Friday, January 27, 2012

Daring to do it: Scones (a.k.a. biscuits)

Audax Artifex was our January 2012 Daring Bakers’ host. Aud worked tirelessly to master light and fluffy scones (a/k/a biscuits) to help us create delicious and perfect batches in our own kitchens!

When I first saw this challenge I was kind of disapointed. Biscuits? Really? I have made baking powder biscuits before, and I enjoy them, but as a challenge? After reading through Audax's vast research and information, though, I was excited. He really showed the science and art of something so simple, and I wanted to see where I could go with it. I decided to use his techniques to see if they really would produce lighter, fluffier biscuits.
First was to tripple sift the dry ingredients. Not owning a flour sifter, I used my fine mesh strainer. Using half whole wheat flour, I was left with some of the wheat bran (I think that's what that is...!) in the sifter. I just dumped that back in, since the sifting was to lighten the flour, not to remove anything.
Then the fat was added. I don't use butter, keeping things dairy free. I use vegetable shortening. Aud recommended freezing and grating the shortening, so I did.
Then the liquid was added and the dough was worked together. I used soy milk for my liquid. Again, keeping things dairy free...
Once the dough came together I rolled/patted it out to the aproximate size I wanted. I do not have a biscuit cutter. Nor do I have a plain round cookie cutter. So I used my sharp knife and carefully cut squares. Into a very hot oven to bake, and ten minutes later I was rewarded with this:
Light, fluffy, yummy biscuits. But not as high as I had hoped. I was pretty sure, though, that I knew what changes to make in order to improve both my technique and my end results. So I made another batch:
Better! Vanilla scones this time, using vanilla soy milk and adding in sugar. Was I done there? Nope...!
Batch number three:
With dried cranberries. Yummy!!!
Batch number four:With fresh blueberries. I wanted to eat this whole batch for breakfast.
Batch number five:
hCheesy goodness. Shredded cheese and spiced added tot he dough. So good.
And batch number six:
Chocolate chocolate chip. So good. so very good...
So, for a challenge I wasn't sure was a challenge, there came six variations. And that's only what was made this month! The recipe Audax gave us is so easy and accessible, it is something that can be made at any time. And it is (as you might have noticed) so versitile!
Thank you, Audax, for giving us this fun challenge! It was great to play in the kitchen with you and all of our fellow, amazing Daring Bakers. Do yourself a favor and get inspired by looking at what they all came up with!!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Daring to do it: Tamales

I love Mexican food. Well, at least the version I know here in the US... So when this month's Daring Cook's challenge was announced I was really excited.

Maranda of Jolts & Jollies was our January 2012 Daring Cooks hostess with the mostess! Maranda challenged us to make traditional Mexican Tamales as our first challenge of the year!
I have never actually made tamales before. Heck, I have never actually eaten tamales before! But it was something I had always wanted to try, and I was glad Maranda had given us the challenge. What I wasn't expecting was how hard it would be to find corn husks. Traditional tamales are made by steaming a filled corn based dough wrapped in a corn husk. It is like a little present on a plate... Except I couldn't find corn husks. I wanted to find an Hispanic market, but I had no clue where one might be locally, and I had zero luck when I looked in every other market or store I went to. I was able to find banana leaves, though, and I knew (I am not sure how) that those could be used instead.
Now came the hard part. See, I hadn't left myself quite enough time to make the tamales. None of the components here are hard -
the masa dough came together quickly, I had already cooked the black eyes peas, and the spinach and onion filling was cooked. I had even cut the banana leaves to size. But wrapping the tamales takes time. This is a task I highly recommend you recruit help for... I also found it hard to work with the banana leaves. True, I was trying to work "efficiently," but I kept getting frustrated by the ripping, separating leaves. Four tamales in I was ready to stop. But dinner still had to be made...
So I took the cheater's way... I put a layer of banana leaves on the bottom of a baking pan. Then I layered the masa dough, the spinach filling, beans and cheese. I topped that with the rest of the dough, covered the whole thing with more banana leaves and baked it in an oven. I did put two pans of water on the bottom rack to try to produce steam, as tamales tend to be steamed...

Then end result was something quite yummy. We all found it to be a bit dry on its own though, which I had thought might be the case. Since I didn't have any salsa in the house, I heated some simple tomato sauce. It worked really well.
Thank you, Maranda, for giving me the opportunity to finally try tamales! I am sorry I didn't do them the traditional way, but I do feel that I got a taste for them, and now I want to try again. Next time, though, I will make two changes - I'll make sure I have more time to assemble them, and I will make sure I have people there to wrap and roll with me!
I hope you take a look and see the creative tamales my fellow Daring Cooks came up with!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Apple Pickin'

Now that Little Girl is getting bigger, she is learning to play new and different games. When we were at Grandma and Grandpa's house a couple of weeks ago she discovered the game Hi Ho Cherry-o. She loved it, and particularly loved playing it with Grandma. When we got home, she continued to talk about it. She wanted to know when we could go back to Grandma's to play again. I decided that, while we didn't have the actual game, that shouldn't keep us from playing...! It was time to get to work. But, in order to avoid copyright infringement (or to make sure the two year old sees a difference...) I figured we should call our game something different. So instead of cherries I decided our game would use apple - and Apple Pickin' was hatched.
First we made "apples." Using sculpy clay we made four different colors of apples. Little Girl chose red, yellow and green, as she loves all three of those colors of apples. She then chose blue for the fourth color. Maybe because she likes it, maybe because she knows it is my favorite color, maybe because she wants to see blue apples... No matter the reason, we rolled and baked our clay and soon had four colors of apples ready.
Next it was time to design the game board. I had a shirt box left from gifts my girls had received, and thought that would be perfect - good size, sturdy cardboard, built in storage for game parts... I cut paper to the size of the box, sketched some trees and set Little Girl to work coloring. The problem? Her pictures were so nice and pretty (and unrecognizeable as trees) that I didn't want to poke holes in the, So while she rested I cut colored paper trees to glue onto the box. I felt bad, but I really didn't want to poke holes in her artwork... I used a hole puncher to mark the spots in the trees where the apples would "grow." I then had to poke corresponding holes in the box so that the clay apples would sit in the trees without rolling away (too much). Thank goodness both girls napped so I could use a screwdriver without worrying about anyone (other than me) getting hurt! Finally, the game board was done! Would the apples stay in the trees? Yup...! (I did have to make the holes a little bigger with a larger screwdriver so the apples wouldn't roll as much, but that was an easy fix.)
Now that the board was done and the apples were ready, it was time to play, right? Almost. We needed a spinner. I wasn't sure how to make that with what we have on hand at home. What I really wanted was one of those brass "Brad" paper fasteners, but I don't keep those at home. (I think I have only ever used them for arts and craft projects in school settings, so I never thought to have them here...) I suggested making a large paper die, but Little Girl insisted that it had to be a spinner. So we improvised. I drew out the circle, the options and an arrow. The spinner base was glued onto cardboard for strength. And the arrow? Held on with a sewing pin. Not as safe as I would like for my two and a half year old, nor as secure, as it tends to pop off if spun too strongly, but it is functional until I can fix it...
The end result? A fun knock off which Little Girl loves to play! When Daddy got home that night she wanted to play with him, when friends came over this evening she wanted to play with then... So much fun!
I am so glad Little Girl wants to play games, especially one like that which uses counting, taking turns, color recognition... And I am really proud of her for helping create her own version which she can share with her friends. I can't wait to see what games she wants to make next!