Thursday, December 31, 2009

Cheese Crackers

I know several people who don't like cheese. And I can't understand why. I've seen them use their forefingers and thumbs to pick layers of mozzarella off pizza slices; I've observed them deconstructing their sandwiches to dig out squares of Swiss cheese. I am not one of those people. I remember reaching for packs of string cheese at the supermarket and enjoying every last strand while I read books or watched cartoons. My dad, who shares this love of cheese, frequently bought blocks of cheddar and sliced them into thin squares for our family to pair with crackers. And more recently, my brother decided to make crescent rolls stuffed with Brie and raspberry preserves. (I hope he makes them again someday; thanks Oppa)

Sometimes, I crave that flavorful, slightly salty tang of cheese, and I have to find a way to quench that craving. And a few days ago, I was struck with a longing for Cheez-its, which is strange because I've heard many negative things about these crackers and haven't had them since I was in middle school.

So of course I had to look for a recipe for cheese crackers.


I based my recipe off of one I found on Smitten Kitchen; I tweaked it a bit, making use of some of the flours and grains in my cupboards and using a different cheese.



Multigrain Sesame Cheddar Crackers

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup white whole wheat flour
1/4 cup oat bran
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
2/3 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1/4 cup butter or margarine (half a stick), cut into 5-6 pieces
1/4 cup cream
2 tsp black sesame seeds
2 tsp toasted white sesame seeds

Preheat oven to 400°F.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Combine flours, oat bran, salt, red pepper flakes, and cheese in a large bowl.
Combine butter with the flour mixture, breaking butter up into smaller pieces, until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. (I did this with my fingers)
Add cream, stirring until dough becomes solid and smooth.
Roll out dough on lightly floured surface to 1/4 inch thickness, and slice into squares or cut out shapes with cookie cutters.
Set 1-2 inches apart on parchment, dock with fork, and sprinkle with black and white sesame seeds.
Bake for 11-13 minutes, until edges are browned and crackers are slightly puffed.
Cool and store in airtight container at room temperature.

By the way, it is now 12:13AM in California. Happy New Year! I can't believe it's been a decade since we rang in the millenium.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Beauty



I know videos of this little boy have been popular on Youtube recently, and I've been seeing them pop up on Facebook and Tumblr left and right. But I couldn't resist posting one here; I'm so amazed at how each person has his or her respective talents and can utilize them in such unique ways.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Weekend

I can't remember the last time I had a bad cold. I don't think I suffered through colds or the flu at all during my college years. I've struggled through various other ailments, but not those. Until now. A week ago, two of my housemates came down with fevers, chills, sore throats, and loud, rattling coughs. They warned me to keep my distance and take care of my body, neither of which I did very well because of exams and projects. I shrugged off the possibility of illness, thinking I was immune.

Two days later, I was sitting in a lecture hall for my cognitive science class when I was hit with a round of shivers and chills and the sensation of a hideous something or other trying to scratch its way out of my throat. After a feverish, sleepless night, I drove up to my hometown, and my mom forbid any baking whatsoever. I asked her if I could make just one batch of cookies, struggling to speak with my hoarse, cracking voice, and my request was interrupted by a badly timed cough attack. She looked at me. She shook her head. What a sad weekend it was.

Now that I've recovered (almost), I can reacquaint myself with the kitchen. A small pleasure, but a pleasure indeed.

Friday, November 6, 2009

November


November is a peculiar month. In San Diego at this time, the temperature plummets to the fifties, and yes, I do consider that plummeting because I'm one to don a fur-trimmed parka in 75 degree weather. And when the weather turns on me in such a manner, I am reminded that winter has arrived.

I like winter. Really, I do. I just don't enjoy those biting winds that burrow through my clothes and bathe my skin as though I'm wearing nothing. I also don't like those classrooms that remain air-conditioned no matter how cold it is outside. Oh, and I dislike the thick, shapeless outerwear that is none too flattering but is absolutely necessary to prevent freezing.

But I do like winter because it signals the onset of holidays. With the holidays come a bountiful supply of recipes that beg me to try them, crying, "Me, me, pick me!" (Not really, that would be rather scary).

...yes, the recipes. Those recipes chock full of tantalizing spices, permeating the body and warming it with their powerful flavors. I wanted to create such a recipe, so I pondered and tinkered and came up with

Spiced cheesecake squares with gingerbread crust

I made these with Joyce, a friend I met at the ripe old age of eleven. I never realized, but baking with a friend makes for a great bonding session, since each person has to cooperate to create a yummy result. (Thanks, Joyce, for your measuring and stirring and your wrestling with brown sugar. Enjoy your newfound relationship with molasses :D)

I was slightly worried that the recipe wouldn't turn out properly, but the squares came out of the oven in their spicy, melting, gooey glory, and my worrying ceased. The spices were a bit more subtle than I had expected (maybe the cheese mellowed their flavor), but not in a way that affected the squares negatively. The gingerbread crust was a little dry but the moistness of the cheese balanced it out, and the overall result was a soft, mildly spiced cheesecake with an appealing texture.

