Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Farm Fresh - From Berries to Muffins

Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit my friend's cute little farm out in Watsonville. Daniel and I got to ride a tractor, feed chickens, collect fresh eggs and pick blackberries off a bush! It's not your average sized bush either, it was a giant with many many berries ready for the picking. I had all these ideas running through my head - what will I make with all of these berries? We picked about 2 pounds worth and I finally had the chance to make some things - creme brulee and muffins. Yum yum :). I don't know what the berries tasted like before I put them into the mix but I'll say they are excellent ingredient for your every day dessert.

I also want to add that I now understand why blackberries (or any kind of berry) are so expensive in the market. I was poked by thorns left and right while picking these berries; there definitely isn't a way to mechanize this method of picking berries because it would only ruin the ripe berries. I'm guessing that the berry industry charges high rates because their workers have to work hard to pick all of these. The next time you have a berry, think about it! Also think about the idea of farm to table meals. I went to this awesome restaurant in Napa (Long Meadow Ranch) where they bring all of their home grown ingredients directly to your table in a magnificent dish. I felt like I was doing the same thing by picking these berries and bringing them directly home to eat. Oh how great it feels to know where your food is coming from!

Here are some fun pictures from the berry picking extravaganza:

Oh look how they hang

Colorful pink to brown colored eggs Yee-haw it's tractor riding!

My friend made a delicious Japanese donburi dish with eggs, mushrooms and onions over chicken katsu with the fresh eggs. I'm glad we didn't have to worry about consuming these eggs. All they eat are some corn seeds and fruit and they have plenty of room to move around and be clean and safe.

So on to the recipe. Thanks to Joy the Baker for posting a great recipe for muffins.

Blackberry Muffins - Yields about 8 small sized muffins

- 3 Tbsp of unsalted butter
- 1/6 cup of milk - I used 1% low fat milk
- 1 large egg
- 1/2 tspn of vanilla extract
- 3/4 cup of all-purpose flour
- 3/8 cup of sugar ( I mixed half white and brown sugar) - The measurements are weird because I cut everything in half but for you to imagine, it's half of 3/4 of a cup.
- 1/2 tspn of baking powder
- Pinch of salt
- 3/4 cup of berries - black, blue or red. Your choice.

- Place your oven rack in the upper third part of your oven and preheat it to 375 degrees.
- Prepare your muffin pan with liners or spray it with canola oil.
- Melt the butter in the microwave for about 20-30 seconds. Make sure that it's not too hot and then start whisking in the milk, egg and vanilla until it is a milky smooth mixture.
- In another bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Slowly combine the wet mixture into the dry ingredients. Once combined, start folding in the berries.
- Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups ~ 8. Bake for about 20 minutes on the upper rack.
- After they turn golden brown, take out the muffins and let them cool for 15 minutes. After it has cooled down, remove the muffins from the pan. They should easily come out if you sprayed enough oil.
- Enjoy! They're so great warm :)

I really enjoyed this recipe because it combined something tangy with something bread-y. It's not that sweet and it's perfect as a very light snack. It's also beautiful in color (look at that purplish color!) I can't wait to enjoy this with some milk.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Mmm matcha!

This post is dedicated to green tea - one of the many loves of my life. I love to have tea time in the morning, late afternoon and evenings but this time it's in dessert! I have a list of desserts with tea as an ingredient (like chai tea cupcakes) but this isn't about that. It's about matcha green tea mochi baby cakes with red bean paste (say that ten times fast!). I wanted to make something unique/special because it was Daniel's moms birthday and I wanted him to take home a nice little surprise for his family. At first I didn't think it would be possible to make something with matcha because I wasn't sure where I would get the powder. I read on Happy Home Baking (a great blogger who focuses on some Asian dessert specialties) that you can get the powder on Amazon but there wasn't enough time for it be delivered. If you live next to a Mitsuwa or another Japanese market, you can easily find it there in the tea aisle. It's about $7.00 for a small can that is 1.5 ounces. I can't believe it's that pricey for a small ounce of it but it's definitely worth it. It smells so great when you pop open the can - so fresh! Plus you can get quite a few tablespoons out of a can.

Ok so on to the recipe. Since I only bought matcha and red bean paste (also at the Japanese market), I thought I could make matcha pound cake but I didn't actually have a bread pan. I had to think of something else using these two items as the main ingredients and found Kitchen Meditation (ommm) which came to the rescue. At first I was a little hesitant because she mentioned the ingredient Mochiko which I've used to make mochi before. It was a sticky messy situation and I didn't want to touch it ever again but somehow it made its way back into my life. With only two hours before I had to get going, I decided this recipe would do and the final product did look pretty good. I have to say, the taste was also pretty good ;)

Ingredients for 12 mini (cup) cakes:
- 1 2/3 cup Mochiko
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 tbsp (or more) matcha
- 1/4 cup egg beaters
- 1/3 cup melted butter
- 1 cup soy milk (she used Almond)
- 1 cup Anko (red bean paste) - I just eyeballed the amount I would put into each cake.

- Preheat the oven at 350 degrees.
- Melt the butter in the microwave (approximately 30 seconds) then set aside for cooling. I learned that if you don't let the butter cool down and you mix it with the eggs, you create an unsettling scramble affect that is startling. Scary but fixable.
- In one large bowl, mix together the flour, salt, baking powder, matcha and sugar.
- When the butter has colled down, mix it together with the egg and milk in another bowl.
- Slowly stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix until it becomes on giant green batch of sticky batter.
- Spray a muffin pan with cooking spray and spoon the batter into each cup at about 1/3 full.
- Scoop about 1 to 1/2 tsp of red bean paste into each cup in the middle of the batter.
- Top the remainder of the batter (about half a tablespoon full) on top of each cup. I shook the pan to make sure that the batter covered up the red bean paste and made each cup look smooth on top.
- Bake for about 25 minutes and as Daniel would say, "Ita daki mas!" which means "I'm ready to eat".

