Bonsoir Brioche!

April 1, 2009 on 8:54 pm | In Food & Drink | No Comments

Now that I have purchased 5kg of bread flour, I really need to get rid of it by making more bread. The frugal no knead bread is definitely simple and delicious as the recipe only calls for flour, salt, yeast and water. I don’t think it can be simpler than that! This time I tried to be more ambitious and gave the brioche recipe a try.

Brioche is a French bread which is famous for its high egg and butter content. It is definitely not recommended for those who are on a diet but I guess everyone needs a treat once in awhile. Just don’t come back and complain if you can’t fit into your skinny jeans! I have used a simple recipe from a blog called La Tartine Gourmande. The recipe calls for 1 stick of butter for a small 10” loaf! It is definitely not something that I can make frequently. The instructions on the blog is rather simple but I do find the dough to be extremely wet, so I have added around 2/3 cups more to the mixture in order to make the dough more workable.

Simplest Brioche

Ingredients:
2 cups bread flour
1/2 cup butter
2 eggs (at room temperature)
1 Tbsp dry yeast
2 Tbsp sugar
1/3 cup warm milk
1 pinch salt
1 egg yolk for glaze

Directions:
1. In a bowl, mix the flour with the yeast.
2. Make a hole in the middle of the mixture and add the warm milk into the mixture.
3. Add the sugar and a pinch of salt. Then, add the soft butter, piece after piece, waiting each time that each piece is mixed thoroughly.
4. Then one by one, add the eggs, mixing well between each. Work the dough until it is elastic and detaches from your fingers more easily.
5. Cover and let rest in a warm place, away from drafts, for two hours, until it doubles in size.

Since it’s still rather chilly in the house, I have place the bowl on top of some hot water to help the yeast do their job.

After two hours the dough should look like this:

6. Work the dough again for 10 min and divide it in four balls. Place them in a greased rectangular mould and cover. Let rise for an hour again.

7. Preheat the oven at 400 F.
8. Brush the brioche with the egg yolk mixed with a dash of sugar. With a pair of scissors, make small cuts at the top of each ball.
9. Place in the oven to bake for 10 min then reduce the heat to 350 F and bake for about 20 to 30 min.
10. Remove, unmold and let cool on a rack.

The final product is rich and buttery, kind of like a piece of unsweetened cake. However, I do find that there are too many kneading involved. I started making the dough after lunch and by the time that I finished baking, it’s already evening. I have to say I truly admire people who can make fresh bread for their breakfast!

If you want to make brioche as well, you can also checkout this tutorial from melissamakesbread.com:

Experiment: No Knead Bread

March 23, 2009 on 10:34 pm | In Food & Drink | No Comments

Making bread always seems like a difficult task. It usually calls for kneading the dough for multiple times and then you need to let the dough rest for a few times. With everyone’s busy schedule, who has time to make bread for scratch? Well, with the no knead bread recipe, first published by the New York Times, you can let time do the hard work for you. All you need to do is to stir the ingredients together and to bake the dough. Even a four year old can probably make this bread.

Jim Lahey’s No Knead Bread

Ingredients:
3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 5/8 cups water

Directions:

Step 1: Prepare the Dough
1. In a large bowl, combine flour, yeast and salt.
2. Add water and stir everything until blended. Dough will be sticky.
3. Cover bowl with plastic wrap.
4. Let the dough rest for 12-18 hours in a warm room.

The dough will look like this after 12 hours:

Step 2: Work on the Dough
1. Remove the dough from the bowl and put it on a work surface that is slightly covered with flour.
2. Quickly shape the sticky dough into a ball.
3. Cover the dough with a cotton towel and let if rise for about 2 hours.
4. When the dough is ready, it will be more than double in size.

The dough will looks like this after 2 hours:

Step 3: Bake the Dough
1. Half an hour before the dough is ready, preheat oven to 450F.
2. Put a heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats.
3. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven
4. Turn dough over into pot.
5. Shake pan if dough is unevenly distributed.
6. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes.
7. Remove lid and bake another 15-30 minutes, until load is beautifully browned.
8. Cool on a rack.

* Note: Make sure you don’t put your hot ceramic pot or Pyrex pot onto a cold surface. The shock might crack the pot. Unfortunately, it happened to me when I was doing a chemistry experiment long time ago. :)

The resulting bread doesn’t look too amazing but it tastes pretty good. The crust is very fragrant and the inside is soft and fluffy. This recipe doesn’t take a lot of work but the result is surprisingly good. I will definitely make it again but I think I will bake the bread for the full 30 minutes to make the crust crispier.

