Friday, July 29, 2011

Oatmeal Walnut Craisin Cookies

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We're taking Aimee to the zoo for the first time today. I am really excited. Of course, she has no idea what the zoo is, but is excited nevertheless. Toddlers are easily excited, aren't they?

All of you probably know how much packing goes into a simple day trip when there's a toddler involved. You can't forget anything. Everything little thing is crucial. So many things! And one thing you can't leave the house without is snacks. Something toddler friendly and preferably healthy. My little girl loves craisins, and while I am carrying a little box full of them for her, I thought I would also make something with craisins that she, and the adults on the trip could enjoy.
I went back to my dear friend, Ina, for a cookie recipe. I pretty much stuck to her recipe and just made a few minor substitutions. You can find the original recipe here. This recipe usually yields 36 normal sized cookies for me, but I made 24 regular sized ones, and 24 toddler sized ones, just so she can hold them firmly in her little hands.
Oatmeal Walnut Craisin Cookies
Adapted from Ina Garten's recipe on the Food Network
100g walnuts
1 1/2 cups (185g) all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp powdered cinnamon
3/4 tsp salt
225g (1/2 pound) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla
3 cups oatmeal
100g craisins

1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. You can start all your mixing while the ovens preheating.
2. Sift together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt, and set aside.
3. Spread the walnuts in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake for 5-7 minutes until toasted. Set aside to cool.
4. Cream the butter and the sugars until light and fluffy.
5. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
6. Add the vanilla and beat well.
7. Add the sifted flour mixture and mix until combined.
8. Chop the cooled walnuts into morsel sized bits.
9. Add the oatmeal, walnuts and craisins into the bowl and stir until combined.
10. Using an ice cream scoop or two tablespoons, drop 2 inch mounds of the cookie mix on a parchment-lined baking tray and bake for about 12 minutes or until lightly browned.
11. Transfer the baked cookies to a rack and allow them to cool completely.
12. Store in an airtight container.
I really liked these cookies. Next time, I would add more walnuts. Ina's recipe does call for more nuts than I used, but all I had at hand was a 100g pack. I slightly over-baked one of the batches, and ended up with crispy, rather than chewy cookies. Those are pretty good too, but I just prefer the chewy kind. So just keep an eye on the cookies, and don't let them get crisp. Unless you like them that way, of course!

I just noticed that I have been making so many recipes with craisins lately, you would think they were going extinct. First there were those Cranberry-Orange scones, and then the Oatmeal Cranberry muffins, and now these cookies. I will lay off the craisin recipes for a while. I promise. :)
Okay, we're off to the zoo now. Woohoo! :)
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Sunday, July 24, 2011

Oatmeal Cranberry Muffins

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This is going to be a short and quick post. Sometimes, I need to stop rambling about everything from the weather, to my technical woes, to my amazing toddler's latest achievement, and let the post be about the food, right?

Besides, I gotta run. :)

Before I go, let me tell you - I am not a huge fan of oatmeal porridge. But I love baked goods that have oatmeal in them. So when I came across a recipe for oatmeal breakfast muffins, I figured I would make them so I could eat them for breakfast and not feel guilty. The recipe needed a lot of modification, but this is what I ended up with.
This recipe makes five muffins. Fill the empty muffin cup of your 6-muffin tray with water, and that will take care of several things. It will keep the muffins moist, and stop the tin from warping.

Oatmeal Cranberry Muffins
Adapted from 'Muffins Galore!'
25g (5 tbsp) oats
140ml milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
120g (1 cup) self-raising flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
75g (1/3 cup) dark brown sugar
50g (1/2 cup) dried cranberries (extra for garnish)
1 small egg (or 1/2 large egg) beaten lightly
3 tbsp canola oil
50g icing sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 200.
2. In a small bowl, combine the oats, milk and vanilla and set aside to soak for at least 10 minutes.
3. Mix the flour, baking soda, salt and sugar in a large bowl.
4. Stir in the cranberries.
5. Stir in the oil and egg into the oatmeal mixture.
6. Add the oatmeal mixture to the flour mixture and stir until just combined.
7. Spoon the batter into your muffin tray, and make sure to fill any empty muffin cups with water.
8. Bake for about 20 minutes or until firm to the touch.
9. Cool in the tin for 10 minutes and turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
10. Melt the icing sugar with enough water to make a thin, smooth glaze.
11. Drizzle some of this over the top of each muffin, and let the muffins soak up the glaze.
12. Top with more dried cranberries, and serve warm.

