Saturday, January 17, 2009

Squashed Buns!

So, before I expound on my latest foray into sweet creations I will give a quick update for those of you concerned with my transportation situation.

After much pain and agony I located a set of wheels for purchase in CALIFORNIA. As mentioned before it turns out that the new Honda Fit Sport wheels are such a hot commodity to steal that the wheels are back ordered everywhere. The Honda factory simply can't keep up with all the people trying to replace their swiped wheels. Anyhow, I got the wheels, had tires mounted and balanced and the whole shabang put back on my car. The guy from the dealership actually came to my house and put the wheels on right there and then took it back to the dealership to ensure there was nothing else wrong with it. Sounds great right? Well it was pretty good until he peeled out of the parking lot leaving a nice 6 foot strip of the rubber off my new tires. But he made it to the dealer and nothing else was wrong with the car, thank goodness. So I'm rolling again right? Wrong. I drove the car away from the dealer and my TPMS (tire pressure monitor sensor) light comes on. So back to the dealer I go and drop the car off again. So I went back again tonight to get the car. The guy tells me that the sensors weren't initialized correctly the first time, but they totally got it right this time. They even gave it a 15 minute test drive to make certain the light wouldn't come back on. Well it did. It came on 2 minutes from my house. So back I go tomorrow! So much for weekends!

Okay, enough of that. On to yummy stuff. So I've made red bean paste buns before. If you aren't familiar with these goodies they consist of a center of sweetened adzuki bean paste wrapped with a lightly sweetened dough and steamed until the dough is cooked through. The dough comes out soft and delightful and the bean paste is warm and sweet and satisfying. Well I was struck with a bit of inspiration when I had some left over veggies from doing some fondue tempura and I thought, mmmmm... SQUASH BUNS!

So I first made the squash paste. Of course I've never made "squash paste" so I had to kind of wing it. I microwaved the squash, butternut, by the way, until it was just soft enough to mash up. Once I had it mostly mashed I put it in a pot on the stove. I mixed in a good amount of brown sugar to taste and a pinch of salt and cooked it and cooked it (stirring very frequently) so as to remove as much of the moisture as possible. Once it had come to a good thick consistency I stuck it in my mini food processor and whizzed it up. I then pushed it through a seive to remove any extra fibrous bits that were left and, while the mixture was still warm, threw in some vegetable shortening for mouth feel and taste staying power. All in all the procedure to make the squash paste was very similar to making the bean paste except that it took infinitely less time. When making the bean paste the beans cook forever and the skins make sieving the whole mixture extremely time consuming.

So once the paste was made all that was left was to wrap them in dough and pop them in the steamer. There are plenty of recipes on the internet for the sweet bun dough, I recommend you try a few to find one you like a they can be pretty different in texture. Getting the paste in the dough can be a little tricky. You make a little pinch-pot cup out of the dough (remember from first grade?) and then bloop some of the paste in and try your darnedest to get it closed without squishing all the filling out in the process. I didn't take any pics of them pre-steam (I'm still trying to get a hang of this chronicling process) but here they are coming out of their happy little sauna.
I'm not going to lie, those are definitely my squashy fingerprints on the outside of the dough. You can also see that I cooked the buns on little cupcake papers. Recipes will usually tell you to cut out parchment to put them on. It might be easier to get the parchment off the bottom of the buns, but the pre-made cupcake papers are perfectly sized with no waste from unused cut paper.

And here is a good detail shot of the hot , gooey, squashy insides:

A little TOO detailed perhaps. I know I can see some kitty hairs in there. Feel free to leave those out when you make these at your house. So Favorite and I sat down to a couple of squash buns and some hot delicious green tea. It made for quite a lovely little late night snack.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Starting off the New Year

Well, isn't it just grand to start a year fresh and new? To start with a clean slate with renewed hope and motivation for what can be done? Well, I know I was very excited to start a new year. This year Favorite and I plan to purchase our first home together. That is definitely exciting. And just before the new year we went out and bought me a new car. It is my FIRST new car. I learned to drive in a black, 1993, Chrysler Lebaron. It was a decent car and I managed to keep it for about 5 years even though the doors fell off a few times and the body condition was becoming unsightly until an electrical problem that cost more to fix than the car was worth made it undrivable. My next car was ANOTHER Chrysler Lebaron. This time a red one, a '94, and a convertible. This car also treated me very well. It also had some electrical problems, but with no anti-theft system they didn't keep me from driving it. However, after some leaking in the rain, a window that wouldn't roll down anymore, a broken windshield (from an exploding growler of homebrew beer), and a growing gas leak it was decided that I needed a new car. A REAL new car. So I pondered the decision for about a year (I know, I am CRAZY fast at making decisions) and I finally decided what it would be: the Honda Fit.

So here I am in a new year with a new car looking forward to a new house when I have an experience not so new to me: theft. That's right, I went out early this past Friday morning to go to work and found that the ability to drive my nice new gas efficient car had been eliminated by the distinct lack of wheels.

To add insult to injury the police officer I spoke to told me this was not the first time this had happened in this apartment complex and the management just hadn't thought it necessary to tell anyone. Nice. Also nice was the insurance company letting me know that they might get around to my claim by TUESDAY. Another nice touch? There has been a rash of Honda Fit wheel thefts due to the market provided by people with old souped up Honda Civics that want the new wheels so the wheels themselves are backordered. I could get different wheels, but then the insurance wouldn't cover it. :-P

So what is one to do when they find themselves, robbed, wheelless, and invariably upset? I think you must know the answer: bake yourself a really tasty batch of cookies.

Cookies have an amazing ability to wrap you in coziness and comfort from the moment you start baking them. I needed this ability of theirs to keep from going berserk. Also, if you pick just the right cookie that sensation of comfort returns everytime you put one in your mouth. I tried to pick just such a cookie and happened to succeed. My cookie decision was aided by the fact that these cookies were named "Lumberjack Cookies" by the new cookie book I received (for Christmas) from my Mom. The book is titled The Ultimate Cookie Book by Better Homes and Gardens and if these cookies are any indication, the "Ultimate" is definitely accurate.

The cookies themselves are simply flavored mainly with molasses and with a hint of cinnamon and ginger. The book suggests rolling the dough into walnut sized balls and thn coating with granulated sugar before baking. I tried this on a few of the cookies and they came out very sparkly and pretty, but I didn't feel as if it added to the flavor and, in fact, the sweetness distracted from the lovely essence of the cookie itself so I ended up using my handy cookie scoop just to plop them on the baking sheet. Here they are:The smell of these cookies coming out of the oven was just glorious. They came out soft and gooey. Once cooled they got chewy on the inside with a little crunchiness to the edges. They went very well with a big cup of black tea and even though I halved the recipe in the book it still made a good number of cookies (when looking at the next image take into account that about 6-8 cookies had already been eaten to make sure they were ok).

So that's it for now. Hopefully the New Year has been a little kinder to everyone else. Wish me luck getting my car mobile again before Favorite comes back from Mississippi. Otherwise, I won't be able to get to work to make money to get the wheels back on my car! (Nevermind my newly acquired monthly payment...)