The recipe is a combination of adaptations, guesswork, and hope. :)

Spiced Cheesecake Squares with Gingerbread Crust

Crust:
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup molasses
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cloves

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Line 13x9 inch pan with foil and lightly grease.
Cream applesauce and brown sugar together until well combined.
Stir in molasses, then beat in eggs one at a time.
Add vanilla extract and stir until combined.
Whisk flour, baking soda, salt, and spices together.
Stir into molasses mixture.
Pour into prepared pan and set aside.

Cheesecake:
Two 8-oz packages cream cheese, room temp. (I used Neufchatel cheese, which is lower in fat)
1/2 cup + 2 tbsp white sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract

Beat cheese and sugar together until smooth.
Beat in eggs and vanilla extract until thoroughly combined.
Spread over gingerbread batter.
Marble the two batters with a knife.

Bake for 35 minutes, or until center is set.
Cool in pan, then lift out by foil and cut.
Can be stored in airtight container for a couple of days.

Enjoy!






Tuesday, November 3, 2009

I, Jigsaw

Sometimes the breezes blow and I fly along with them, not knowing where I will land.

When I do land, I gather the crumbs of my heart and attempt to assemble myself, fitting uneven edges together, squinting an eye, tilting my head, declaring the ensemble a perfect fit, moving on.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Obstacles

The homework, the studying, the reading, the writing. The cycle never ends. The relief that flows through my body at the conclusion of each exam is extremely short-lived, and long hours of poring over notes and short hours in bed are inevitable. My eyes are bloodshot every morning, and my contact lenses are dry. In a few days, the effects of coffee will no longer hold.

But I am happy. These are all aids to my own success. I am grateful to have books to read, research to conduct, and plays to write, as they are all segments of who I am and who I will be, examples of what I love to do. They are the tools that God wields to shape me into the being He wishes to see before Him.

Tomorrow is my roommate's 21st birthday. And as it happens, the four of us who live together all have exams on this special day, which I'll admit dampens the celebratory mood, but still,

Happy birthday Connie, my optimistic, encouraging, fun-loving roommate!
Tomorrow night will be packed with great memories.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Small Blessings


I was blessed with the discovery of a collection of pictures on my camera tonight, ones that I had not deleted after the last time I uploaded them. Pictures of the last month of my summer vacation, one of the most exhausting and painfully memorable times of my life, when I lay in a hospital bed every day. Pictures of my parents, who babied and encouraged me every step of the way. Pictures of my brother, who over the past few weeks has become a closer friend, mentor, and guide. Pictures of my boyfriend, who reminded me to follow the words of God and trust that He will provide.

And of course, pictures of the petite sweets I made when I was able to move about.

Just for the record, I take pictures of the goods I bake for the mere sake of capturing my progress, not to showcase my photography "skills" (meaning, I have none); hence, the lack of sophistication and quality.

Almond tarts. My dad loves all kinds of nuts and nut-flavored foods, so I include peanuts, pecans, walnuts, and almonds in nearly everything I make for him. The filling (made of almond meal) is similar to that of a pecan pie without the crunchiness of the nuts, and easily melts in the mouth; the crust is light, crispy, and not as sweet, which makes for a great balance to the almond filling.

Cornmeal cookies. My mom adores cornbread and almost always snags a piece whenever she sees it in a restaurant. I frequently make her cornbread at home, but for a change and a slight twist, these cookies sounded adequate. They were piped through a small star tip, and half were dipped in melted white chocolate. I used medium grind cornmeal, which has a somewhat gritty texture, but I'm certain that this is what gives the cookies their uniqueness.

Marbled green tea sugar cookies. On my mom's birthday two months ago, my family ventured to Old Town Pasadena, where there happened to be a specialty tea store. I spied a 2-ounce canister of matcha powder that seemed cheaper than those I had seen elsewhere, complete with bamboo whisk, so I immediately bought it. My parents informed me that the first bite didn't contain much of the green tea essence, but the slightly sweet, grassy flavor increased gradually as the cookie was consumed.

Yes, my family members are the main guinea pigs for my baking experiments, which is pretty convenient!

I only wish I could remember the recipes I used.

I am constantly reminded that I will be graduating in approximately eight months, that I will officially become an adult in the world outside of college in less than a year. A part of me trembles in timidness and nervous anticipation, but the rest of me is already preparing to dash forward and see the next chapter of life. But in order to actually progress to the next step, I must complete the pile of homework and reading assignments sitting patiently near my laptop. And so...until next time!