The muffin itself is not very sweet, and so it really does need that glaze/syrup over the top. I love biting into it and finding moist bits of cranberry. That's my favorite part of a fruity muffin. Other than that, this muffin is soft, moist and a great way to start the day.

In other news, I really want to thank Elisabeth of Food and Thrift Finds for sharing this award with me. I really appreciate it, Elisabeth. Thank you!

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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Steamed Buns w/ Five Spice Sesame Pork

Pin It One period of my life that I really enjoyed was my time as a student in Singapore. My husband and I went there together to do a short course in 2007, and we had a real blast!

When we first got there, the food came as quite a shock to us. We were not expecting the stuff that was served to us. Fish ball? Century Eggs? What on earth are those things? And the smells, - oh the smells! Everything smelt fishy to us. We lived on PB&J for a couple of weeks, and were quite proud of ourselves for getting on. At school, during breaks we would go out with our Singaporean friends to the local hawker centers, and they would eat and we would watch. Let me tell you, Singaporeans LOVE their food. And slowly, but surely, we began experimenting. In a matter of days, we were eating as much as they were. Wow, that food was amazing.

There are so many dishes I can name that I miss so dearly, and this is one of them. Pau are little steamed buns with a filling. Such amazing fillings. There was the little place in one of the MRT (Metro) stations that served some really awesome barbeque pork pau. Everytime we got off at that station, I just HAD to buy one of those. No matter how late we were running. No matter how long the queue. No matter how little money we had. I just had to get it. I wish I could recreate that exact pau, and I would be set for life. But for now, here is a simpler one that I came up with. The filling is Minced Pork & sesame with Five spice powder.
There was a slight issue with the pau dough recipe. The original recipe I used called for 1 1/2 cups of flour, and that wasn't even close to enough. The dough was still very gloopy. I don't think I did anything wrong. Anyways, I ended up adding another cup of flour before the dough felt right.

Pau dough
For the starter
1 tbsp yeast
1 tsp sugar
1/4 cup warm water
1/4 cup all purpose flour

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
3 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp oil
1/2 cup warm water

Make sure the 1/4 cup of water for the starter is lukewarm. 
Mix all the ingredients for the starter in a large bowl and set aside to proof for 1/2 hour.
When the mixture bubbly and has risen, stir in the salt, sugar, oil and warm water.
Add the flour, 1/2 cup at a time, mixing well after each addition.
When you have a soft, very slightly sticky dough, stop adding flour. 
Knead well for 10 minutes, form into a smooth ball, and set aside in a lightly greased bowl. Cover the bowl with greased clingfilm, and place in a warm place to rise for 2 hours.
At the end of 2 hours, punch down the dough, knead briefly and divide in 16 equal balls.
Flatten each ball with your hand, and spread into a 3 inch circle.
Place a generous teaspoon of the filling in the center, and bring the sides of the circle to the center and pinch the dough to seal. Turn over and slightly flatten. This side should be smooth and slightly rounded.
Set the filled pau on a lightly floured baking tray and allow to rise for about 25 minutes.
Steam them at high heat for about 12 minutes. Serve warm.
Five Spice Sesame Pork
300g minced pork
3 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp five spice powder
1 tsp ground pepper
1 tsp palm sugar
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1 1/2 large onions, finely chopped
5 large cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 tsp sesame oil
1 cup fine sliced spring onion (green part)

Marinate the pork with the soy sauce, five spice powder, pepper and sugar for 2-8 hours.
In a dry saucepan, toast the sesame seeds and set aside.
In a large wok or pan, fry the onion and garlic until softened and slightly golden.
Add the pork and stir well to combine. Continue cooking for 7-8 minutes until the ground meat is cooked.
Check the seasoning, and add more soy sauce if you want it saltier.
Add the sesame seeds and stir well.
Stir in the sesame oil, and the sliced spring onion.
Set aside to cool.

The pau we ate never came with a dipping sauce, and they didn't need one for sure. But mine are very different, and the filling is slightly drier. Maybe next time, I won't let it reduce down as much. So, I served the pau with a spicy homemade plum sauce.
Spicy Plum Sauce
1 pound plums, pitted and quartered
1 tsp onion pwd
1 tsp garlic pwd
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 large cinnamon stick
1/2 tsp dried red chili flakes
1 tbsp cornstarch

Combine all these in a saucepan, and cook until the plums have completely disintegrated.
Dissolve the cornstarch in a little water, and stir in. Cook until slightly thickened.
Taste and add more sugar, vinegar or chili flakes, if desired.
Eating pau brought back a lot of great memories. And now I think I am going to be cooking a lot more Singaporean food. We only lived there for 6 months, but that time was enough to make us fall in love with the food there. I often crave Singaporean food, and nothing local, no matter how authentic it claims to be, can match up with that sweet, little old lady who made us delicious Wonton Mee, or that grumpy man who made us that incredible Popiah. I even miss those smells. I want to go back soon, and we pray I will.
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Friday, July 15, 2011

Irish Soda Bread

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Please don't hate me for not visiting your blog, okay?

