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Archive for February, 2011

As I type this, a friend of mine is cooking in Umbria, Italy. After returning from my cooking vacation in Italy, I passed along the business card. What do you know, he booked!

PA210617 I can not wait to hear about his vacation. If his stay is anything like mine, it is going to be one his favorite vacations.

All this reminiscing is going somewhere, I promise.

Pizza Dough.

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On the first day of my cooking course, I learned how to make real Italian pizza dough. It was so easy and tasted simply divine.

I promised myself I would make homemade dough from then on out.

No delivery.

No frozen pizza.

Homemade pizza all the way.

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Well, to say that I didn’t hold to that promise is putting it lightly.

As a matter of fact, I’ve been ordering more pizza lately than I’d care to admit.

You see, Sebastian and I have started a bit of a bad habit. For the past 3 weeks, we’ve ordered pizza every Tuesday.

Gross, I know.

Yesterday, I put a stop to this dirty habit by preparing enough homemade pizza dough to last us 6 weeks.

Here’s my step-by-step to homemade pizza dough and how to use fresh yeast.

Let’s get started!

P2273571 Simple stuff here: 1 kg of all-purpose flour, 2 tsp. sugar, 2 blocks fresh yeast, 2 large pinches of salt, 2 (+) cups of warm water.

P2273570Here’s what a block of fresh yeast looks like in Germany. It is kept in the refrigerator section of the grocery store and costs about 20 cents.

P2273572Pull back the paper and this is what you get. A dry, crumbly block of yeast. You can already smell it by now.

P2273577The bowl contains the sugar and 2 cups of warm water. All you have to do is break up the yeast and drop it into the waiting water.

P2273579Fresh yeast has a strange texture, one I’m not quite sure how to describe. Sort of rubbery and spongy all at once.

P2273582    Stir the yeast and water, breaking up any yeast chunks and allowing it to evenly dissolve. Then, set the yeast off to the side and let it do its thing.

P2273584  Meanwhile, mix the flour and salt.

P2273588 After only a minute or so, the yeast will begin to foam.

P2273589It’s alive!!!

P2273600  Make a well in the flour and pour the yeast mixture in.

P2273603 Now put your camera down and get in there with your hands.

P2273605Mix, mix and mix some more.

P2273608  Add more water as needed to form an elastic dough. I added about 1/4 cup more water.

P2273609Once the dough looks like this, it’s ready to be turned onto a floured surface.

P2273611 Now it’s time to kneed.

P2273613  Kneed the dough for about 7 minutes, or until it is smooth and stretchy.

P2273615 Almost there, feel free to add another dusting of flour if the dough begins to stick to your surface.

P2273617Looks good!

P2273622  Place the dough into a large floured bowl. Flour the top and sides of the dough as well.

P2273624Slice an X into the top. You will literally be able to see the dough rise in front of you. 

Fresh yeast is the way to go!

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Cover the bowl with a damp cloth and let the dough rise in a warm place. My sunny radiator worked great.

P2273629 Here is what the dough looked like about 20 minutes later.

P2273630 1 hour later.

P2273631 After an hour of rising, punch the dough down.

P2273632 Kneed the dough again for a few minutes.

P2273634Cut the dough into 6 even portions.

P2273637Individually kneed each of the dough balls.

P2273639Roll each ball around in flour to prevent sticking in the bag.

P2273638    Place each pizza dough into a freezer-safe bag.

Close the bag and freeze until ready to use.

To use a frozen dough, simply remove from the freezer a day before you want to make pizza. Allow the dough to thaw in the refrigerator. 1 hour before making the pizza, place the dough in a large bowl in a warm place and let it rise once more. Punch down, kneed and bake as usual.

With plenty of pizza dough ready to go, I really have no more excuses

Frozen pizza is a thing of the past.

To see more about my experiences taking cooking lessons in Italy, visit the links below.

Learning about Umbria from other Bloggers

Welcome to Italy and Florence

European Chocolate Festival

Cooking School Day 1

Cooking School Day 2

Cooking School Day 3

Cooking School Day 4

Leaning Tower of Pisa

Before going to bed, I wanted to wish my big brother, Ben, a very happy birthday.

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I admire your positive attitude and jovial nature.

P4073225 I’ve been thinking about you all day.

Just so you know, there are 18 little kids from all over the world, currently living in Germany, who heard about 15 Brother Ben stories today.

P4073223 You’re awesome and I’m so lucky to have you for a big brother. I love you, Boy.

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This recipe was most recently added to my new and improved Recipe Wish List.

It didn’t stay as a wish for long. These delicate scones served as a fancy Saturday breakfast.

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This recipe was easy, tasted great and made good use of strawberries that desperately needed to be used.

