makes me like it even more :)

Kung Hei Fat Choy! May 2014 bring you peace, love, happiness, health, fortune and all that good stuff :)

Chocolate sugar cookie decorating in the works.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Tips and Tricks for Making Dutch Oven Bread

I have been making dutch oven bread for just over a year now. It still blows me away every time I take it out of the oven. I'm new to the bread making world but every loaf looks so amazing. The method is so easy that I feel guilty for taking full credit for it. But is it really that easy?

After several loaves of bread, I started to get lazy and I looked for shortcuts. Lol. It's a 5 minute recipe but I wanted it to be simpler. But seriously, here is the thing. I didn't like the fact that I was wasting so much parchment paper, I didn't like the mess, and sometimes I didn't even want to wait until the oven was 425 F. When I got lazy, I messed up here and there. A few times I even had problems with my bread not rising properly. The worst was when the resulting bread got stuck inside my dutch oven. I even scratched my new dutch oven a bit from removing the bread :( So sad. The bread still tasted great but it annoyed me!

My bread posts have actually become a few of my most popular posts on this blog. Today, I want to share a few tips and tricks I have learned since I first started making bread over a year ago. I love making tasty food but not if it means wasting time and making a mess. I like to get things done as quickly and effectively as possible and with only a minimal amount of mess. I tend to use very few kitchen supplies as well because I don't like to do the dishes. Lol. But that really falls under making a "minimal amount of mess." I'm as conservative as they get in the kitchen!

The following is my list of shortcuts and tips for making dutch oven bread.
  • Use a big pot! Forget the parchment paper and towel. Contain the dough in a big pot and save yourself paper and a big mess. The lid of the pot covers the whole thing very well. When it comes time to dump the dough into the hot dutch oven, it all slides out nicely.
  • Make sure to preheat both oven and dutch oven to 425F. If you don't and you get lazy like me and dump the dough in too early, the bread will get stuck inside your dutch oven. Trust me, it's a pain to remove the bread in one piece when it's done. I have learned that if the dutch oven is super hot, the dough starts to cook immediately once you put it in there and that's what you need. I actually thought my pots were getting old and used but when I started to heat my dutch oven more, the bread just slides out without a mess each time. Thank goodness!
  • Leave the bread inside the dutch oven when done for at least 20 minutes. This helps to gradually cool down and steam it a bit, which makes it easier to slide out later.
  • Check the expiry date of your yeast. When we moved over to Washington State, I thought the change of environment was the cause of my dough not rising. Apparently, my yeast was just getting old. When I left it out longer, it rose a bit more but it was definitely odd. It turned out that my yeast was nearing its expiry date. I got new yeast and everything was back to normal :)
  • Add a bit of sugar if you want to "toast" your bread. A lot of people wonder why it's so hard to toast dutch oven bread. My husband has to toast it multiple times to give it the "toast bread" look. There is no sugar in white dutch oven bread and apparently you need sugar and heat to toast. When I added just 1/2 tbsp of sugar in the recipe, toasting improved. I might even try 1 tbsp next time. The idea is to add enough to help toasting along but not too much that you would actually taste sweet bread.
  • Store bread in a plastic bag. Once the bread is at room temperature, store it in a plastic bag and seal it. You can leave it out at room temperature for 4-5 days. The bread will keep soft and fresh in the plastic bag. If there is bread left after 5 days, I would move the leftovers to the fridge. It will go moldy if you leave it at room temperature for too long.

What it looks like 18 hours later.

Flour it well and cover again for 1-2 hours.

See? I got most of it out and not a big mess at all :)

Bread cleanly slides out. Dutch oven barely needs a wash.

Back of the bread.

Toasted just once.

The dutch ovens I use are Le Creuset Stoneware Covered Square Casserole (Cherry Red) (the 5 or 6 qt. version) and Martha Stewart Enameled Cast Iron 6 qt. Round Casserole and they are both very good. I can only speak from my experience with these dutch ovens. Below is the revised dutch oven bread recipe and instructions I now use.