I am so frustrated with no laptop and no phone! But the worst thing about this is my backache. Ever since I started using my husband's computer and his chair, my back has been killing me! And it's only getting worse. So not only am I not able to visit your blogs regularly, I am not able to post regularly either. I need to cut down on computer time until I get my laptop back. So, I am really, really sorry for not visiting you!

I had this post done a while ago, and never had pictures. So today after I fixed this bread for dinner, I decided to take some pictures. Unfortunately, the sun was already on its way down, and these pictures were taken in really low light. I'm sorry for the low quality!
I am apologizing a lot in this post. I'm sorry about that!

Anyhoo, the pictures may be poor, but the bread wasn't! It was a really tasty, delicious smelling bread. I started off with Ina Garten's recipe for Irish Soda bread, and made some changes to it, after reading some reviews and some other recipes. This really worked well for me, and it was very easy & quick too! Loved it!
Irish Soda Bread
Adapted from Ina Garten
500g (4 cups) all purpose flour
3 tbsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
4 tbsp butter, cold & diced
430ml (1 3/4 cup) buttermilk, cold
1 large egg
Oatmeal for sprinkling (optional)

1. Lightly grease a baking tray, or cover with parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 400.
2. Combine the flour, sugar, salt, soda and baking powder in the mixer bowl. Stir until combined.
3. Add the butter and combine with the mixer on low until the butter is mixed into the flour mixture.
4. In a small bowl, beat the egg and buttermilk together.
5. With the mixer running on low, slowly pour the buttermilk mixture into the flour mixture.
6. Once combined, stop mixing. Do not over-mix. The dough will be wet, and lumpy. That's just fine.
7. Transfer onto a very well-floured work surface. Knead a few times, and form into a round loaf.
8. Transfer to the baking sheet. Score the top of the bread to form a cross, using a serrated knife.
9. If desired, sprinkle the top with oatmeal.
10. Bake for about 45 minutes until the loaf is golden brown, and the base of the loaf sounds hollow when knocked.
11. Transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.

I love the texture of this bread. It is sort of in between a bread and cake. Soft, yet with a bite to it. I especially love the crust! Chewy, yet flaky at the same time. And just plain delicious! Everyone enjoyed this bread, and when I asked my husband if he thought I should make this bread again, he said 'yes'. And let me tell you - that's mighty high approval!

I think my time at the computer is almost through. My back's signalling me now.

I feel old. Sigh.

I need some comfort food.

I pray that the next time I post, it will be from my laptop, with me sitting in my comfortable spot. And my backache will have vanished.

But for now, I have bread.
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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Cranberry Orange Scones

Pin It Has anyone noticed I haven't posted in almost a week? I guess not. :) Well, I haven't.

While I have been visiting as many blogs as possible, I just have not been able to post anything this last week!You see, both my laptop and my internet enabled phone decided to call it quits at the same time. I think they planned it! And while they sit happily in the repair shop, I have no option but to use the desktop computer, and this chair gives me a horrid backache! And the spare phone I'm using (and I am grateful for the phone!), does not connect to the internet.So until my laptop returns, you won't be hearing from The Harried Cook as much!

Yesterday was one of those days. I just HAD to bake. I didn't care what. I just had the need to bake. I did a quick inventory of what was available in my limited pantry, and Googled some combinations that made sense to me. This scone recipe from Ina Garten was one of the first to show up. To  be honest, I have not had very good experiences with scones. Well, I haven't eaten that many scones in my life, but the ones I have eaten haven't been very good. So I was quite nervous trying this out.

