Posted in Uncategorized

A Post on Challah

I’ve recently become fixated on Challah and this post will contain some pointers and tricks but no actual recipe. I’m still working on finding my favorite challah recipe, I’ve tried two within the past week but I haven’t yet found one with the “egg-y” quality that I adore in challah. My ideal loaf of challah is lightly sweetened but with so many eggs inside that the dough itself is yellow and the crust is hard and beautifully browned. So far, I’ve been able to achieve beautiful puffiness with my challah dough but not that egg-y quality that I want. In my quest for the perfect challah, I’ve tried a recipe from a Le Pain Quotidian cooking class that I took several years ago and one from King Arthur Flour. Next on my list is the “Perfect Challah” recipe from the New York Times and I will let you all know how that one goes! As a baker, I often become fixated on one specific recipe for several days until I believe I have perfected it! One of the most memorable recent occasions of this was my obsession with quiche where I got up at four in the morning to re-do my quiche recipe multiple times. I just have a tendency to want to find ~the recipe~ for something, a recipe that I can count on always. During the semester, I got hung up on baguettes which I’ve made both in Baltimore and home in California to varying degrees of success. I’m still working on that but I took a break to focus on enriched breads which I find are easier to make in a pinch.

Challah is my favorite enriched dough and the only one that I make on a semi-regular basis. Its “enriched” qualities come from the use of oil and eggs as the fat that the yeast feeds on. The dough itself is very light and fluffy and the crust is browned but still soft and often covered with sesame seeds. Challah doesn’t require any special baking equipment, I usually bake mine on two cookie sheets in my oven. Its crust doesn’t need any additional steam and you can use whatever toppings you have on hand. When making challah, I try to have all the ingredients at room temperature. Any dough needs to reach a certain internal temperature before it will start the process of rising and fermenting. However, the internal temperature is especially important for enriched dough because the fats weigh down the dough making a big rise harder to achieve. I also use lukewarm water, around 90F, when making the dough to help with the internal temperature. Looking from the outside, the braiding of challah bread looks incredibly complicated but I’ve found the braiding process soothing and easier than expected. A three or four strand braid is pretty common for challah bread and I usually go with a three or a nine strand braid. For braiding, I handle the dough just like my hair. Actually, for dads trying to learn how to braid, challah dough might provide a good place to practice the more complicated plaits before trying it on your daughter’s head. King Arthur Flour has some great youtube videos on the most basic braids and like any part of baking, your braids will improve with practice. Let me know if you enjoyed this more technical type of post in the comments below. I can’t wait to share my final challah recipe with everyone and until then, Happy Baking!

Posted in Uncategorized

Baked Apple Cider Muffins

Wow these were amazing! I got this recipe from the New York Times Cooking app and had been wanting to make it for a while! I had some leftover apple cider from a trip to the orchard a few weeks ago and decided to give it a try! These were delicious! They are the same as the apple cider donuts traditionally sold by apple orchards but even better! I liked them more because I felt that they didn’t get soggy after a day or two of sitting around and they were a joy to eat! They had the same texture as a donut but without all the fat and grease from being deep-fried! The original recipe is for baked donuts but the only thing that makes them donuts is being baked in a donut pan. Because I am a college student and not a professional baker, I do not have a donut pan. However, I have multiple muffin pans that I put to great use as part of this recipe! It has been tasted and approved by my boyfriend so I feel very good about putting this recipe out for the world to see!

There isn’t a lot of technique involved with the recipe but there are a few tricks to know about the butter and eggs used in this recipe. For butter, most recipes call for softened or room temperature butter. It is ALWAYS better to leave butter out overnight to soften but I have found that the microwave works out just fine in a pinch. I microwave butter for thirty second intervals and keep a close eye on the butter. Once it is easy to leave an indent in the butter, it doesn’t need to be microwaved anymore and has reached the softened or room temperature stage. Another trick with temperature is with eggs. I leave my eggs in the fridge most of the time because I’m never sure when I’ll use them next. This recipe calls specifically for room temperature eggs as do many recipes with an end product that is moist but strong. An easy trick for getting eggs closer to room temperature is to boil some water. Let it cool and then pour it over the eggs. The temperature of the water will gently heat the eggs without cooking them completely. This is an easy trick that can help you stick to your recipe and get great end results. I used both of these tricks while making these muffins because they were a spur of the moment decision! I hope that you are able to be equally spontaneous in your creation of baked goods and I wish you luck with these! Happy baking!

