Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Mini Tartlets

I've always been fascinated by miniature versions of things. And used to love finding tiny cups, pots, chairs, dolls, etc. in the dollhouse section at my local craft store. Foods are no exception, well some foods. I think I would be more bothered by a tiny pack of saltine crackers, or a hamburger than delighted. But when it comes to fruit tarts, the smaller they get, the more special they become. As I've already made a regular fruit tart, and some tartlets. Now I wanted to go even smaller, and also simplify the whole process. I figured I could do this very simply, by getting a mini tartlet pan that had several wells in it like a cupcake pan. After reading, and re-reading the directions, I made my dough and proceeded to prick it with a fork and bake it as directed. Believing, though I knew better, that the tartlet shells would come out in perfect little cup-like shapes. Well, they came out as flat disks. They tasted good, but could not hold any filling. After this first disappointment, it took me months before I would try again, this time using bits of tin foil and beans inside to help hold the shape. They turned out better this time, but were very irregular where the tin foil creased and molded the dough around it. After more thought and more months I came up with a better idea. To use mini foil cupcake holders instead, and fill those with beans. This worked out much better, and I was finally able to produce my first usable batch of mini tartlet shells. (To the relief of my shrinking ego.)

Making the mini tartlet shells was complicated by using my special pan. I didn't have to deal with a dozen individual molds, but had problems getting the dough to bake up right. With the mid sized tartlets, I had double the amount of pans and had two stacked together to help the dough keep it's shape. That was impossible with my pan. Since I solved my problem with the mini cupcake holders, I figured out that if the dough were frozen before baking, that might help it to hold it's shape too. Something I'll have to try in the future.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Home Is Where the Heart Is

So, for the past few months, Brian and I have been in the process of buying a house. We have officially outgrown our two bedroom apartment, and were looking for a place to settle down in and eventually raise kids. Also a bigger kitchen would be nice. :)

Anyone who's ever bought a home can tell you, it's an emotional roller-coaster with your hopes and dreams, and a lot of uncertainties. Amidst the super busyness of meetings with our agents, unbearable waiting periods, and disappointments, I began to doubt we would find the right place. And through the whole process, I found myself wondering, what really makes a house a home? And is all of this worth it?

I had always pictured our future home as a cozy place with big windows, a spacious and sunny kitchen, a large yard for our kids to play in with a garden and lots of flowers. I dreamed of cozy nights by our fireplace, a large guest room for family, and plenty of space to invite our friends over to entertain.

All of these things are nice, but I've come to realize, unnecessary. As much as I really wanted all those things, by grace, I can see now, they're not what I need... But what I do need has been with me all along. And no place would be as happy, as secure, or as complete, without him.

When it comes down to it, a house is not a home without love. Whether from a parent, roommate, sibling or spouse. A cheerful greeting, a warm embrace, the inviting smell of something baked just for you, these all tell you, that whenever you walk through your door, you are home.

Well, by God's grace, we have found a home. And it is more than we could have dreamed. We are overwhelmed with thankfulness and excitement. And we can't wait to invite you in. Errr, once our kitchen is unpacked, and I am again baking. So, fasten all your moveable parts. We're moving!

Oh, forgot about the picture. A special scone made for me after a stressful morning during our house search.

Luck of the Irish

Time flies when you're having fun, or when you're really busy, or aren't inspired to get on your blog and write. I guess all of these have been true at different points in the past six months. Sorry.

But the important thing is that I'm back! And thank you to the one (Brian) or more faithful readers that have been keeping up with my blog anyway. :)

Alright, well, even though I haven't been blogging, the good news is that I've still been baking/cooking.

Okay...To the topic!

So, about a month ago was St. Patrick's Day. And for a few years now, Brian has been dreaming about making some good old Irish food on that day to celebrate. You know, to honor his Irish roots. He's half Korean, one quarter German, and the rest is mostly British with a little bit of Irish in there somewhere... But that little bit is enough reason to celebrate. So this year, we decided that we were going for it. So, he found a recipe for some Irish stew and calconnon (mashed potatoes with bacon and cabbage). And another recipe for some chocolate Guinness ice cream. And to make things more merry, we decided to invite some friends and make it a potluck.

Well, the recipe was very straight forward, you just need plenty of time to cut veggies and let the stew cook. And instead of boiling cabbage for the mashed potatoes, frying it in bacon grease was much better. As for the ice cream, be sure to weigh the amount of chocolate you're adding, (don't just eye-ball it in a measuring cup) or it may be too little. And when the recipe tells you to stir the mixture over an ice bath. Do it. dairy and beer do not mix well, and the extra stirring helps everything come together better. The result, was a perfectly smooth chocolaty ice cream, with a hint of Guinness. Even a non beer drinker like me could appreciate this. Sorry, no picture of the ice cream.

So, with good food, good friends, and a little Irish jig thrown in there, I guess you could say that night, we felt like some of the luckiest people in the world. Did it have anything to do with the luck of the Irish? Why don't you try the recipes and find out for yourselves?

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Down Home Country Cooking

Disclaimer! I did not roast that chicken! But I did make the stuffing (stove top) and the squash.

Well, I've been meditating a little about the simple life lately. For some reason I have been yearning to visit the country, explore the wilderness and eat some wholesome, stick to your ribs types of fare. This may have to do with my new found fondness for country music and my new interest in snow shoeing. Anyhoo, the weather was getting colder and acorn squash and stuffing started sounding really good.