This recipe was a pleasant surprise! Great flavors, flaky crumbly texture, only mildly sweet, and the yummy glaze made it just perfect! I made only half the recipe, and still ended up with more scones than I needed. Next time I'll try half of this.
Cranberry Orange Scones
Adapted from Ina Garten's recipe on Food Network

250g (2 cups) all-purpose flour (plus 2 tablespoon)
30g (1/8 cup) sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
Zest of 1 orange
175g butter, cold & diced
3 medium eggs, beaten lightly
120ml (1/2 cup) heavy cream
1/2 cup chopped dried cranberries
Demerara sugar, or additional granulated sugar, for sprinkling

1. Preheat the oven to 400.
2. Combine 250g of flour, the sugar, baking powder, salt and the orange zest in your mixer bowl. Stir to combine.
3. Add the diced butter, and run the mixer on the lowest setting till most of the mixture resembles breadcrumbs, with some larger bits of butter.
4. Remove 2 tbsp of the beaten egg mixture into a smaller bowl and set aside to use as egg wash.
5. Into the remaining egg, stir in the cream, mixing until combined.
6. Pour this egg-cream mixture into the flour mixture, and continue mixing on 'low' until the dough just comes together. It will be lumpy, but that's just fine!
7. Stir the additional 2 tbsp of flour with the cranberries in a bowl. Add this mixture into the dough and stir in until the cranberries are evenly distributed. Don't over-mix.
8. Turn the dough out onto a well floured surface. Roll out the dough about 3/4 inch thick. You might see bits of butter peeking out of the dough, but that's just fine.
9. Cut into circles using a round cookie cutter. Transfer the circles to a baking tray/dish.
10. Gather the remaining dough, roll out, and cut into scones. Continue until you've used up all the dough.
11. Add about a teaspoon of water to the reserved 2 tbsp of egg. Use this mixture to brush the tops of all the scones.
12. Sprinkle the scones with plain or demerara sugar, and bake about 20-25 minutes, until the tops are golden brown, and scones feel firm to the touch.
13. Remove from the oven and allow them to cool on the tray for about 15 minutes.
14. Transfer to a wire rack to cool, and drizzle over with the fresh orange glaze.
Fresh Orange Glaze 

1/2 cup + 2 tbsp powdered sugar
4 tsp freshly squeezed orange juice
1/4 tsp orange zest

1. Combine all the ingredients, and stir until smooth and lump-free.
2. Add more sugar or juice to adjust the consistency, if desired.

The flavors of cranberry and orange really work well together. And while I've always eaten scones with jam and cream, or butter and jam, I didn't need that extra sweetness with these scones because of the glaze. It added just the right amount of sweetness. 

After dropping the jam, I felt it would be just plain wrong to drop the tea too. After all, tea and scones are made for each other. And while I am not a big tea or coffee drinker, I decided to respect the scone and made myself a hot cup of strawberry-mango tea. And after settling my little girl down for her late afternoon nap, I settled myself on the couch with a cup of tea, a scone (okay, okay, I had two!), and a good book. It was a wonderful afternoon!

I must report, as I always do, that everyone enjoyed this recipe - my husband, my daughter and the dog. Jerry gave it four barks, and that's a pretty high rating! 
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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Pomegranate Pound Cake

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I made it to post #50. Whew!

I wanted to bake a cake to mark the 50 post milestone. I contemplated baking a many-layered cake, and frosting it and decorating it with some pretty flourishes. But after a lot of plotting and scheming, I finally ended up with this. I guess, on some level, I really wanted the cake to reflect my cooking style. Simple, but with oodles of flavor.
I really like this cake. And my little girl, Aimee, has been walking around the house all day, chanting 'cake, cake, cake', and has eaten more than her fair share already. I can safely say she likes it too. My husband, well he has never been a fan of what he calls 'plain' cakes. Give him a dark, moist, rich chocolate cake, and he's happy. But he did eat a slice or two of this cake, and declared it 'very nice'! That's a high compliment, mind you!

So, here is my favorite pound cake recipe. I made one 6" bundt cake, and 1 mini-loaf (to give away). You could bake this in a 9" bundt tin or you could even make little pink-glazed cupcakes, garnished with edible red pomegranate 'jewels'! Imagine how cute those cupcakes would look!

Pomegranate Pound Cake
180g (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
200g (1 cup) sugar
4 eggs, separated
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp lime zest
185g (1 1/2 cup) all-purpose flour
1/8 tsp baking soda
125ml creme fraiche
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds/arils (plus a handful for garnish)

1. Preheat your oven to 350.
2. Sift the flour with the baking soda, and set aside.
3. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy
4. Add the zest, the vanilla, and the four egg yolks, and continue creaming for 2-3 minutes.
5. Add the flour-soda mixture in three parts, alternating with the creme fraiche added in two parts. (You start and end with the flour mixture)
6. In a clean bowl, using a clean whisk (or whisk attachments) beat the egg whites until stiff.
7. Fold the egg whites into the batter gently until completely incorporated.
8. Gently stir in the pomegranate arils.
9. Pour batter into greased and floured baking tin, and bake until the top is lightly golden and a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.
10. Remove from the oven, and allow to rest in the baking tin for 10 minutes.
11. Turn out of the pan, and allow it to cool completely on a cooling rack.
12. When cool, drizzle over the pomegranate glaze and garnish with more fresh pomegranate arils.