Baked Apple Cider Muffins

For the Muffins

  • 225 grams (1 3/4 cup) All Purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 140 grams (10 tablespoons) unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 165 grams (3/4 cup) light brown sugar
  • 50 grams (1/4 cup) granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 120milliliters (1/2 cup) apple cider

For the Topping

  • 100 grams (1/2 cup) granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • To coat: 6 tablespoons butter, melted
  1. Preheat the oven to 350F and line a muffin sheet and a half. This recipe made me about 15 muffins so be prepared to move to the second pan.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, and baking powder.
  3. In a separate and larger bowl, cream together the butter and two sugars. Beat until light and fluffy
  4. Once fluffy, beat in the eggs one at a time, ensuring they are fully mixed in. Then add the vanilla extract and mix until smooth.
  5. In two additions, add the flour mixture, stirring in between additions. Gently pour in apple cider and stir until the batter becomes smooth and consistent.
  6. Divide the batter evenly amongst the prepared cups and bake 23-27 minutes. Time will vary based on the heat and strength of your oven. Check for done-ness by inserting a toothpick into the center of a muffin and if it comes out clean, then it’s done!
  7. While muffins are baking, whisk together the sugar and cinnamon and melt the butter. Keep the cinnamon-sugar and butter separate.
  8. Once the muffins are done, let sit in the pan for five minutes. Once cool enough to touch, dip in butter then roll in cinnamon sugar. If you’re an enthusiast with the sugar, you may need to make more. If so, use the same amounts as before and store whatever you don’t use as long as it hasn’t touched butter.
  9. Enjoy your muffins right away or at room temperature. Store in an airtight container and enjoy!
Posted in Uncategorized

Dia de Los Muertos /Day of the Dead

Good Morning everyone! I wanted to blog about something that is really important to me but something I didn’t realize wasn’t quite understood by everyone. I want to talk about Dia de Los Muertos. Some of this knowledge is personal but fact-checked with the help of the internet to make sure that I’m not leading anyone astray. I’ve celebrated Dia de Los Muertos with my mother for the past few years and it’s really important to us to take the time to remember our ancestors and honor them during this period. Dia de Los Muertos looks different for each family that celebrates and my mom and I celebrate in our own ways.

Coco-Disney Film

So what is the Day of the Dead? At first glance, it seems a little gruesome, like people just run around in skeleton makeup. It’s definitely not that but it’s also not “Mexican Halloween”. Many also now know about Day of the Dead through the Disney movie, Coco. Day of the Dead is a holiday that is celebrated primarily in Mexico but is also celebrated in other places especially where there has been a large Mexican immigrant diaspora. Day of the Dead is a way to celebrate and honor the lives of those who have passed before us and is both solemn and joyous. Dia de Los Muertos typically lasts two days and takes place on the first and second of November. The first day is called Dia de Los Innocentes and is a day for the celebration of children who passed before their time. The second day is for all and can include a grave beautification, creation of an ofrenda with marigolds, food, and photographs, and family celebrations in honor of those who already passed. Dia de Los Muertos also involves specific foods such as pan de muerto which is a large sweet bread flavored with oranges that is meant to resemble bones. Other foods commonly consumed include conchas or pan dulce and any food that was particularly special to any of the dead. So my uncle ron who I honor on my ofrenda loved cookies so I always bake chocolate cookies and put them on the ofrenda.

Pan de Muerto from Google Images

For me, Dia de Los Muertos looks a little different now that I’m in college. I’m several thousand miles from the graves of any of my relatives but that hasn’t really affected my celebrations. Since I’ve been at university, I’ve put up papel picador which is brightly colored and stenciled flags that I love to look at. I also create an ofrenda with paper marigolds and lots of sweets. On Dia de Los Muertos I try to take extra time in my day to remember and cherish those who have passed away. I also like to make extra time for my existing family and send them a little extra love. The dead that I remember come from those who surrounded me with love as a child or from afar. This year, I remember and honor Ronald, Annabelle, John, Lois, and Lorin.

Papel Picado

So what does Dia de Los Muertos look during the age of Covid? Well, quite a bit different. Many people are unable to access the grave sites of their loved ones in Mexico. Obviously, the parties and parades that have marked the days in past years have been forbidden for the good of public health. Even sculptures put out in Mexico City have been removed due to fears of crowding. The Mexican community is unable to celebrate one of the most important holidays and has also been hit extraordinarily hard by Covid-19. Many of the front line workers from hospitals to slaughterhouses to our fields to your grocery store are Latino and have been disproportionately affected by Covid. The year that the Mexican community needs Dia de Los Muertos the most, it is deprived of the collective mourning and community provided by this holiday. I’m lucky that I am able to spend Dia de Los Muertos with one of my loved ones but many aren’t as lucky. If you don’t celebrate Dia de Los Muertos, on November second, please take the time to recognize and thank the front-line workers. I’ll be keeping my ancestors in my prayers and I hope that you are also able to take the time to reflect on the dead who have impacted your life.