Dutch Oven Artisan Bread
Serves 6-8
(Adapted from Frugal Living NW)

6 cups of all purpose flour
3 tbsp wheat gluten
1 tbsp salt
1/2 to 1 tbsp white sugar (optional)
1/2 tsp active dry yeast + 2 tbsp warm water
3 cup cold water

1/3 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 flour, gluten, salt, and sugar in a big pot. I use my 8 quart pot. Add the cold water. Stir the yeast mixture a bit and then add the yeast to the large bowl as well. Using a big wooden spoon, just mix it all up until all the flour is incorporated. If you don't mix well, you could end up with pockets of dry flour inside the dough. That's it! Now cover with the pot lid and let it sit at room temperature for 12-18 hours.

Use the 1/3 cup of flour or more to flour your hands and the dough so that it doesn't stick too much to the pot. Let this sit for 1-2 hours so it can double in size.

Preheat oven to 425 F with your 6 quart dutch oven inside. When the temperature is reached, remove the dutch oven and quickly dump the dough inside. If you floured the dough enough, this should slide out pretty easily right into the dutch oven. Sprinkle the top a bit with some flour and cover. Bake covered for 45 minutes. Then remove the cover and bake for 10 minutes. Take out the bread and let it cool for about 20-25 minutes. Remove the bread and let it cool further on a cooling rack.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Being Grateful and Looking Forward to 2014

It's been four months now that we have left Canada and moved to the USA. We exchanged our old life for a completely new life. Everything changed. Our city, our house, our car, our friends, our jobs etc. After dealing with months and months of relocation and settling down business and then Christmas, I am finally getting the chance to sit down and think about other things for the new year. There are a gazillion different things that could happen this year. 2014 will definitely be an interesting one. Two things will happen for sure: 1) we're going to France for a family visit and 2) my 5 year old will start school in September. Two very exciting things! What's unclear is whether or not he will get full day or half day school, what daycare he will go to, and whether or not I will be working part time or full time for a Canadian or US company or not work at all.

I still have mixed feelings about being here but things are definitely better today than they were when we first moved over. I think we gave ourselves way too much stress by doing too much too soon. Thankfully, everything worked out in the end and now we can sit back and enjoy life a bit more.

The 2014 New Year's/Birthday cake I made.

I want things to get even better. Instead of fixating on all the things that we lost from moving over to the USA, I want to be more grateful for all the great things we have gained in return. Here are some of them:
  • An exciting job for my husband
  • A shopping paradise where things are cheaper and everything ships to the USA
  • Cheap wine
  • Cheap dairy
  • Better travel options from Seattle
  • A house we can afford
  • Great English speaking schools for our boy
  • More vegan food options for my husband
  • Possibly more job opportunities for my field of work (assuming I can get sponsored)
  • Slightly better weather
  • Trader Joe's
Phew! Listing all that already makes me feel better! :) Okay, I kind of moved here against my will but things really aren't that bad I guess. We're home a lot and it's really nice to be home when home is nicer and bigger. We would never be able to afford something like this back home. Real estate is nuts in the Greater Vancouver region.

We finally got our house. Finally! And our new kitchen is a heck of a lot bigger than our old kitchen. We now have generous counter and storage space. Then again, our old place had a ridiculously tiny kitchen. It blows my mind every time I think about all the food that came out of that small space. It's challenging to make a lot of food when there is no space to do it. Trust me.

This was my old kitchen. With all the jars and spices removed.

My old work space was the size of a cutting board.

Kitchenaid mixer sits out now! Bliss :)
We love our new house and I am enjoying our new kitchen. Now, I can leave my Kitchenaid stand mixer out on the counter without carrying it in and out of storage. Yes, I had to do that every time in the past :( And the darn thing weighs a ton. Being able to leave it out makes me so happy. Honestly, you have no idea. It's the little things in life people :)

I now have room to lay out all my baking stuff in a single layer inside cupboards. At one point back at our old place, my baking supplies were stored in plastic bags stuffed under the stair storage. It was such a pain to find stuff. I cursed every time! So glad those days are gone.

Things are so much better now. I can generally cook and bake faster because I don't have to do dishes along the way to clear the counter space. I can also use my dishwasher now! We never could use our old dishwasher since we used it for storage space. It was packed to the rim with all sorts of kitchen crap. Terrible but true. And best of all, now I can separate my food from my housewares thanks to our pantry. Oh. Yeah. That room might have sold me the house. Seriously.

Happy New Year! I hope you all had a good holiday break :) Thanks for stopping by.
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