30 November 2007

In Which I Say Goodbye to Cat

My cat Cat, who has been with my family since I was 3 years old, died two days after Thanksgiving. I've compiled a few of her pictures to remember her by and a poem that I feel does her kitty-ness justice.

The Cat of Cats

I am the cat of cats. I am
The everlasting cat!
Cunning, and old, and sleek as jam,
The everlasting cat!
I hunt the vermin in the night --
The everlasting cat!
For I see best without the light --
The everlasting cat!

-- William Brighty Rands

My everlasting cat, Cat.

Cat and Merry, with whom she never got along very well, but occasionally would tolerate.

Where we buried Cat. The little dot is one of her hairballs.

The day we were to bury Cat, we received this unexpected card from the vet we took her to the day she died. A very kind gesture from them.

**ETA: I forgot to say that she bit a piece of my ear off one day when I rolled on top of her while I was sleeping, thus earning her the nickname of Cat Tyson!

27 November 2007

Sugar Cookies: The Fall Files

The following took place during Halloween and the first week of November.

The Birds! Take cover!

Soooo... I decided that sugar cookies shaped in the theme of fall should be made. My recipe of choice is Once Upon a Tart's recipe for Crispy Sugar Cookies. The texture is between crispy and chewy, which to me is just right.

I assembled the ingredients, started beating the butter and sugar, which produced a fluffy and somewhat grainy texture, then I beat in the eggs and vanilla.

The resulting texture was somewhat smoother, but still quite fluffy.

After that, I added the flour mixture in four additions. By the third addition, I had to switch from a sturdy-ish plastic spatula to a wooden spoon.

By the fourth addition, it required a bit of upper body strength to stir and it had the potential to be a little panic-inducing, as the mixture resembles that of the sand near the water at the beach with large curd-like pieces. Will it ever come together to look like a cookie dough?

Worry not, my dear readers. I'm living proof that, yes, it does come together. The texture of the dough thus far is actually very soft but not sticky and quite firm.

To refrigerate, I separated the dough into three squares (I can't remember if I weighed each portion out or not, but I'm thinking I didn't because it wasn't really necessary). Why three instead of two? Ease of rolling out and it requires less time to roll to the proper size, meaning it won't totally lose it's chill. (** Losing it's chill: 1. Subject has lost the coolness factor it once possessed. Can be used either temperature-wise or as in trendy, hip, something/someone who was "popular". **) Even if it gets too warm, slip the dough (I rolled it between two sheets of plastic wrap, wax paper can be used as well, for ease of clean-up) on a baking sheet and pop it in the fridge for 15 minutes or so, the freezer for about 5-10 minutes.

The day that turned into bake-the-cookies day, I made the royal icing and separated portions into different bowls to color. This time, I used liquid colorings and at first the colors weren't very strong, but after sitting a bit the colors intensified. Keep the bowls covered so it won't dry out.

From a flat sheet of dough to...

A cooling rack full of sugar cookie cut-outs!

The top photo says, "Look, I haven't been out in the sun much and I'm all washed out.", while the bottom photo says, "I have been kissed by the sun!" (**There is NOTHING wrong with being pale. In fact, I am quite pale myself**) If the bottom is pale, stick it back in for 2-3 minutes or until it's just golden underneath and the edges on top are barely golden. Too much (read: the bottom and/or top is completely golden-brown) and it gets very hard, as these will crisp up while cooling.

On another note, the still-warm cookies are very greasy.

So I outlined the large pumpkin shape with some of the orange frosting that I thickened (a little too much), then I filled it in with the thinner orange frosting (a tad too thick), dusted with orange-colored sugar, then spread a dab of brown frosting for the stem. The frosting is very glossy when not set, but when it firms up it turns sparkly. And that's not because of the colored sugar. It looks like a mound of fresh snow sparkling under the sunshine.

This is Emo Billy and his popular sister Kitty Carry-All.

I should elaborate: Ever since I explained to my parents what it means to be Emo (I'm not, by the way) it's been a bit of a joke to say, "That's so Emo of you!" One of our cats has been dubbed "Emo". So I made Emo cookies.

So ends a fascinating session of sugar cookie-ing. I hope you enjoyed!

26 November 2007

Daring Bakers and the Tender Potato Bread

First off, there is no difference between Idaho potatoes and russets, as I've found out by a conversation and then looking stuff up online. From Chow: Potato. More specifically from the article,
"Russet potatoes are the most widely used potato in the U.S. Note that “Idaho Potato” is a registered trademark; the same potato grown outside Idaho must be called a russet. They have thick, netted brown skin and white flesh. Their low moisture and high starch content make them light and fluffy when cooked. They are excellent for baking, French fries, and mashing. European chefs often return home with a bag of russets, because they are unlike any European potatoes."

Secondly, this month's recipe was for Tender Potato Bread, and our wonderful host this month was Tanna from My Kitchen in Half Cups.

My first attempt resulted as a mass of thick porridge, the baked result gave me potato glue while chewing a piece. My next attempt, however, was golden, thanks in part to the help of some DBers. THANK YOU!

This is the mixture after the yeast did it's job.