Posted in Uncategorized

A Brief Interlude

It was a nice day, probably one of the last for quite some time, and I was working on my laptop. I looked up and saw a group of four, maybe five, boys across the quad from where I was sitting. The first thought that came to my mind was fury. None of them were wearing masks nor did they appear to be taking the ordinary covid-19 precautions that seem to have become second-nature to me. It was disconcerting to watch them play, just play, on the quad during this time. I almost went over to them and said something but I didn’t. I don’t know what held me back, but I do know that something did. I didn’t chastise them or remind them of the precautions they should be taking because they made me take a moment to reflect. We’re seven months into a pandemic, the president and assorted others have gotten the virus, two hundred thousand plus people have died of covid and these guys are just playing spike ball on a quad.

Their actions made me reflect on all the joys of college that I may never see again. The joy of simply belonging to a group and feeling free to just hang. Today, life is so much more complicated. I rarely see anyone outside of a few friends and my boyfriend which is still many more than most are able to see, but less than I saw as a college student pre-covid. As I now go about my day, I must gear up and gear down whenever entering or exiting my apartment. Fear is a constant companion when I venture out of my home, but I continue to do so because I must. I cannot stay inside all day every day for the rest of my life but I can try to be as careful as humanly possible. But the sight of these boys made me just paused that fear and that worry for some strange reason.

Those boys, while not safe in the slightest, felt like a time capsule into another world, one far removed from the life that we all now live. But looking at them, I could envision a future where covid does not haunt our every move. Where we are able to play and be free amongst each other as we used to be. We will go back to some of the drudgery and work that we once loathed but we will also be able to reclaim that sense of careless joy that coronavirus has stolen away from our lives. One day, when this is in the rearview mirror, we may or may not treasure moments like these. I may think about this moment in ten years as one of reckless behavior, young men totally disregarding the rules of safe social behavior in the pursuit of momentary pleasure. Or I may just be able to treasure this moment as a testament to the joy that went unnoticed in so many of my days pre-covid. 

Posted in Uncategorized

Blue Soup or Witches Brew?

This is not part of your regularly scheduled programming but here it is. Today has been a day full of accidents. I sliced open my thumb, mistook a cucumber for a zucchini, and made blue soup. That’s right, blue soup. Not my proudest achievement but something that I have done nonetheless. I decided to write this blog post as more catharsis for myself than anything else, but feel free to keep going because I think it’s really important to be exactly as I am in real life on this blog and that includes all the mistakes and accidents that I, as a twenty year old college student, seem to be making all the time. I’m lucky to have a space where I can reflect on my cooking fails like this and am grateful for it in this moment. Let’s start with some background on how I got here before we get to the story of my blue soup adventure.

This summer, I tried to turn my life into a force for positive change and I am trying to keep that going. I researched with a group that works on food systems and I read a lot of literature on how food affects both our bodies and our environment in very tangible ways. Armed with my new knowledge, I set out to become a more eco-friendly consumer! I tried to cut back on the fast fashion and tried to consume in a more “mindful” manner. That meant trying to source my food more locally to reduce carbon emissions and also to encourage local production of the necessities of daily life. While this was easier at home in CA where I had the support of my mother, I decided to try and carry that attitude into my life here in Baltimore. I gamely signed up for a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) Box which is a contract with a local farm to receive their produce at a very reasonable price. It’s meant to incentivize local agricultural production which I am happy to do! As a college student on a budget, I went for their “ugly” share which is the least pretty but still very yummy produce. So today I got my CSA box and was super excited to dig into whatever produce I had been given.