How were they?
I don't usually like the texture of mochi but when it's in a cake like form, it's a little more bearable. I like the subtle green tea taste and the sweet little surprise in the middle. This is an entirely new thing I tried and I must say, I enjoyed it. The cakes aren't soft nor crumbly when bitten but it's lightly chewy and softly dense. Weird way to describe it but it's just a weird kind of (cup)cake. I don't really want to call it a cupcake because it really just reminds me of a brownie bite. Small size without any frosting so I don't think it can really be categorized as a cupcake. But it is refreshing and different. Hope you try it sometime!

Thanks to my awesome sous chef Daniel for being the BEST photographer ever :) and my inspiration for writing in my blog.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Soup de jour - French Onion Soup and an entree that doesn't match

I really should be writing about how my soup cooking journey is going with my new awesome book but I'm feeling a bit like French Onion Soup today. This is one soup that Daniel's been craving and one that we haven't had it in a while (I'm talking years) , so why not try it out? I also got new ramekins which came with my creme brulee set (from Christmas!) so I had to put them to use. Semi-new kitchen gadgets need to be played with more often! Anyway, I had a few onions laying around and bottle of red wine so into the pot they go to make this delish soup.

French Onion Soup I - From Allrecipes.com by Chefbuzz

Ingredients (Warning - This is supposed to make about 4 servings but it filled quite a plenty ramekins):
-2 tbsp of butter
-2 onions (yellow), thinly sliced - warning, one may get teary eyed as a result :)
-1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar
-1 1/2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
-1 1/4 cups of water
-1/4 cup of red wine
-1 can condensed beef broth (10.5 ounces) - This is where I made the mistake. DO NOT buy regular beef broth. It needs to be concentrated.
-1 French baguette (get it fresh from Henrys!)
Slices of white cheese (they recommend Swiss, I bought Provolone)

- Melt the butter in a large saucepan. After it has melted, stir in the sugar and let it semi-dissolve. Then add the onions and cook them over medium heat for about 10 minutes or until it gets brown.

- Add flour and stir until it is well blended with the onions and pan juices. Add water, wine and beef broth. Heat the mixture until it is boiling then reduce to low heat. Cover the soup and let it simmer for 10 minutes.

It looks a bit odd but then it'll change into this familiar soup color

- While the soup is simmering, cut the French bread into 1 inch thick slices. Toast the bread at 325 degrees until it starts turning slightly brown ( I love toasted bread!). Keep them in the oven until the soup is ladled into the ramekins.

- When the soup is ready, ladle it into the ramekins and place a slice of bread on top of each bowl. It might not fit (since ramekins are tiny) so just cut the bread in half. Then take a piece of cheese and place it right on top of the bread. Place the soup bowls on a cookie sheet for proper handling.

- Place the bowls into the oven and bake them at 425 degrees for 10 minutes. Once the cheese starts to burn a bit and melt beautifully over your bowl, it's ready! Bon appetite!

A été la soupe magnifique? Eh...
While I was hoping that this soup would taste like the one that they have at Mimi's Cafe (they make it so good!), it didn't turn out like it because of the poor choice I made in my beef broth selection. If a recipe says to get something condensed, there must be a reason for it (more sodium!). :) I think the best part of the soup, sadly, was the toasted bread with yummy cheese! While I didn't enjoy the soup so much because it lacked a bit of saltiness and because my stomach was overwhelmed with onions, Daniel really enjoyed it (or so he said..). Haha. He actually ate two whole ramekins and slurped up every bit of it! :) Lesson learned: Next time I'll add more sodium and get condensed beef brother instead of the all organic, better-for-your-health broth. ;)

And on to the entree that I made that has no relevance at all to French Onion Soup. Since soup was not going to be enough for dinner, I decided to look up another recipe - allrecipes.com is so great - and found Sweet and Spicy Stir Fry with Chicken and Broccoli. YUM! I haven't actually followed a recipe for an Asian dish but this one looked super easy, I had all the ingredients and it looks healthy! SCORE!

- 3 cups of chopped broccoli
- 1 tbsp of olive oil
- 2 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves cut into 1 inch strips
- 1/4 cup sliced green onions (or more)
- 4 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
- 1 tbsp of hoisin sauce (aka plum sauce)
- 1 tbsp chile paste (I just used the chili pepper flake paste)
- 1 tbsp low sodium soy sauce
- 1/2 tspn ground ginger
- 1/4 tspn crushed red pepper (Thank you Pizza Hut for giving me this...)
- 1/2 tspn salt
- 1/2 tspn black pepper (or to your taste)
- 1/8 cup of chicken stock

- Steam the broccoli until it is tender but firm. I did this by putting it in a bowl of water and microwaving for about 1 minute. It works just fine.
- Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat and saute the chicken, green onions and garlic until the chicken is cooked thoroughly (not pink and no juices).
- Stir the hoisin sauce, chile paste and soy sauce into the skillet. Season everything with ginger, red pepper, salt and black pepper. Add the chicken stock and simmer for 2 minutes. Finally, add the broccoli and mix it around into the sauce mixture. Serve over rice and you're DONE!

I really liked this dish. It was so flavor and the chicken was not dull at all. The seasons really coated everything well and I liked how the broccoli added a bit of a crunch to the dish. I especially loved all the chile I added to the dish which made it so spicy and tasty. It's a little like having Panda Express in your own kitchen. I will definitely make this again!