God bless.



Sunday, October 4, 2009

Cheesecakes, Cupcakes, and Rice Cakes


This past Wednesday, my Macbook suddenly broke down without warning or reason. The screen remained a eerie pale blue in spite of the keys I pressed, the phone calls I made, the list of solutions I found on the computers at the school library. On Saturday, I turned my suffering computer over to the care of a computer technician, who warned me that my hard drive might be damaged and losing all my files was a distinct possibility. However, I had enough faith in him to believe that he had healing hands and could revive my trusty friend.

He couldn't.

The downside: I lost years' worth of photographs and stories and poems that I had written when time allowed. I lost the hundreds of recipes that I had bookmarked. All because of one malfunction.

The upside: The technician upgraded the entire system so I am now the proud owner of a 3-year-old Macbook with brand new software.

My reaction: Time to write more stories and take more pictures and make more memories! I will admit that I neglected backing up my files, which makes the loss entirely my fault. So no more complaining here.

As for my recent experiences in the kitchen:

My brother works at a nonprofit organization that hosted a fundraising dinner party last Friday; he asked me to make desserts, and I willingly accepted, though I wasn't entirely sure my baking skills would be satisfactory. After much consideration, I decided to make cupcakes and cheesecake for seventy of the attendees, which proved challenging yet enjoyable.


Because of the time constraint, I drove an hour and a half back home after my classes the night before the party and spent a couple of hours making these mini mocha cheesecakes with chocolate crust. The coffee flavor was not especially pronounced, so in the morning, I topped each with a dark chocolate espresso bean to bring out the taste.

The next morning, I woke up at the crack of dawn (not really, maybe a little after 8am) to make 24 dark chocolate cupcakes with matcha green tea cream cheese frosting (whew, what a mouthful). The tops looked fairly bare, so I took the liberty of gently pushing pieces of Hershey's Cookies n' Creme chocolate into the frosting.

The next batch of cupcakes I made consisted of plain vanilla batter mixed with black sesame seeds. The cakes were filled with adzuki red bean paste, topped with honey cream cheese frosting, and garnished with black and white sesame seeds. Unfortunately, no time remained to photograph these cupcakes, as my brother had to leave around noon with the desserts.

All in all, this was a rather harried experience, but gave me insight as to how to bake quickly when pressed for time. I can't imagine how professional pastry artists manage their time so wisely every minute of every day, when I had such trouble baking 48 cupcakes! That's one of the skills I greatly admire and hope to imitate.

Sadly, I have no recipes to post because these desserts were made from a combination of several recipes, with my own ideas introduced here and there. As I mentioned before, my bookmarked pages have all disappeared, and I've no idea where to begin looking for the exact recipes I used.

Yesterday, in honor of Korean Thanksgiving Day (Chu seok), I purchased a box of rice flour and made rice cakes. These cakes, known as "song pyeon," are traditionally a major part of the holiday and are consumed every year at this time.

The recipe I followed asked for such a small amount of water to stir into the dough that I tripled the amount required. Still, the dough remained stiff and difficult to maneuver, and after steaming them, they immediately hardened! I was confused, as rice cakes are supposed to be supple and chewy, until my dad informed me that I had bought the wrong kind of rice flour. Next time...

The dough was divided into three parts, and into one, I stirred in a teaspoon of matcha powder. Into the second went a half teaspoon of ground cinnamon, and the third was left alone. I know traditional song pyeon are made with mugwort powder to acquire the deep green hue, but as I had none, I had to improvise in some way. The dough was formed into inch-wide balls, flattened, and then filled with a sesame seed-brown sugar mixture.

I'm in the process of making espresso macarons and must take them out of the oven, so more updates will come in the future!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Baby Steps


When I first ventured into the baking world, I was afraid to try new recipes. I shied away from pursuing the most basic of recipes, including rolled sugar cookies, simply because I didn't have a rolling pin and I was not certain if purchasing one was worth it. I took one glance at recipes and refused to attempt them if they involved whipping cream for frosting, beating egg whites for meringue, or even sifting powdered sugar for quick icing. The main ingredients in my kitchen cupboards were bags of chocolate chips because chocolate chip cookies never fail to please anyone.

One horrid day, after a particularly depressing argument with someone dear to me, I set about making blueberry muffins. The ingredients came together nicely, and I quite enjoyed the manageable directions; all I had to do was take two bowls out, wield several measuring spoons, and combine everything into a single bumpy lump. Grasping the muffin tin, I crossed the kitchen in two steps, opened the oven door, and promptly spilled the batter all over the tiled floor through a minuscule slip of the hand. I stood there watching the sad, sad blueberries lying motionless in the soupy puddle that had been created to showcase them, and I reached a crossroads: dump the mess and storm from the kitchen in bitter tears, never to return, or quietly mop it up and bake something even more fabulous. I stopped wallowing in my fear of failure and made my first successful profiteroles that day.