This begins the story of the infamous Blue Soup. It’s a funny one and I laughed and cried and laughed a little bit more during this entire soup saga. I started this soup adventure around 5:30pm today with vegetable prep. I used the Garlic, Fennel, and Potato Soup Recipe from the New York Times Cooking section and this require quite a bit of chopping and peeling and dicing and slicing. So I passed the time on a video call with my childhood friend and chopped my little heart out. I got all the ingredients together and realized that the soup recipe called for cheesecloth to enclose some herbs that were meant to flavor the soup but not go into the final product. Being the resourceful human that I am, I hit up the internet for recommendations on what I could use instead of cheesecloth. Amongst these recommendations were clean nylons! In my mind, nylons are the same as regular stockings and I have plenty of those! So I selected my least loved and cleanest pair of BLACK stockings and tied the herbs up in it and tossed it into the soup. With not a care in my mind, I let the soup simmer for 45 minutes with the stocking herb-bouquet in it.

I finally removed the soup from the heat and started to puree it but after the first batch, I noticed that the soup was an odd color. It was BLUE!!! Now I may be newer to the world of cooking than to baking but I am very sure that blue is not the right color for any type of food. I was tearing my hair out at what could have gone wrong and remembered the BLACK stocking that had been simmering in that pot for forty five whole minutes. I definitely feel like a fool at the moment. I had messed up not only my lunch for the next few days, but also wasted several pounds of good food.

As I was cleaning up the mess from the soup debacle, I was thinking about how to frame this story. Would it be something uplifting about learning from your mistakes? I’ve certainly learned that I need a much better substitute for cheesecloth than my black stockings or that sometimes you just need to cough up the cash dinero for cheesecloth. Should this be a sad post? I’m certainly pretty upset right now. But I’m also usually my own worst critic. I’ll probably be upset at myself for this for a few days before I can even try to laugh at myself. In the end, I just decided to be honest because honestly, it’s a pretty funny mistake to make, even if it seems that the cost is hefty. I experiment with recipes all the time and it’s hard when they don’t go perfectly every time, but that’s just how life is. Some days, it isn’t easy but we can keep going. I think this post is more about reminding myself that I am okay and that things will be okay even if this seems like the biggest culinary catastrophe that could have happened. This is a blip and I owe it to myself to keep experimenting and enjoying the kitchen. Trying to brush off mistakes or failure is not easy and has always been something that I’ve struggled with. I’ll ruminate on my mistakes for much longer than they merit and I continue to strive to be kinder to myself when I do mess up. The next time I fail, I hope I can treat myself as I would treat a friend and be encouraging and uplifting. I would never disparage a friend if they made a mistake like this and I owe myself the same courtesy even if it’s easier said than done.

And if you’ve made it to the end of this long post, you get the wonderful prize of getting to see my blue soup. Personally, I think it would make an excellent halloween decoration but I’m not sure if it’ll stay good until then.

Posted in Uncategorized

Book Review: A Wizard of Earthsea

It’s been a rough summer for everyone around the world right now, with raging coronavirus and protests over the systemic inequalities within our society so I decided it was a great time to get my wisdom teeth out because I wanted to add some more pain and suffering into my life…yay? This past week has been pretty miserable for me so I took the time to watch four whole seasons of Grantchester (fantastic but a lil moody) on Prime and finish up this little book. A Wizard of Earthsea was Ursula Le Guin’s breakout novel, leading to a longer series that follows the exploits of Sparrowhawk, the most powerful sorcerer in all of Earthsea. I’ve been reading a fair amount of non-fiction recently, with all my France research, and decided that this would be a lovely fantasy book vacation.

I did like this book but did not find that I preferred it over many of the more modern fantasy writers that I’ve read. Le Guin’s style is revolutionary for her time but appears a bit dated to the reader who have such a large collection of available books of fantasy and science fiction from female writers. Furthermore, I have always found books with a male protagonist to be a little harder for me to read. I’m not sure why, but I think that in fantasy I like to envision myself in the protagonist’s shoes and it’s a bit more difficult for me to do this for a man. It took me a little longer that I thought it would to get through this book. It’s no more than 180 pages, but it look me about two days. Le Guin introduced some pretty thought-provoking themes into her novel such as the importance of names, the true nature of good and evil, and the balance that is needed for the world to continue to turn. It’s pretty deep stuff for a fantasy novel but it’s presented in a way that is digestible for a younger reader. Le Guin takes the time to dwell on some heavier themes than normally seen in fantasy writing and I really appreciate the gravity that she was able to bring into the genre.

Because I’ve been spoiled by modern fantasy writing that is more detailed and action packed, I am not able to fully appreciate the ingenuity that Le Guin brought to the genre when A Wizard of Earthsea was first published. I would recommend this book for younger readers, around early adolescence. My father enjoyed the book far more than myself so perhaps a male reader would be more appreciative of the travails of Ged/Sparrowhawk the young protagonist.