Pomegranate Glaze
50 ml fresh pomegranate juice
1/2 tsp lemon juice
200g icing sugar

1. Mix all the ingredients in a bowl until smooth and light.
2. Adjust the quantity of icing sugar to make the glaze thinner or thicker, if desired

The cake is really moist - thanks to the creme fraiche, and very light, with tiny pink pomegranate arils peeking through. I love how pretty it looks! And I love the flavors too. The pomegranate flavor in the cake and the glaze are really subtle, and very fragrant.
I really loved how pretty  the shade of the glaze turned out. A lovely shade of pink without a drop of artificial food coloring! And with completely natural 'sprinkles', I felt really good about it! It doesn't get better than this!
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Sunday, July 3, 2011

Walnut Muffins w/ Coffee Glaze

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This little beauty made my husband a very happy man!

When I saw started out making these, I wasn't really sure if it was a cupcake recipe or a muffin recipe. I adapted so many recipes to come up with this, that I had no idea what I was making. I was aiming for a 'muffin', but I didn't follow the usual 'wet bowl', 'dry bowl' method for muffins. I saw a recipe for muffins which called for the egg whites to be beaten to stiff peaks and folded in. It sounded good. This was a little more labor intensive, but well worth it.

The final result though was definitely muffin-like. It is dense (but not heavy), and has a nice crumb to it. And it has the unmistakable flavor of walnuts, which happen to be my husband's favorite! To intensify the nutty flavor, I decided to brown the butter. A good decision! And I made my husband even happier by pairing these muffins with a coffee glaze, and it worked just perfectly together!

My mother, who sampled one of these, said these were the best things to come out of my oven - ever! I don't know if that says a lot about the rest of my cooking, but it does say a lot about these muffins. I guess she's a coffee-walnut fanatic, too. And though I am not, I must still admit that these are G-O-O-D!

Keeping with my latest trend, this is a small batch recipe, and makes 6 muffins.

Walnut Muffins
Loosely adapted from Muffins Galore

100g walnut halves
75g butter
75g sugar
3 eggs, separated
1/2 tsp vanilla
75g flour
1/2 tsp baking powder

1. In a heavy-based saucepan, melt the butter, stirring it often. The butter will froth a lot. After a little while, the frothing will stop, and the butter will start turning darker. Soon you will notice there are tiny brown specks in the butter. Once the butter reaches this point, take it off the heat. You should be able to smell the nutty aroma of the brown butter. It should not smell burnt.
2. Stir in the sugar while the butter is still hot. Set aside to cool.
3. In the meanwhile, in a medium bowl, stir the flour and baking powder together. Retain 6 walnut halves for garnish, and chop the remaining walnuts very fine. Most of the walnuts were almost powdered, but I left a few chunky bits because I knew that's what would be popular here. Stir the walnuts into the flour and set aside.
4. Add the egg yolks and vanilla into the still warm butter-sugar mixture.
5. Stir in the walnut, flour and baking powder mixture.
6. In a clean bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff. Fold the egg whites into the walnut batter.
7. The final batter will be quite thick, but soft and smooth.
8. Divide the batter into a muffin tray (6 muffins), and bake at 180 for 15-20 minutes or until lightly golden and firm to the touch.
9. Allow them to cool in the tray for 10 minutes and then turn out onto a rack to cool completely.
10. Spread over the coffee glaze, and garnish with a walnut half.

Coffee Glaze
2 tbsp milk
1 tbsp instant coffee
1 tsp butter, softened
150g powdered sugar
1. Heat the milk and coffee together until the coffee has completely dissolved. Remove from heat.
2. Add the butter, and stir until the butter has melted.
3. Add the sugar and stir until you have a smooth glaze. If you want a thicker glaze, like the one I've used, you can add more sugar until you get the consistency you want.

Theses muffins are only mildly sweet, and need the sweetness of the glaze. The coffee and walnut flavors go really well together! 
While the texture and consistency is perfect for a breakfast muffin, I know my family would gladly eat these for dessert!
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