I followed the recipe exactly, starting with the chopped up strawberries, milk and vanilla.

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Grating frozen butter is a great substitute for a pastry cutter.

 P2263524 P2263526 See? Works great!

P2263529 After the butter, baking powder and flour were well combined, I added the wet ingredients.

For some reason, my dough was very wet. So wet in fact, that I couldn’t shape the dough into a ball to cut into the standard scone triangles. Rather than adding more flour, I kept to the recipe and just made 9 drop-biscuit-like mounds.

P2263531 They only needed to bake for about 10 minutes.

P2263535 The texture was so light and airy. I would like to try the recipe again, but next time will add more flour and less baking powder (there was a bit of a baking powder after-taste.)

All and all, this recipe is a keeper. These scones would be great with blueberries too.

After eating two of these beauties Saturday morning, I went to the gym for Body Balance. Once the class was over and I was all cleaned up, Sebastian met me for a Saturday outing.

P2263536 Karneval starts this week. Outside of the gym there was a small celebration going on to reveal the parade float for one of the local Karneval clubs.

We had 2 free entrance tickets for the August Macke house. Seeing that it was a rainy day, we felt being indoors was a good idea.

The artist, August Macke, lived in this house from 1910-1914 before being killed in WWI.

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Macke was very young when he died, leaving behind his wife and two young sons. His wife remarried one of August Macke’s best friends who, sadly, died in a concentration camp during WWII.

Macke’s wife, Elisabeth, returned to Bonn to live in the art studio of her late first husband. She resided there until her own death. I can not imagine loosing two husbands and growing old, alone, in the attic studio of my desist love.

P2263555 The bottom two floors of the August Mache house are used for art exhibitions. The current exhibition is a collection of art depicting the Dilborn Palace between 1911-1931.

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Warm, dry, out of the rain and into the art. This was a great way to spend a rainy day. P2263539

What is your favorite way to spend a rainy day?

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Cookies and Aquatics

I know I say it every weekend, but this weekend really flew past.

Saturday I woke up with a migraine so took some heavy-duty medicine and went back to bed until 11:30. Luckily, once I woke up again, I felt much better.

The (mid)day started with brunch.

P2163230 Peanut butter and banana stuffed French toast with coffee.

After breakfast, Sebastian and I headed across the Rhine to visit Sea Life in Königswinter.

We had a two for the price of one coupon.

P2193328 You have to go deep into the ground to begin the experience. The interiors are designed in a very mysterious, dark and dramatic way. Great attention to detail.

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Due to the dark lighting, it was hard to take good photos.

At least some of the aquariums were bright enough to photograph without a tripod. P2193264 P2193276 P2193277

This guy looked like rubber but wasn’t.  P2193287

The tanks were beautiful and the fish were peaceful to watch. P2193294

Some aquariums have spherical glass which helps you to see the fish even better. Just be ready for the fish to ‘come at you.’ Also, don’t walk into the glass. You’ve been warned.P2193313P2193297

The most dramatic part of Sea Life is the glass tunnel. We couldn’t tell from below, but we were walking through the shark tank. P2193302

With every step, the tank creaked a bit. Sebastian felt safer walking on the metal beams.  P2193316

After taking the stairs above ground, we could see the shark tank as well as the sting rays.

Before we knew it, the aquatic portion of our adventure was over and we were fed into the world of over-priced merchandiseP2193324

 Although I thought this mug was adorable, I wasn’t about to spend 7 Euros on it.P2193325

While waiting for our ferry, we made a stop-over in the Sea Life cafe. P2193326

I had a blueberry muffin and a cup of coffee to hold me over. P2193329 We had a good time but were in and out in about 45 minutes. Sea Life is really geared towards kids and has a lot of hands-on activities and games for kids to play along the way. I’m glad we went but am equally glad that we didn’t pay full-price for entrance.

Once home, I baked a batch of almond cookies from the Veganomicon cookbook.

P2203342 P2203347 I made a few of the big cookies then scaled them down to a more manageable size.

P2203353 The recipe made a ton of cookies so I froze about half of the dough in balls, ready to be tossed in the oven when my cookie stash is out.

These cookies are so delicious!

P2203348 Although I don’t have a photo yet, these cookies, when crumbled up, make a great topping to Greek yogurt and fresh strawberries. It’s like a quick-fix strawberry shortcake. Just divine!

Saturday night, Sebastian and I went out again, armed with another buy-one-get-one-free coupon for our favorite Indian restaurant in Bonn.
Since having the coupon book, we’ve probably eater at Taste of India about 10 times, but have never claimed the coupon. Since the book expires in a month, we thought it was about time to redeem our free meal.

Usually I can lick the little copper pots clean but this time we took home leftovers. Lucky for us, leftovers served as lunch on Sunday.