Since then, I've crept out of my shell and tried a variety of recipes, some strange and others memorable. Yesterday, I was led to making French macarons. Now, macarons are the cookies that I've heard the most horror stories about, the most unbecoming results, with the dread that those little "feet" may never emerge. But I figured even if they turned out disfigured, they would still taste the same and could be munched on happily.

So I got out my almond meal, beat some egg whites, piped some batter, and came up with...

Cinnamon macarons with peanut butter and powdered sugar filling.
And what a relief. They have feet!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Low

I haven't had many opportunities to update because
  1. I haven't been physically well for the past few weeks due to various ailments
  2. Therefore, I couldn't bake often
  3. Also, I left the USB cable for my camera back at my SD apartment ninety miles away
  4. So I couldn't upload the few pictures I took of the few goodies I did bake
But then my brother came to the rescue with his camera that is three times the size of mine with three times the functions and took some pictures of the low fat chocolate chunk oatmeal nutcookies I made tonight.


Recipes that are low in fat aren't necessarily good for the body, I suppose, but they are indeed quite a bit healthier than those packed with butter. And since the members of my family always prefer the healthier, less sweet, less fattening versions of foods, I was eager to try my hand at this recipe.

Made with applesauce in place of butter, these cookies have an interesting texture; they are both chewy and soft with the occasional crunch from crushed nuts and little clusters of oats. The burst of flavor from the bits of chocolate doesn't hurt either.

I modified a recipe that I found at Baking Bites (I love this blog, and the blogger, Nicole, deserves many respects) to make the cookies "not too sweet" again for my parents. I am always fearful of the negative results that may come about after changing perfectly good recipes, but I plunge ahead anyway and hope for the best.

I hoped for the best this time too, and the recipe turned out fine. =) The low fat cookies received highly positive praises.

Low Fat Chocolate Chunk Oatmeal Nut Cookies
1 cup all purpose flour (lightly spooned and swept)
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tbsp margarine
1/2 cup white sugar
6 tbsp brown sugar
1 large egg
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup pecans, chopped mixed with 1/4 cup peanuts, chopped (I crushed them in a plastic bag with a rolling pin)
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chunks
  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon.
  3. In a large bowl, cream together the margarine and sugars.
  4. Beat in egg, applesauce, and vanilla extract.
  5. Stir in the flour mixture and oats until just combined.
  6. Drop tablespoonfuls of the dough onto the prepared baking sheet, flattening each cookie slightly.
  7. Sprinkle each cookie with 1/2 tsp of the mixed nuts, then press three or four chocolate chunks on top.
  8. Bake for about 10 min.
  9. Let cool on sheet for 2 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Laboring Day

After a year and a half of browsing recipes and recreating them every week, with a few memorable baking failures, I've decided to finally venture into the blogging world to inscribe my adventures with my mixer and measuring tools. Good results or bad, baking never ceases to calm me down or bring a smile to my face. I hope drawing myself closer to experienced bakers will improve my mediocre attempts in the kitchen (and mediocre photography) as well, enough so that I can participate in baking and pastry courses in the future.

Speaking of the kitchen, once in a long while, my parents go all out and throw dinner parties that are well worth their effort. Yesterday, in honor of the Labor Day weekend, they decided to purchase various meats and side dishes and gather our scattered relatives for an evening barbecue, and I am happy to say that it was a success!

Just for kicks: the pepper that my brother insisted we buy for its attractive appearance

And my contribution:

Picture credits to my older brother, Daniel

I made two simple apple pies with no added sugar because the majority of the dinner guests were older and preferred desserts that were "not too sweet." Of course, plenty of natural sugar exists in the apples alone, and most likely in the frozen crusts that I used because I was pressed for time, but there was nothing to be done about that...

To my delight, the adults readily forked in bites of this pie and rewarded me repeatedly with, "This is good, and it's not that sweet!"

Mission accomplished.

Recipe for a "Healthier" Apple Pie:

3 tbsp cornstarch
1 tbsp cinnamon
1.5 cups sugar-free apple juice concentrate
6 cups thinly sliced apples
1 nine-inch pie crust
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Whisk cornstarch, cinnamon, and 1/2 cup of apple juice concentrate in a small bowl until well combined.
  3. In a large saucepan, simmer apple slices with remaining concentrate until tender (7-10 minutes), then stir in cornstarch mixture. Simmer until sauce is thickened.
  4. Pour or arrange apple slices in pie crust, and brush with remaining syrup.
  5. Bake for 40-45 minutes.
My next posts will be more brief and to the point; I was just excited to start a new blog, hence the lengthiness. And if anyone wants anything baked, please let me know; I need a lot of practice. =)