You can also checkout this video posted by the New York Times:

Happy Vernal Equinox!

March 20, 2009 on 10:44 pm | In Misc. | No Comments

Today is the official beginning of spring. Even though it is a bit smoggy but the sunset is still very beautiful!

Searching for Toronto a la Cart

March 19, 2009 on 8:51 pm | In Food & Drink | No Comments

I have read an article in the National Post regarding the Toronto a la Cart project yesterday. It reminds me of the fond memories that I have for the street vendors back in Hong Kong. I just love the spicy curry fish balls, stinky tofu, mini pancakes, roasted chestnuts and yam that I used to get on the street when I was small. Today is a little bit chilly compared to the past few days. However, the slightly cold temperature wouldn’t soften my determination of finding the Toronto a la Cart. With a food adventure on my mind, I took a short walk to Nathan Philips Square during lunch time. Little did I know that I forgot to read the fine print, “…will begin selling their wares by the long weekend in May”.

The Toronto a la Cart project has been going on for more than a year. The provincial Health Minister has been talking about relaxing the law that forbids anything other than pre-cooked sausages and hot dogs being served on the streets since July, 2007. And yesterday, they had only managed to announce the 8 lucky vendors that would be allowed to sell food on the street. Selling street food is not exactly rocket science. Many Asian countries have them. Even our big brother, the United States, has them on the busy downtown streets in Manhattan. How come it has taken so long in Toronto? While I understand food safety is a serious issue, can we just get inspector to make sure their food hygiene is up to the standard. It shouldn’t be much different than inspecting a real restaurant. Moreover, a uniform branding is definitely not necessary. Personally, I think this is a marketing agency’s cash grab. Why can’t we let the vendors have a little bit of room for their personal flair?

While I was at Nathan Philips Square, I did notice the fries and hotdog truck that parked on the street had a huge sign for shish kebab kubideh. After looking at the menu more closely, I found that the item was nowhere to be seen on the long list of food. I wonder if you need to say a secret password to order that item. This truck gives me an excellent idea. If existing trucks are capable of selling food other than hotdogs, we can just build more of those instead of spending so much consulting money on developing the Toronto a la Cart project. I have seen a few of these trucks in the city. There are a few in the University of Toronto area that sell Chinese lunch boxes and there is also another in the Korean Town that sells roasted chestnuts. The truck model would certainly work better in Toronto because of the harsh winter weather that we have. A small cart would not be able to keep the vendor warm during winter. While trucks do take up more space, we can just designate certain area for these food trucks just like what we are currently doing anyways. Regardless, I do hope these vendors would be successful in their new business and I am looking forward to try their exciting offerings!

Sushi Manners 101

March 18, 2009 on 9:33 pm | In Food & Drink | No Comments

Like most customers in a Japanese restaurant, the first thing I do after I have got a seat is to rub the chopsticks together in order to get rid of the splinters. Little did I know that is actually impolite since it seems to suggest the restaurant’s utensils are low quality.

My friend found this article on thestar.com regarding sushi etiquette. It has a neat video demonstrating how to do it right and there are some helpful diagrams to help you remember the simple steps.

In general, you should:

  • Use pickled ginger between pieces of raw fish to cleanse the palate.
  • Eat nigiri (bundle of rice topped with raw fish) with your fingers.
  • Dip nigiri fish-side down into a small amount of soy sauce.
  • Eat nigiri fish-side down so you can taste the flavours in the correct order.

And you should void doing the following:

  • Don’t put a pile of pickled ginger on top of your sushi.
  • Don’t use chopsticks while eating nigiri (but it is alright for maki and sashimi).
  • Don’t dip the rice-side of the nigiri into the soy sauce.
  • Don’t eat it rice-side down.
  • Don’t rub chopsticks together. It is better to remove the splinters with your fingers).
  • Don’t leave chopsticks standing straight up in a bowl of rice since it resembles incents that are burnt during funerals.

I am happy to follow most of the rules in order to get an authentic sushi experience but I think I will leave out eating nigiri with my hands. Sushi rice tends to be a bit sticky. Eating with my hands would mean spreading the stickiness to everything on the table. Definitely not a very pretty sight! The chopstick rubbing addiction is probably a bit difficult to kick as well. One of the commentators on the Star has mentioned, “Better to rub them than swallow a splinter”, and I totally agree with him. In order to get rid of the splinter problem, maybe it’s time for the Japanese restaurants to switch to reusable chopsticks. After all, it is a more environmentally friendly option and it will probably save money for the restaurants in the long run.