Growing up, my dad would make acorn squash, and though I wasn't a very adventurous eater back then, I really enjoyed the sweet simplicity of it. Getting my own half of tender, buttery sweetness. And it was cool because it came in it's own bowl. ;)

I've been telling my husband and sister a lot lately that "I'm getting back to my country roots." My dad grew up on a farm in North Dakota and my mom is from Texas. Though I grew up in Washington my whole life, I am clinging to the idea that part of my heart belongs in the rugged, open wilderness. And despite my addiction to shopping (and my need to be close to at least one major shopping area), deep in my heart, I just want to live a simple country life. With a vegetable garden, and perhaps a chicken or two.

Ok, on to the cooking. So, just when I was having a craving for acorn squash, Paula Dean just happened to be on the television with her acorn squash recipe. And who is more country than Paula Dean? I followed it almost completely, except I cut the top and bottom off the squash so it would sit evenly. As you can tell from the picture, I must have cut it too close because the butter, syrup and brown sugar leaked out of the bottom and burned. Not appetizing. Though the squash still turned out okay. With the chicken and stuffing, it was perfect. And to finish it all off, some of Brian's pumpkin bread and ice cream. What a satisfying meal!

Lessons learned: Get bigger squashes and don't cut too much off the ends. Also, my dad told me that he doesn't add the butter, etc till the end. And he'll cook the squash in a tray of water that comes up about half-way. (I am going to use a pyrex dish next time.) This makes it cook faster too. Oh, and just in case, foil your pan too.

Well, if you too have a hankering for some good country cooking, please try this recipe. And if you find yourself dreaming about open landscapes and clear blue skies, please imagine me there too, perhaps riding a horse beside you, (I've always wanted to learn how to ride a horse). And together, we can talk about the simple things in life.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Halloween Cookies

Fall is one of my favorite times of year. I guess the kid inside me comes out because I love dressing up in costumes and baking and decorating in the Halloween theme. Here are some sugar cookies some friends and I decorated.

Being short on time, instead of using my complicated Martha Stewart recipe, I found a much simpler one on I was pretty skeptical that the recipe wouldn't turn out. It seemed too easy. But like magic, the dough turned out well. It was easy to roll out, and it baked up smoothly too. A simple and fast sugar cookie recipe does exist! Why do I live in Martha Stewart Land?

Note: There are cute Halloween sprinkles for sale this time of year. Beware! I've had the same sprinkles for years. They never run out! Or go stale....Phew! But as long as they exist, I do foresee more fun and creativity in my future.

Chocolate Madeleines

What happened to September? It's almost the end of October and I realized I haven't blogged in awhile.

Well in tribute to my trip to Paris, I wanted to make something French. While overseas, I had a wonderful time exploring with my husband. We ate lots of food (I finally got a crepe!) and visited a bunch of touristy sites. And took time to picnic by the Seine and stroll through the gardens of Versailles. I think the food was definitely a highlight of our trip. Not so great when we were first in London, but drastically improved once we arrived in Paris. After returning, I was inspired to bake.

For my birthday, my sister Amie had gotten me a couple tea party recipe books. Have I mentioned how much I LOVE tea parties? One of the books in particular was really neat because it had recipes from various tea houses in Europe. The recipe I used is from the Ritz Hotel in Paris. They are called "Madeleines de Proust" on the menu there, after Proust who mentioned this cookie in his Remembrances of Things Past. I used the chocolate variation of the recipe.

I have mixed feelings about how they turned out. Generally I like a moist, slightly cakey cookie, but these turned out a little too dense. And not as chocolately as I had hoped. I really thought they would come out tasting like brownies or devil's food. (I added plenty of dutch processed cocoa and also an ounce of melted bittersweet chocolate.) But alas, it was not meant to be. I personally blame it on the honey, an ingredient that I've never associated with madeleines. But maybe that is the French way...

All in all, the recipe was a nice way for me to reminisce about my trip and ease back into baking with something simple. And, like my trip, after awhile, the cookies improved with each bite.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Le Croque Monsieur

No, this is not an ad for Grey Poupon mustard. Yes, it is an attempt by me to explore some simple French recipes. Explanation: I will be taking a trip to Paris this September and I thought it would be fun to try out a French recipe or two. Plus, I saw someone make a croque monsieur in a movie and it looked really delicious!

What is a croque monsieur? It's basically a French version of the grilled cheese sandwich.

Well, the recipe I used was pretty simple and very tasty. At least according to Brian's endless compliments at the table. (I'm beginning to think he likes everything I make...) I thought it tasted good, but have a hard time critiquing my own food. But the recipe was rated well and I must say, it was fun to just try something new and make a nice dinner out of it. Brian, picked up a bottle of wine and a small cake for dessert. Add a simple spinach salad and we were good to go. By the way, Brian got a merlot to go with the sandwiches, but a chardonnay or bordeaux would have been better. Who knew? We looked it up later. Brian picked the wine because it had a red bike on the label. LOL!

Ok, enough about bikes and wine. So, I made a few adjustments to the recipe. I used French bread and kept the crust on. Which makes it nice and crunchy on the edges. I really like crunchy food. :} The better the quality of bread you use, the better it will turn out. I also divided the recipe in half since it was only for two, and gruyere is not cheap. And two adjustments I would add, is don't add salt to the sauce. The ham and cheeses are salty enough on their own. This recipe calls for one slice of ham, but I had a hard time tasting it sometimes. I would probably add two next time.

This recipe is not a baking recipe, though you do use the oven. Why did I include this in my blog? First, I feel it was hard enough to merit one post. While it was simple, the recipe included making a bechamel sauce. (Probably why it's rated as intermediate.) And any recipes that include "whisk over heat until sauce thickens" are my nemesis.

Second, a baking blog, though full of many possibilities, is also limited to just baking. So I have been thinking of expanding the horizons of this blog with cooking and other topics. We'll see how this goes.

Well, if anyone uses this recipe, please let me know how it turns out. And if you need it, yes, I can pass the Grey Poupon.