Sunday, May 27, 2012

Japan Day 1

We are in Japan. :) First off, im on my ipad so forgive the spelling/grammer issues! Also, we don't have the camera cord so you won't be seeing our pics just yet, though I'll try to pull some pics from the web (or you must look them up) to give you the feel. So, our trip started out on Thursday night with a flight to LAX (lots of phone calls in the airport to banks etc), interesting seat mates, people in airport, even saw a good friend from high school in La. We made it to LA, walked to the next gate (about 5 gates away, no switching terminals ps)and hopped aboard the flight to Tokyo. An ambien and 10 hours later I awoke, watch the big year, and landed (that ambien is certainly effective, though L seemed to remember quite a bit of the flight). We entered the Hareda airport at 5 am Saturday morning and were blown away, it was like we were in an upscale USA! Cleanest place in the world, not a piece of lint in sight (or a garbage can for that matter), and I would not have been scared to eat off the bathroom floor. The little golf carts in the airport were playing when the saints go marching in, the moving walkways start when you approach them, the people are all in darling uniforms and ever so helpful, the lines are super orderly and calm, all in all, it was like an airport run by Disney! We met Mi and his friend (extremely nice of him to come so early) outside the baggage area, watched as they were suitably amazed at our lack of baggage (point of pride with me, i never check bags and think I'm the world's most efficient packer, for this trip L and I have a backpack each) headed to 7-11 (yes, they are all over, though I'm not sure if they have slurpies) to get out some money (good thing our cards worked bc I did not bring a single penny of hard cash), and jumped on a train into Tokyo. We dropped off our bags and set out (a train ride away) for Kamakura. First impression of the first street we walked down in Tokyo: Like China town but less crowded and less festooned (it turns out it was less crowded bc it was 5:30 am and less festooned bc it was a neighborhood). Kamakura! Our first sight in Japan was the Rinno-Ji temple (a Shinto shrine, look up the pic so you can see what a sight it was!). Let's just say, right from the start Japan looks like what you imagined it should look like, but as very few places live up to expectations, we were so blown away! It looked like something from the movie spirited away, and you should have seen the lily pads in the ponds, so picturesque! I thought that all of the old historical stuff was gone and that Japan was just a bunch of skyscrapers-let's just say Japan needs to post a few more pics online and they will have no trouble attracting tourists! Here we learned about the purifying rituals (special ways to pour water on your hands and stuff) you do before entering a shrine (accidentally drank the water instead of spitting it out), found out how to offer a prayer at the shrine, bought fortunes (looked like pick-up sticks) (and my fortune was actually bad so I tied it up and sent it to the winds), and walked through the lovely paths (I'm starting to understand the appeal of these little rock gardens, water features-Buddhist sort of design stuff). This could seriously influence my future yard plans (or maybe just the suggestions I give my mom for her yard) A little side note-we met our Kamakura free guides (first free guide of many for the trip) at the train station. Apparently, there is a real shortage of native English speakers around here so many Japanese sign u to be free tour guides to practice