Wednesday, November 30, 2011

"Twice cooked"

 [note: last post before finals crunch time starts.. foresee a lot of baking after those are done :)] Soooo, I've been kind of obsessed with ginger and molasses lately.. the gingerbread loaf from Starbucks is a-m-a-z-i-n-g! If you haven't tried it you MUST. It's really sad that they don't serve that year-round. (the cream cheese frosting is also awesome.)

I've been looking for ways to use the molasses that was leftover from making those gingersnaps, and I was going to a friend's house for dinner so I wanted to bring something.. I stumbled across this gingerbread biscotti recipe, which was adapted from the Joy of Baking recipe. And thus, I decided to make biscotti for the first time. It seemed like an extremely simple recipe and I didn't even have all the ingredients -- I left out the oats and added a cup of mini chocolate chips. I also added about a tbsp of freshly grated ginger, which probably made them a little more on the chewy side. These were such a hit, I couldn't believe how much everybody liked them! They were nice and hard to the touch but were, at the same time, moist and a bit chewy. Who knew that biscotti were easier to make than cookies?! I'm definitely going to make these again, maybe adding some dried cranberries next time.

This was after baking the 2 loaves.. the dough was extremely sticky so it was pretty difficult to shape into anything. Also in the photos from the recipe I used their loaves were long & skinny.. the way I did mine was basically as you see in this photo; they did not really spread out too much.

I cut really huge biscotti apparently
laid out for the 2nd baking
flipped to bake the last side
the end pieces hehe
finished product!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thanksgiving is the best holiday

I have celebrated Thanksgiving with one of my closest friends for the past 5 years. This year it was at her parent's house so we didn't do the majority of cooking like we've done in the past while away at college. We did learn how to make her mother's delicious oyster dressing that there are never any leftovers of and we made our pumpkin cheesecake for dessert. 
see those whole oysters in there??? there is nothing that tastes like this in the world.
the spread
my beauteous plate.
Pumpkin Cheesecake with gingersnap crust and cinnamon-maple whipped cream :)

Since there weren't any leftovers from the oyster dressing, we decided that we wanted more and this time we helped make it.. which means, I know how to make this now and I can have it more than just once every year. I documented the cooking process and was glad to discover that this really was not too difficult to make. I think the key is just getting the seasonings right and having good quality oysters. The adapted recipe comes from Paul Prudhomme's Louisiana Kitchen cookbook, which I learned that any pepper listed in ingredients needs to be halved or else it is too spicy. Her mom didn't follow the recipe in the book exactly, so that is what I'm going to show in the following steps:

"Holy trinity" of diced green bell pepper (4 cups), onions (4 cups) and celery (5 cups)... plus some garlic (half a head) and 1/4 cup green onions.
Sautee with 5 tbsp butter over medium heat until softened and a little browned. It's always amazing how much the volume of veggies shrinks after 15 minutes of cooking.
The spice mixture: 2 tsp salt, 2 tsp garlic powder, 1-2 tsp cayenne pepper, 2 tsp sweet paprika, 2 tsp black pepper, 1 tsp onion powder, 1 tsp dried oregano leaves, 1 tsp dried thyme leaves
We sprinkled these seasonings into the sauteed veggies gradually as they browned.
getting there...
Then you pour the liquid of the oysters into the pan. We also poured half of the oysters in the pan and broke them up with the spatula.  Added a couple dried bay leaves too.
Beautiful oysters!
For this recipe you really need to buy fresh oysters that come shucked already like this so all the liquids are also there. I know that they sell oysters like this at Whole Foods Market but these were specially brought from out-of-state by my friend's grandfather.
Then we added a mixture of regular unseasoned bread crumbs and panko bread crumbs to dry up the excess moisture. We ball-parked it but it should be about 1 cup. You can also use homemade bread crumbs! Obviously throughout the cooking process you should be tasting everything to make sure the seasoning is how you like it.
Finally, pour into a buttered casserole dish.
Put the rest of the oysters in and just make sure they are mostly covered by the dressing mixture.
Sprinkle some bread crumbs on top and then bake it in the oven for about 1 hour at 350 degrees. I think you can also make this the night before and just stick it in the oven the next day when the feast is.
The finished product. This might not look like much but there is so much flavor in here; I could seriously eat this whole pan by myself.
I hope everybody had a great Thanksgiving and ate themselves into food coma like I did! It really is the best holiday as long as you plan ahead to avoid stressful times in the kitchen :)


Saturday, November 19, 2011

Why so snappy?