P2203354 Mattar paneer with naan.

P2203358P2203359Finger-licking good!

Speaking of Sunday, I had a great breakfast of Mediterranean scrambled eggs with a whole wheat English muffin.

P2203334 2 eggs, green olives, spinach, tomatoes, roasted red pepper and feta cheese.

I spent most of Sunday at the computer reorganizing my beloved Recipe Wish List. I’ll tell you more about it later, but think I’ve finally found a free solution to make my recipe saving easier and more user friendly. 

I went to the gym Sunday night for a great yoga class then came home to do a bit of school work before calling it a night.

Although this wasn’t the most productive weekend, it was a lot of lazy fun. Sometimes more sleep and simple outings are all you need to enjoy the precious weekends.

I hope you all had a good weekend and were able to start the week out right. Happy Monday!

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Chocolate Sugar Cookies

After not one but two posts dedicated to sugar cookies in the last week, I promise this one is the last for a while.

Although I preferred the vanilla sugar cookies, chocolate was a nice change.

This recipe also came from Annie’s Eats.

It was simple, used on-hand ingredients and made my kitchen smell amazing.

P2123123 Simple stuff, vanilla, butter, powdered sugar, salt, flour, egg and coco powder.

P2123132Sift the powdered sugar into the same large bowl containing the butter. 

P2123140Cream together the sugar and butter until light and fluffy.

P2123144  Add the egg and vanilla.

P2123145 Blend until incorporated.

P2123137Sift together the flour, coco powder and salt.

P2123147  Add the dry ingredients to the wet and blend on low speed until just combined.

P2123152I found the dough to be very wet and sticky. Once it had sat in the refrigerator overnight, it was much more manageable.

P2133196  Lightly flour your work surface, roll the dough and begin to cut out.

P2133192 The first round of dough was the best. Once it was drier from the extra flour, the cookies were a bit more tough.

P2133214Now it’s time for icing the cookies. 

Chocolate Sugar Cookies

from Annie’s Eats and Martha Stewart

Ingredients:
¾ cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup Dutch process cocoa powder
Pinch of salt
6 tbsp. (3 oz.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¾ cup confectioners’ sugar
1 large egg
½ tsp. vanilla extract

Directions:

  1. In a large bowl, combine the butter and sugar with an electric mixer.  Beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. 
  2. Blend in the egg and vanilla. 
  3. In a small bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder and salt.  With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients and mix just until incorporated and no streaks remain. 
  4. Form the dough into a disc, wrap tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, 1-2 hours.
  5. Preheat the oven to 325˚ F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. 
  6. On a lightly floured work surface, roll the dough out to about ¼-inch thickness.  Cut out desired shapes with cookie cutters and place cut outs on the prepared baking sheet.
  7. Bake 10-12 minutes, just until set.  Let cool on the baking sheet about 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.  Decorate as desired.

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Valentine’s Day was made extra sweet with the addition of the sugar cookies I made for my students, colleagues and of course, my Love, Sebastian.

The idea for these sweet cookies came from a beautiful post at Annie’s Eats.

Although my cookie cutter was much smaller than hers, I tried to recreate the adorable marbled designs she used.

This was my first attempt using royal icing and marbling but I was really pleased with the results.

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I adapted a sugar cookie recipe from Annie’s Eats as well.

What can I say, when someone does it right, there’s no need to go anywhere else.

Annie’s sugar cookie called for almond extract but due to allergies, almond products aren’t allowed at school.

As a result, my cookies were vanilla through and through.

P2123100 Simple ingredients for delicious cookies.

P2123104 Cream the butter.

P2123105P2123109 Sift in the powdered sugar.

P2123114 Cream together the butter and sugar.

P2123113 Beat the egg.

P2123116 Blend in the egg, vanilla, salt and flour.

P2123119 It will be hard, but try to keep your fingers out of this buttery, soft, fluffy dough.

P2123121Flatten the dough into an even layer and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Refrigerate dough until it’s firm. I left my dough in the fridge overnight and baked the cookies the next morning.

P2133166 Prepare your work surface and chilled dough.

P2133167 Roll your dough out on a well-floured surface. I broke my dough into two batches and it worked well for me.

P2133169You want the dough to be about 1/4 inch thick. The thickness of the dough at this point will be the same thickness of the baked cookie.

P2133170 Start cookie cutting.

P2133173 Squeeze them in.

P2133177This may be my new favorite photo.

 P2133179 P2133186Bake the cookies for about 8 minutes, you want to remove them from the oven before they golden. 

P2133187 Allow the cookies to cool slightly on the pan before moving them to a cooling rack.

P2133191 Cooled cookies.