their english. We were led around by two 20 year old girls (very cute, my new friends on Facebook :) ), who were just thrilled when I offered to show them around Utah some time :). They were super helpful in getting us to the sights and they had sme info, however, they were not exactly historians but hey, they were not charging us anything so I have no complaints and if you ever visit Japan, you should def sign up for the guides! So, after our first shrine we walked through a cute touristy street (I'm a sucker for tourist traps, I love them)and headed to lunch for soba noodles. These were....interesting. I cannot say they were bad, but I cannot say I'll be staying up late missing then. The presentation was neat though. Soba are buckwheat noodles, served hot or cold (we tried cold) served in soup our with a saucy (soy suace and green onions stuff) soup to dip them in on the side (how we tried them). They were....pretty hard to eat with chopsticks (which I'm not sure L has ever used before :). ) being in Japan in not quite like going to panda express, where your try the chopsticks for fun for a few bites, then pull out your fork or spoon for the real eating. Here, there are no forks. After this meal I thought this trip might be the start of an excellent diet :) (except for the fact that between the two of us we brought 66 snacks.) After lunch we set out for the Daibutsu, the great Buddha. (look at a pic of this online!!) this is the second largest Buddha in Japan and it was certainly a show stopper, particularly with the backdrop of trees. It was every bit as amazing as the guide book promised. From there we walked to the Hase Kannon temple, home of an eleven headed massive gilt statue (and a cave, and tranquil gardens, and beautiful vistas of the sea, lovely paths, calming bamboo water features, delightful little statues, I cannot wait to post the 500 pics I've taken already!). After all of that, we headed back to Tokyo, checked into the hotel, had hamburgers at mcdonalds, took a walk around the corner to the Eiffel tower of Japan (I think it is really a radio tower of something) before another knocked me out for another ten hours. Quite a day. It turns out Japan is a darling place (even the adults like hello kitty), full of hardly any Americans (we have seen hardly any), with really nice, non English speaking people (who want to take photos and be facebook friends with English speakers-so if you need a job come teach English here) who love to bathe-literally, and also full of a bunch of crazy kanji characters (which makes it feel incredibly foreign, I have never felt so completely bewildered, even in Hungary they at least had a few of the same letters!) Im off to bed for a bit. Our hotel room is the size of a shoe box (a nice shoe box though) and there is no wifi, apparently Japan has very little wifi bc everyone uses their phone Internet, so you'll have to wait to hear our about today's amazing adventures! And just in case your were wondering- I am fried like a lobster, L has not killed me yet (she has been on her best behavior bc she does not want M to know she is a crazy stress basket and I have had to be really nice and supportive bc she every so often whispers that she might pass out- and I have to keep her navigation mind conscious or it is unlikely that i will make it back to the hotel) and for the first time in quite some time I have gone two days without a diet coke (though I'm pretty sure mi be taking in a heft amount of caffeine tomorrow). And finally, L is worried about flesh eating bacteria. Until tomorrow (which is our first day on our own, sans M), b