Since I recently discovered my affinity for gingersnap cookies, I sought to make them for myself. I haven't baked in a really long time and never have I ever used molasses before. Looking through a couple different recipes, the biggest discrepancy I saw was whether to use ground ginger or freshly grated ginger. So I found 2 different recipes that were seemingly similar and made half batches of each. The recipe using fresh ginger involved less butter and the recipe using ground ginger involved more spices (one of which I didn't even have).
left--fresh ginger, right--ground ginger
 To say the least, the resulting cookies could not be more different! Taste-wise, the fresh ginger cookie is more moist and has nice kick to it. It is also sweeter. The ground ginger cookie is much spicier. Also I am assuming that the added moisture from the fresh ginger made the batter a lot softer and that led to the cookies flattening out a lot more than the ground ginger ones. There wasn't too much different about the wet ingredients between the 2 recipes other than the fresh ginger one involving 2 tbsp less butter. Is that really enough to affect the texture of the cookie? The other difference was the timing of adding the spices, one added it into the dry mixture and the other added it to the wet.

Before mixing the dry & wet ingredients together: left is ground ginger (hehe you can see the spices in sifted flour), right is fresh ginger

ground ginger cookie dough
fresh ginger cookie dough -- so soft I had to refrigerate it for about 2 hours before I could roll it into balls

Before & After on the cookie sheet

On my makeshift cooling rack (which is just one of our extra oven racks haha) -- I really should invest in a cookie dough scoop so my cookies are more uniform in size. I tend to get impatient by the end and start rolling larger balls of dough to get through with it!

By the time these finished, the sun had set, so the lighting of this photo is artificial.
Also, notice the blobs these cookies turned out as. I did not foresee them to flatten and spread out as much as they did since the last batch had no problems of that kind.

 The conclusion is that I think that I prefer the fresh ginger one for its texture and in future creations I'm going to try a combination of fresh and ground ginger to envelope all these layers of flavor into the cookie. Up next.. pumpkin snickerdoodles anybody?


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Lush time of the year again!

So, the holiday collection of products Lush has never fails to draw my attention.. since it is that time of the year again, I stopped by for only a couple things, but of course that turned into much more.
Bath bombs! Satsumo Santa, Sex Bomb, and So White. I have only tried So White before, and it is by far my favorite so far. It has such a distinct apple scent to it. I absolutely love it. This is only available during the holidays so I got 3 of these. Then I decided to try Satsumo Santa. I'm not a really big fan of the really seasonal & christmas-y smelling bath bombs so this one caught my eye. It has a citrus-y scent and supposedly turns your bath water red-orange. Finally, I really wanted to try Sex Bomb since it seems to be so popular. I love the smell of Jasmine so I don't think you can go wrong with that.
Bubble bar - Pop in the bath. I am the biggest fan of bubble baths. They are just so fun and relaxing. This one was recommended to me by one of the people working in the store because I told them that I love The Olive Branch shower gel. This bubble bar is supposed to smell identical to that. I kind of got a really unattractive-looking one though, didn't I? They came in various color combinations. Despite the lack of visual appeal, I know I will love using this.

This was a major reason I wanted to stop by Lush. The way I've been using this Colour Supplement is by taking a smaller than pea-sized amount and mixing it with a pump of my moisturizer. Then, I buff it into the skin on my face with a stippling brush. After using this for about a week and a half, I am loving it. There is a great amount of coverage without feeling heavy at all. It is very soft in texture and leaves your skin very smooth looking. I do have very oily skin so I make sure to powder over it to set it. The dark yellow color matches perfectly with my skin; it especially helps because you can adjust the pigmentation depending how you mix it. It seems like a really small pot for $16 but I can see it lasting a while.

 I should have just stopped there.. but I got roped into a couple other things... I bought 1/4 lb of the popular Snowcake soap. I've tried this before and I love the almond-ness of this soap. It's not too strong smelling and really leaves your hands squeaky clean. It lathers nicely and is so soft&luxurious feeling. I didn't really need anymore soaps but this amount will probably last me until next year, so no worries about running out!
Then I got a facial cleanser. This was one of those things that the employee pretty much convinced me to get.  Dark Angels, it's called, since it contains charcoal and pretty much looks like it. I have to say this creates quite the mess on your bathroom counter so you have to be careful. To use it, you break off a small piece (which is really easy to do, it's really soft) and lather it with some water before working onto your face. There are sugars to exfoliate your skin in here as well as a minty feeling. I was told that I could leave it on my skin like a mask for a minute or so before washing it off. So far, I'm really liking it. I don't use it every day because I don't want to be exfoliating my skin so often. It does contain avocado oil so that is supposed to replace the oil that is taken away by the charcoal, which leaves your skin very moisturized afterwards.
Mask of Magnanity. I got a sample of this mask, offered by one of the employees. It's supposed to be good for oily skin and has some exfoliating stuff in there. You do not need to refrigerate this, and I think it lasts up to 4 months. It is pretty similar to the Love Lettuce fresh mask (especially in appearance), except this one has a minty feeling to it and it is not as moisturizing. I'm not sure I would buy a whole tub of it though.

And with that, I'm probably set for at least an entire year before I need to head back to Lush.