P2133211 Space out the cookies, getting ready to frost.

Since I went through frosting the cookies earlier, I’ll just share the photos and a quick caption here.

If you want to learn about the eggless royal icing I used or how to marble the cookies, please visit this post.

P2133213 Outline the cookies.

P2133218 Flood the inside with pink icing and marble with white icing and a toothpick.

P2133221Just be careful that you don’t over-flood the cookies or they will look a bit psychedelic.

Vanilla Sugar Cookies

Ingredients:
1 cup butter
1 cup powdered sugar
1 egg, beaten
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. salt
2 ½ cups sifted flour

Directions:
Cream butter. Sift in the powdered sugar and whip with the butter. Blend in egg, vanilla, salt and flour. Chill dough until firm. Roll to ¼” thickness on a well-floured surface. Cut with cookie cutters. Place on cookie sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake at 375° F for 8-10 min. Cookies should not brown. Frost and decorate when cool.

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I heart these cookies.

Looking good and tasting good, what more could you want?

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Today started in a sweet way and has only gotten sweeter.

P2133165 French toast with fried bananas, coconut butter and maple syrup. Oh my word, this is the way to eat French toast.

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Yesterday I made both sugar cookie and chocolate sugar cookie dough. I’ll do separate posts about those recipes later but for now am going to jump into the cookies.

Short and… sweet!

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First I baked the vanilla sugar cookies.I subbed vanilla extract for the almond extract due to allergies at schoo.

P2133186 After that, the chocolate sugar cookies were baked.

P2133196While I was baking the sweet cookies, my sweetie was putting together the new wardrobe we bought at IKEA yesterday.

P2133193  He had some help.

Back to the kitchen.

As far as icing goes, I couldn’t find meringue powder so went with an Eggless Royal Icing recipe. I made one batch of plain white icing and then a quadruple batch of hot pink icing.

Eggless Royal Icing

  • 1 cup powdered sugar, sifted
  • 2 tsp. milk
  • 2 tsp. corn syrup
  • 1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
  • food coloring
  1. Using an electric mixer, mix the powdered sugar and milk until smooth.
  2. Add the corn syrup, vanilla and food coloring and beat on low speed until very smooth and glistening.

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You could easily substitute another milk if you want to go with a vegan version. P2133203

Milk and powdered sugar. P2133205

Before the final mix. P2133207 Not pink enough.

P2133210 That’s it!

P2133211 Space out the cooled cookies.

P2133213 Outline with the thick royal icing.

P2133216 Flood the inside of the cookies with a slightly thinner royal icing.

Add spots of white icing and marble with a toothpick.

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Aren’t they pretty? P2133225

If only my dishes cleaned themselves, that would be sweet. P2133220 I hope you have a wonderfully sweet Valentine’s Day.

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Napa cabbage salad is one of my mom’s best potluck dishes. Every time she brings this salad to a picnic, potluck, or party, the bowl comes home empty.

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When I was home at Christmas, we went out to celebrate my grandmother’s birthday at a restaurant that specializes in simple dishes made with local ingredients.

While there, I ordered the Napa cabbage salad.

It was delicious.

Since then, I’ve been thinking about this salad but only just now got around to making it.

I tried to make the dish healthier than the original version by reducing or eliminating the oil, butter and sugar, and I think the outcome is superb, if I do say so myself.

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P2093068 P2093070 P2103076 Healthier Napa Cabbage Salad

Makes 6 very large servings

For the greens

  • 1 large head Napa cabbage
  • 8-10 green onions, chopped

For the crunchies

  • 3 tsp. sesame oil
  • 1 package ramen noodles, broken
  • 3 tbsp. sesame seeds
  • 1 cup slivered almonds

For the dressing

  • 1/4 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 4 Tbsp. honey or agave syrup
  • 2 Tbsp. sugar
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
Directions
  1. Finely shred the head of cabbage. Toss the green onions and cabbage in a large bowl, cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
  2. To make the crunchies, toss together the sesame seeds, ramen noodles, almonds and sesame oil until evenly coated. Spread the mixture onto a lined baking sheet and make at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) until the crunchies become golden in color. Stir every now and then to ensure even toasting.
  3. To make the dressing: In a small saucepan, heat vinegar, oil, honey, sugar, and soy sauce. Bring the mixture to a boil, let boil for 1 minute. Remove the pan from the heat and let cool. Pour the cooled dressing into a glass jar and refrigerate until ready to use. Before using, shake the dressing well.
  4. To serve, combine dressing, crunchies, and cabbage, tossing to evenly distribute the ingredients. Serve immediately.
  5. If you are planning on eating this over a couple of days, just toss together a little bit of the crunchies, greens and dressing right before you want to eat.

Enjoy.

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