Mission: Crispy Chocolate Chip Cookies

March 17, 2009 on 10:48 pm | In Food & Drink | No Comments

While most people refer chewy chocolate chip cookies, my family prefers the crispy kind. There are not a lot of choices for crispy chocolate chip cookies. Most gourmet bakeries tend to sell the more chewy kind. Therefore, most of the time, we just get the ones from President Choice. They are one of my favourite afterschool snacks but I still find that something is missing from these readymade cookies. While the cookies are crispy, you can never get that fresh out of the oven feeling.

I did a search online and found Anna Olson’s recipe for chocolate chip cookies. The original recipe is intended for chewy-centred cookies but I have modified it based on her recommendations for making crispier cookies.

Anna Olson’s Chocolate Chip Cookies (Crispy Version)

Ingredients:
¾ cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
8 oz (224g) bittersweet chocolate, cut into chunks

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350F.
2. Cream together butter and sugars until smooth. Add egg and vanilla and blend in.
3. Stir in flour, baking powder and salt. Stir in chocolate chunks.
4. Drop by tablespoons onto a greased baking sheet and bake for around 15 minutes, until golden brown around the edges.

*She recommends adding 2 tablespoons of cornstarch and replacing the baking powder with baking soda if you prefer more chewy cookies. The baking time can also be reduced to around 8-10 minutes in order to get more cakey cookies.

The recipe is rather simple and it produces great results. I have made chocolate chip cookies a few times before using different recipes but they tend to be very cakey (kind of like an elaborated muffin top). However, this recipe definitely gives me the kind of cookies that I enjoy. These tips will help you along the way if you are a crispy cookie lover like me.

Tips for Making Crispy Cookies:

  • Don’t add water to the dough even though it might appears to be really dry. Just use your hands to knead them together.
  • When shaping the cookies, use the back of the spoon to make the cookies a little flatter. Thinner cookies tend to be crispier.
  • Bake the cookies for a little bit longer but make sure you get them out before they get burnt.

Happy Baking!

A Lazy Day for Book Reading

March 16, 2009 on 9:07 pm | In Books | No Comments

There are only a couple of days before the official beginning of spring (March 21). Various house plants at my home are already hinting the good news by blossoming beautifully. The red amaryllis is really lovely at the moment. How I adore the deep red coloured petals. They remind me of the first amaryllis that my father brought home when we were still living in Hong Kong. Maybe I was much smaller and shorter back then; but in my memory, it always had monstrous huge flowers that were as big as my head.

The temperature is still a bit chilly outside but the fabulous weather makes it a very good time to relax in the living room with a cup of coffee and to finish some reading that I have been putting off for so long. Over the weekend, I was able to finish up the book club reader, “Under the Net” by Iris Murdoch and 2 volumes of the Moomin graphic novels. I even got a head start on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Other Jazz Age Stories”.

“Under the Net” is a surprisingly funny novel. Even a slow reader like me could smoothly finish up the novel in a couple of days. It will tell you how much I enjoyed reading the book. The story is filled with unexpected twists and turns, and it seldom leaves me feeling bored. In some ways that it makes me feel that I am in the middle of a TV drama with all the chaotic events that happened in the book. Some of the things that the protagonist did might sound silly and unreasonable at times but the author saved the novel by throwing in some philosophical questions in there to keep the book on the ground. I enjoyed this book as a pure love story and it also offers me some curious questions to think about.

In some point of the novel, the protagonist held the following conversation with his seemingly philosophical friend:

Hugo: “The whole language is a machine for making falsehoods.”

Jake: “What would happen if one were to speak the truth? Would it be possible?”

Hugo: “I know myself, that when I really speak the truth the words fall from my mouth absolutely dead, and I see complete blankness in the face of the other person.”

Jake: “So we never communicate?”

Hugo: “Well, I suppose actions don’t lie.”

In some ways, I agree with Hugo that the purest truth actually resides in our mind instead of speech or in any other written form. Once it is written out, it’s no longer the truth since we often process it and make it as socially acceptable as possible. The original meaning might be all gone after all the polishing. He believed that instead of using a flowery language, we should probably communicate via action since “actions don’t lie”. I wish this book is a required reading for our fellow politicians. Instead of spending so much money on self promotion, maybe some real action will help Canadians to put more faith in the government?

