Learning As I Chop

Adventures in China(town)

Posted in Gardening/Plants, General by R @ Learning As I Chop on June 29, 2011

The other day, on my way to the Tenement Museum (for school), I passed through Chinatown. As someone who loves food, but hates crowds, I have mixed emotions about Chinatown. However one can always smell interesting smells, eat for cheap and find all kind of exotic foods. Such as the piece of produce below. Points for anyone who knows what it is. I certainly don’t.

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Did You Know: Brown Sugar

Posted in Did You Know by R @ Learning As I Chop on June 21, 2011

(source)

In my last post about cookies, I spoke about de-clumping brown sugar. This was always a problem for me,  so I finally decided to spend a few more dollars and buy a certain type of brown sugar that avoids this issues. However this tip lead to wonder “why does brown sugar clump? Thanks to a quick google, I found this answer:

“Brown sugar is refined white sugar with anywhere from 3.5 to 6.5 percent molasses syrup, which is a sweet, viscous byproduct of sugarcane or beet sugar. This means brown sugar contains more moisture than conventional sugar. When a package is opened and exposed to air over time, its moisture will evaporate, and the sugar will harden, forming dense clusters.”

If you want to avoid this problem, here’s a solution:

One of the best and most common ways to store brown sugar is to place it in an airtight container (like Tupperware® or another similar product) and put it into the refrigerator or freezer. If it’s in the freezer, of course, it will feel hard, but you’ll find that it will thaw in about an hour and return to its desired powdery form. If it’s in the refrigerator, allow it to sit for about 15 minutes and return to room temperature. It can also be stored in its original plastic bag, as long as it is sealed very tightly, or in a glass jar or canister with a gasket that seals the lid.

Another favored method of keeping sugar soft is to store a piece of bread with the brown sugar. Others use half an apple or an orange slice to keep the brown sugar at its correct consistency.

Kitchen specialty stores also sell small disks (or other shapes) of clay that you insert in the bag of brown sugar (with the sugar covering the disk). The disk is soaked in cold water before placing it into the bag. Once it’s in place, the sugar can be kept at room temperature.

However if you find yourself with hard sugar and a need to bake, you can:

Place about a ½ pound of the hardened sugar in a microwave-safe bowl. Cover the sugar with two wet paper towels (not dripping) and then cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap. Nuke for about 2 to 2 ½ minutes, depending on the wattage of your microwave. Divide the warmed sugar with a fork, stir, and use immediately. (Sugar will be very hot, so be careful!)

You can also place the open bag of sugar in the microwave with a cup of water beside it. Microwave on high for 2-3 minutes, turning the bag after each minute.

If you have the luxury of time, place the sugar in a bowl and place foil or plastic wrap directly onto the sugar. Put a crumpled, dampened paper towel on top of the wrap. The brown sugar will absorb the moisture. Remove once the paper towel has dried out.

I have some muffins on my mind and hope to bake them soon. In the meantime, enjoy!

Cookies for Colleagues

Posted in Baking/Cooking by R @ Learning As I Chop on June 13, 2011

My colleagues recently helped me with a work project and I knew I needed to thank them properly. As you know by now, to me there’s nothing better than a gift you can eat. However due to school and other projects, I’ve unfortunately been left with little time or energy for the kitchen lately.  Last night, though, was the night. I had been waiting long enough and it was getting embarassing. As a result, I decided on something simple that wouldn’t seem too daunting and accomplish the job just fine – oatmeal-cranberry cookies.

I know what you’re thinking – why not just regular oatmeal-raisin? I felt like doing something different that would be sure to taste good but take a step off the beaten path.  However I couldn’t find fresh cranberries at my market and was made to use the ones below. At least they’re organic, right?

After gathering my ingredients, I began following the simple recipe provided to me by the J of C. (Honestly, what would I do without this book? It’s my new favorite housewarming gift.) Nothing too crazy about this recipe – sift the dry ingredients, beat the wet ones, add dry to wet, scoop onto cookies sheets and bake for 13 minutes. (I always bake for the middle amount of time and this recipe called for 12-14 minutes at 350 F ).

Here are some baking tips you can try if you’re a novice. For one, I don’t know if this is the proper way to melt butter but it works just fine for me. 1 minute in the microwave and you’re good to go. Sure, you can try melting the butter in the double-boiler but so far this method has served me well, is quick and easy to clean.

For the longest time, I was also often frustrated by brown sugar. It would solidify into a crystalized rock, consequently making baking impossible. H showed me a softening trick a while back that I’ve seemed to have forgotten. In the meantime, I spend $2 more at the market and buy this type of sugar. No more pouding the box in futility or frustrated tears.

I was really excited when I first read this recipe, as it only called for 1/2 cup white sugar. Oatmeal cookies = healthy, right? Wrong. I then proceeded to move down the list and add 3 1/2 cups of brown sugar to the bowl.  In my opinion, these cookies were good but a little too sweet. Next time, I’ll omit a cup or two of sugar and see what happens. However since these were a gift, I didn’t want to stray and start experimenting at 8pm on a Sunday night. Neverthless, I think these cookies were a hit. Here’s a comment from a coworker  “Yum! My mother makes oatmeal cookies that are just like this. Thanks!” Cookies like mom? I’d say job well done. Enjoy!

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