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Multigrain Bread

This week we made some healthy grainy sort of bread. It was good. I am a lover of all things carbs so no surprise that I liked this. I did get distracted while it was rising and I think I might have let it over-rise a bit. This recipe was super easy and fast, check here for the recipe:

Picture proof:

I made it at midnight yesterday, had a taste on my way to work (but as I was running late I did not take the time to really taste it), and have left the rest of the loaf with my tasting panel and have yet to hear their reviews. I'll certainly add them when I hear back tomorrow.

I'm off to Japan tomorrow (better run pack so please excuse the brevity of this post) so my next baking post will be a bit late. However, I will try to capture the essence of my Japanese adventure with L so stay tuned and pray that L does not kill me before I've at least made it to my Zen meditation class :)  (I'm remembering a time standing along the Appian Way, or maybe it was a time when we got on the wrong bus at midnight, or possibly a time when I got lipstick on her green shirt, or maybe it was actually when she got something on her own shirt and had no Zout, perhaps
 it had something to do with killing her Tamagochi, oh no, it was when...I'd better stop now as she has told me to not reveal her private dealings on my blog anymore)

Until Tokyo (or at least the airport)!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

French Macaroons

This was my week to host and I chose French Macaroon Sandwich Cookies

10 things about me by way of introduction:
1. I am in my 4th year of my PhD in physical chemistry-hoping to day..... :) but for now just hoping to survive a proposal defense tomorrow- aaaahhhhhhhhhhh, cannot wait until it is over, I am going to Japan to celebrate! (and to act as traveling companion to L of course)
2. My husband has a marketing company, does this little disco move where he bobs up and down, likes to rap, is under the impression that he does not need to sleep (and so I stay up way too late!!!!!), and says he is like ice cream (I just asked and that is really what he said) (I guess that means he is very smooth or he has lots of diversity or something)
3. I recently had a small pig (for a very short time)
4. My favorite foods are popcorn, garlic bread, pizza, blue Popsicles, broccoli, snow cones, sour patch kids, hot tamales, and anything that tastes like sugar
5. I am supposed to be looking for a house to buy but I only want to live in a tree house
6. I love to read, travel, find fun things on Pinterest and Amazon, rollerblade, ride cruisers, play games (board games and Wii/playstation/Xbox) and play the piano (though I have not done that in quite some time).
7. I am going to pick up meditation
8. I am following a lot of TV shows-some of my current favs are Merlin, Nikita, The Good Wife, Project Runway, and Sherlock
9. My goals are: ride a camel to the pyramids, ride an elephant, eat 10 different types of beans
10. I love anything Disney!
I found out about the baking club from Jesse, my old roomie, and have had a lot of fun trying out new recipes.

So the French Macaroons-
I saw these all over Vienna last summer. I have had them on occasion, found them to be interesting, and heard that they are so expensive because they are super hard to make. I was curious about all this so I thought I would give them a try. Plus, I thought I could take them to my Mother's Day Dinner.

3 3/4 c (15 ounces) almond flour (which I could not find so I just ground up almonds in a food processor)
3 1/3 c confectioners' sugar
5 large egg whites
pinch of cream of tartar
5 tsp granulated sugar
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
2 c butter cream frosting (though I only used about 1 c)

-pulse half of almond flour and half of confectioners' sugar in a food processor for 30 seconds, transfer to a bowl, then pulse the remaining flour and sugar
-whip egg whites and cream of tartar, gradually increasing mixer speed over 2 minutes. Whip in sugar over 1 min. Whip another 3 min or until stiff peaks have formed
-gently fold in 1/3 of almond flour/sugar mix, then vanilla, then remaining almond flour/sugar to form a gloppy batter.

(here is the batter, this is one of the few batters I had no interest in tasting)

-put batter in a pastry bag (I used a large Ziploc bag and cut off the tip) and pipe 2-inch mounds onto parchment paper (on baking sheets of course. Also, grease the parchment paper-I forgot and it was no prob but the book says to do it)
-let the macaroons rest until the feel dry-1-2 hours, this prevents cracking when baking

(here they are, resting away. The book also mentioned you may need to smooth out the tops after piping but mine did not need any help)

-cook one sheet at a time at 325 degrees for 20 min or until lightly browned

(cooked, no problem with cracking)

-transfer to a wire cooling rack and let cool about an hour
-can be stored in an airtight container for 3 days
-fill when ready to serve

Butter cream Frosting (which was kind of a pain but really good)
(for a 2 cup batch)
3 egg yolks
1/2 c sugar
1/3 c corn syrup
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
pinch of salt
2 1/2 sticks butter (cut into chunks and softened)

-whip egg yolks (standing mixer is nice here) 4-6 minutes
-boil sugar and corn syrup (while eggs are whipping) over medium heat, stirring occasionally to dissolve sugar, about 3 min
-without letting the syrup cool off, turn the mixer to low and slowly pour the sugar syrup into the egg yolks (avoid pouring it on the beater or sides of bowl). Increase mixing speed and whip 5-10 more minutes until light and fluffy and the bowl is no longer warm.
-Reduce speed to medium-low and add vanilla and salt. Gradually add butter one piece at a time. Increase mixer speed again and whip until smooth (about 2 more minutes)
Frosting can be refrigerated for up to 3 days. Let it stand at room temp for 2 hours and whip it up before using.