Coraline the Movie!

January 17, 2009 on 5:16 pm | In TELETOON, Movies | No Comments

Maybe it’s because that I have been working on the Coraline promotion for a couple of days, for some odd reason, I really really really want to see the movie. (Oh no! I have been brainwashed!) Well, it’s animated and it’s stop motion animation which translates to I DEFINITELY want to see it. Plus they have the movie in 3D version. I love those crazy looking 3D glasses!

While I am waiting for the release of the move (which is Feburary 6th by the way), I have visited their official website and it has this really neat gadget that allows you to place button eyes on any picture. Behold the power of the button eyes! I look creepy no matter what I am wearing!

If the wait is still too painful, go enter in the Coraline contest on teletoon.com to win some fabulous Coraline swag. You might even get a chance to visit Portland, Oregon, for a guided tour of Laika Studios, the animation house behind Coraline. Unfortunately, I am not eligible to enter the contest but good luck to all those who can!

What Am I Up To These Days

January 15, 2009 on 11:15 pm | In Games | No Comments

It has been while since I have written anything on the blog. With the holiday season, there were endless shopping and food preparations to do, countless gatherings to attend, and the weather wasn’t really cooperating and brought us endless amount of snow to shovel. (On the bright side, I really prefer a white Christmas over a green Christmas.) There seems to be hardly any time left for anything else. Even my clothes seem to have no more room for more stuff. (It’s probably a sign that I should start my swimming routine again. Hehehe!) Now that I am back to work, my schedule seems to be getting unusually overwhelming and my new found addiction doesn’t help to improve the situation.

What kind of nasty addiction do I have? You might ask. It’s a new Facebook game called “Pet Society” and it’s created by a company called Playfish. (The same people who did “Who Has the Biggest Brain?” game) Remember those mini apps that we used to add in Facebook: there were some that allows you to adopt an animal; there were some that lets you to decorate a room; there were some that helps you to send virtual gifts to your friends. “Pet Society” is all of the above. Once you have added the application, you can create your own pet. He can do various activities, such as skipping, play ball or Frisbee and run hurdles to gain coins. These coins will allow you to buy various items in the town. By using the Facebook API, this game also allows you to visit pets that your friends might have. I always love to see how my friends are dressing up their pets. The most genius part of this game is that you can buy these mystery boxes where as the name suggested you don’t know what it contains. Sometimes, it will give you some extremely rare item or some common food item. Since some of the items are so rare, some players play all day long to make enough coins to buy numerous mystery boxes in order to get what they want. You can also trade items with other people; however, you might run the risk of cheaters who don’t trade as they promised. The last route is to actually pay real money to buy these virtual coins. That’s not a line that I am willing to cross for an online game. Honestly, I rather do some real shopping in the real mall. However, after I have read a thread on an online forum, I found out that around one third of the players actually pay real money to play the game. Some people even admitted to spending hundreds of dollars on the game. No wonder some houses are always filled will the latest and the most expensive items. At the rate that this game is going, “Pet Society” probably will need to release special “credit cards” for these serious shopaholics.

There are some people who pretty much collect every single that have been released in the game and they get upset because they couldn’t get one of those rare items. However, I really don’t think that’s the original goal of the game. After all, you are supposed to have fun playing the game. It’s actually quite fun just to visit other pets and decorating your own home. Like real life, you can’t have everything but that doesn’t mean that you can’t have some fun. Try this game and visit my pet, Pinko! Who knows, I might even send you a treat. :)

The Loopy Christmas Tree

November 21, 2008 on 10:01 pm | In Misc. | No Comments

When Halloween is over, Christmas decorations seem to begin showing up everywhere. Even the office building that I am working in put up this loopy thing that resembles a Christmas tree in an abstract way. I would rather prefer an old fashioned Christmas tree but I guess the management of the building doesn’t want to offend any non-Christmas-celebrating-people. If I am so against Christmas, I would definitely go to work in those days to demonstrate my dislike. But so far, I have never seen anyone gave up their holidays. As far as I am concern, it doesn’t really matter what ethnicity that holiday belongs as long as there is a day off. After all this is Canada and we should celebrate each other’s festivals.

The more I look at this loopy tree, the more it resembles to the blue spiral art installation that I saw in this year’s Nuit Blanche.

It’s quite interesting that they are both the same shape but they portray entirely different images.

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