This reminds me of the porridge that was served to the orphans in Dickens' novels. It's not, by the way.

After I added some of the flour, the result was a very shaggy but somewhat firm-ish dough, ready to be kneaded.

Here is the ball of dough, post-kneading. I'd describe it as a firm yet tacky dough.

And I forgot to take a picture of the dough after it had risen, so...

Out of my first mistake, I realized that it made stellar garlic bread so I replicated that here. I punched down the dough, made a mixture of slightly boiled garlic (even though it reduced the garlic breath effect the garlic taste was rather hidden, which I didn't like), softened butter, asiago cheese, kosher salt, and coarse black pepper, spread it on the dough, then I rolled the dough up into a loaf shape...

And placed it into the loaf pan to...


After baking for 10 minutes, I took it out and brushed it with olive oil so it would brown. Look at the oven spring!

I'm so proud, it looks beautiful and it grew up so nicely! His name is Timmy...

I love the crumb, the moistness, the small holes, the sponginess of the bread, and the great potato taste. As you can tell, though, the top part split from the bottom... >.<

With Manhattan-style fish chowder, the perfect compliment.

To make this bread, visit Tanna's blog.

What I did the second time: Cut the recipe in half because I was running out of flour and needed to also make stuffing bread for Thanksgiving, but I used the max amount of potatoes, which I riced. I then decided to make a spiraled bread with a garlic-cheese-butter filling. I baked it for 10 minutes at 450˚ and then I took it out, brushed the top with olive oil, and stuck it back in at the reduced temperature to finish baking.

16 November 2007

I Can't Always Get What I Want - pumpkin cream cheese muffins

(** Sorry for the delay in posting. My laptop with all my files crashed and it needed to to be restored. Luckily, the computer dude was able to restore it without wiping out my files. Note to self: Buy extra USB drives for backup. **)

First, I'll take you through the steps I did to create my pumpkin cream cheese muffins (note: neither the pumpkin muffin recipe nor the cream cheese recipe were my own, I just used two different recipes and added stuff to it. I would normally give you the links to where I found each, but I messed this up a little and would rather not have my mistakes associated to their recipes):

The ingredients are prepped

Besides the required ingredients, I also added the grated rind of one orange. And besides that, I wanted to see how this recipe would come out via the two-stage method (mixing the fat with the flour).

What you are looking at there is the sliced cubes of cream cheese mixture and the flour mixture after the butter has been added to it.

And right here is the dry and wet ingredients mixed together with some flour not thoroughly mixed. At this point, and something I've encountered with this recipe even when followed as per directions stated, the mixture was much too dense and thick. I added about ¼ cup of milk. Next time, I'll decrease the flour by ¼-½ cup.

The result was still a bit thick, but... wow I'm drawing a blank... but more to the correct consistency for a muffin batter than before. I'm very wary of over-mixing a quick bread.

Here are the filled tins, just about a smidgen below the top. (I recognize that this picture makes it look like the batter is flush with the top of the cups, but it wasn't exactly. It was about a little beneath it, though some may have been right at the top -- I learned that from the Once Upon a Tart cookbook.) The empty tins were filled halfway with water (I swear the steam helps them rise better or something. Or something, have any of you noticed that the stature -- yes, I just used an animal/human word to describe my baked goods -- of your muffins decreases after sitting out of the tin post-bakeage, even the next day? Is it due to the moisture in the air? Sometimes it happens after they cool, even when baked long enough so as not to sink in the center).

Here you see the topping mixture of the grated rind of one orange to ¼ cup of sugar. The other picture is a sugar-dusted cream cheese cube-filled cup of pumpkin muffin batter. Don't push the cube in all the way.

The freshly baked muffins, cooling in the tins, with pats of butter on top to soak in! NOT. But it was sort of funny. :D

What you may or may not be able to see from the last picture is that due to the cream cheese cubes being made to cheesecake-esque, it didn't ooze enough to penetrate the entire muffin, though I most certainly got the too-much-oozing-it-looks-mucus-y issue down... Also, I didn't add nearly enough spices resulting in less than an essence of spiciness. Basically, if I hadn't known I put spices in the batter, I wouldn't have even been able to taste it at all. That and it was gummy. Remember how I often speak highly of the quintessential spongy factor, where you are able to press (lightly press, like with the carefulness of Jedi mind-strength that gives enough force to prove your point without being overpowering) down all the way and it pops back up into shape, all the while not having the mouth-feel of a piece of rubber? Sponginess these muffins had not.

It made me very depressed, as failed baking excursions are wont to leave me... Next time, I won't add an egg or a tiny bit of flour (I was aiming for a consistency between uber-runny and too set), perhaps adding some milk to thin it out a little (around a tablespoon), increase the spices x4 (I did increase it x2 the first time), and use a wee bit less flour.

At least it looked pretty. And the tea was nice (it was Nutcracker Spice from Celestial Seasonings). I'd say that I can't always be perfect but it sounds all sorts of wrong. Oh, and I'm not having a pity-me party, I just like discussing every facet of what went awry so as to ingrain it into my brain, "DO NOT REPEAT!"

End of story. :D
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