(The final product. I made mine on Friday, then filled them and ate them on Sunday and they held up pretty well)

All in all, they turned out exactly like the ones I have had from bakeries (in looks and taste) so I consider the recipe a success. They were super easy, I think they took about 15 minutes to mix up and 5 minutes to pipe onto the pan. I let them sit on the counter for 1 hour, then cooked them for 20 min. Super easy (prob easier than chocolate chip cookies)! The hardest part was making the butter cream frosting-though that would have been easier if I had used my Kitchen Aid instead of a hand mixer :)

A few notes in response to other bakers' thoughts- I bought my almonds at Winco and they were super cheap-about 4 dollars a pound (you need a little under one pound) so these cookies cost about $5-6  to make and I made about 30-35 sandwich cookies (recipe estimated 20), other people found that they did need to smooth out the tops of the cookies after piping-just use your finger (or use a ziplock bag instead of a real pastry bag, worked great for me), the frosting made twice as much as needed in my case, and the cookie is supposed to have a crisp exterior but chewy interior.

These were fun because they feel impressively fancy, out of the ordinary, but are not much work. I even forced one on O and he said they were "rich and refined" :)
I have already had a request for these this upcoming Sat at a shower!

Check out some of the other people in the club who also made the macaroons for more reviews!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

New York Style Coffee Cake and little else

Huzzah Huzzah, I got my baking done before midnight! (not much before midnight but making slight improvements).

This week we made New York Style Crumb Cake (which in my opinion should be in the coffee cake section).

I have loved the America's Test Kitchen TV show for a long time. Way before I had the cook books and before you could get their recipes online I used to watch the show and frantically scribble down the instructions. My first recipe from them was Mexican Rice and I must say, I was hooked from that day forward (everyone who has tried it says it is the second best Mexican Rice, with the first being El Farols)  Anyways, I saw this recipe on one of their episodes. What is so great about the show is that it tells you lots of tips and tricks and explains why they do things. The cook book does this too! (The other great thing about their show is Christopher Kimball, though I never knew how great he was until I signed up for his monthly email. I still recall when I received the first one and thought "America's Test Kitchen Email has been hacked!!" and then found out that no, Christopher Kimball just sends out the most bizarre emails to the whole world ever-which any of you who bother to read them when I forward them totally agree with. His stories are so entirely lacking in a point or a punchline-it is just unbelievably strange. I got his latest about spring coming to Vermont- I'll have to send that one around). So I saw the episode where they made this crumb cake and I tried it-I did not use the cake flour (though they said it was a must) because I could not find it then. This time around it was at the store and I must say it made a HUGE difference.

Here is the cake

It was fabulous! (and coming from me that means it must be to die for if you like cake, coffee cake, baked goods, etc)

My tasting panel tonight consisted of Roman-a fun guy from the Czech Republic that O brought home from with him. He also gave it rave reviews. O had a mini bite, said nothing about it, and then went and had about 10 of my good friend Kristi's brownies (so it turns out he will eat some baked goods...) (ps Kristi-glad you came over and made those, they were also a hit with Roman). I'm going to take the leftovers (which are the entire pan minus two pieces and one small forkful) to my Chem 105 class tomorrow and see how they like it (plus, I hope this boosts my popularity, I am running for most beloved Spring Semester TA and the competition is tough bc the other TAs are all my grad buddies. I think I may have lost credibility last week when I did not know who Jor-el is (he is superman's father), so I'm going to great lengths to get back in the game)

Anyhow, check this blog for the recipe.
I'm still going to get my birthday post up soon, but, as it is getting late and I have to TA at an insanely early hour, I'd best be off to see to my Czech guests.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Pancakes and more-edited for L's peace of mind

Well, I have had a bit of a week (for someone who has nothing going on, I always seem to have so many issues...)

First off the baklava post:
I could not get my ipad to email the photos to my blog. I have fortunately figured out that problem and have the photos now:

 Don't these look lovely?

The baklava was surprisingly easy. I just watched a tv show while I made it. I had only two issues-I used all the butter early on and had to clarify more-so I melted another stick in the pan with the butter removals-that was a stupid stupid idea-after spending forever trying to get the stuff to separate I had to just melt another stick. The other issue-why are phyllo dough sheets so big? Last time I checked most pans were 9 x 13, not 500 x 6135. So yes, I had to tear my sheets and still had loads hanging over the edges. Other than that, no problems. O came home, nibbled on an edge and said "that is the best baklava I have ever had" (it was later revealed that he had never had baklava before, though he swears he ate some pastries in the Czech Republic a time or two...). L also came over to visit my little temporary pig and said "that is good baklava, and I normally hate baklava" some stuff about the baklava. Between the three of us we managed to finish three little diamonds. I sent some up to my brother and the rest of the pan to my fam-good thing it lasts for 10 days bc they were all out of town and I did not want to waste what the book labeled as a "labor of love". The fam liked it. All in all, I'm glad to find out it is totally do-able.

I did not fix my original post bc I had some reason to be snapping mad at O-oh yes, it was over something he said about Arby's-but then I had to set that aside and become friends again bc he was planning a surprise for me the following night, so that took up most of the evening. Then, my psychic mind told me to go to bed to prepare for the events of the next several days.

The Events started Thursday morning: In the middle of the night (actually I think it was 4:3O) my sister called me and told me she was going into labor!! I raced down there (with O, who agreed to come once I told him I was taking his new car-which he denies had anything to do with it), fell asleep for an hour, called everyone in the world to find someone to take some little Burmese children to school so that L could come spell me off, found out that B and spouse had really faked labor so they could go out to breakfast (j/k), raced back to school, raced home to my surprise, got a teacup pig, stayed up all night with said pig, went to work looking like a rabid jackrabbit before racing right back to my pig, sent my pig to camp to learn how to eat, found out that L's love interest was formerly engaged someone had an event in their past (imagine that) (that was a bit of a non-issue in my mind), planned and unplanned a trip to Japan about 20 times, had to put my little baby pig up for sale, and in my depression have watched an entire season of The Good Wife, packed up almost all of my belongings, and had about 307 diet cokes.

Well, my sister is in the hospital now so she really will have a baby soon and yesterday I got a ticket to Japan-leaving in 3 weeks so time to do some serious planning. To celebrate, I had Korean bbq tacos from CPK last night, they are quite tiny but rather good.

About Japan-L is going to Japan for graduation. Her friend is over there doing an internship so she thought it would be the prefect excuse to head over! We are just going over there, no apparent reason. Of course she cannot go alone and so I was invited to Japan on account of me not having a serious job, any children, and bc I told some people I had studied Japanese (by which I meant I drive a Honda part-time, have seen all 3 Kill Bills, edited so that was about 30 min total, have watched a youtube video on how to make a bow out of your hair by a Japanese girl, and I loved Spirited Away-great movie, and Anime. I also babysat L's tamagachi once, though I think it died so I will not bring that up enough said) All in all, I am completely ecstatic! I love traveling and have never been to Asia before!! I have found the perfect thing to take with me to wear over there-I'm ordering it on Amazon and I'll post pics soon! And of course you can all look forward to blog posts for the rest of the year about our trip :)

So for this weeks baking we made pancakes!
J, my old roomie, chose this week's recipe. She loves pancakes and makes great ones! I have never made pancakes from scratch so I was really excited. In the end, these were totally fine, they just were not any better than box pancakes. I have had J's Betty Crocker pancakes and think they might be better. I did not care for the syrup I made (butter pecan, with walnuts instead of pecans) but O loved it. This is perhaps the first thing I have made for the club that O ate!! In reality, the syrup was totally fine, it just was not buttermilk syrup, which I am crazy into right now.

We also had bacon-I am too scared to make real bacon so I buy this bacon that you microwave in a little plastic bubble-O thinks it is the best of all the microwavable bacon. I was also on such a roll I made bran muffins-the ones we made earlier in the year for the club. They are not my absolute fav bran muffins but they are super easy and good.
Check out J's blog-Diaries of a cookaholic on my sidebar for the recipe!

Next post I will tell you all about my Birthday extravaganza!!
and here is me and some elk I saw on the side of the road the other day.