Soft Pretzels

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Now I have been baking a bit this year, but I have been in comfort baking mode. What’s that mean? It means I’ve been spending time on classic favorites of mine. Oatmeal raisin cookies. Chocolate chip cookies. Banana bread. Matcha mochi. Pretty much just those — things I’ve made plenty of times before, so I haven’t had new recipes to share. Hence my excuse for not posting.

But with these pretzels here, well, it was my first time baking pretzels, and I’m so happy that I have something new to bake and share about.

The idea sparked when I ran into an old coworker not too long ago, someone I get along well with because of our mutual love for baking. So naturally, our conversation led to baking, and she mentioned how every now and then she’ll treat her family to homemade fresh baked pretzels. Wow, a treat indeed. My mouth instantly salivated at the sound of that, so I had to try it myself.

And despite my amateur pretzel rolling skills, I have to say, they turned out pretty darn well. They weren’t too fussy of a recipe, and I can see this making its way into my list of comfort baked goods.

This has rekindled my desire to continue baking new things! Now I’m brainstorming all the wonderful things I can do with yeast. For a huge bread lover like me, this journey of bread making is gonna be fun.

Soft Pretzels

Ingredients:
2 packets (4 teaspoons) active dry yeast
1 teaspoon white sugar
1 1/4 cups warm water (about 100 degrees F)
5 cups flour
1/2 cup white sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 cup baking soda
4 cups hot water
1/4 cup kosher salt, for topping

Directions:
1. In a small bowl, dissolve yeast and 1 teaspoon sugar in the warm water. Let stand about 10 minutes.
2. Prepare stand mixer with dough hook attachment. In the mixer bowl, mix together dry ingredients — flour, rest of sugar, and salt.
3. Add the oil and yeast mixture, then turn on mixer to low speed (2/4) and let the mixer do the work for you. Make sure the mixture isn’t too dry. You can add in tablespoons of water if it is. Let mixer knead for about 7 minutes until dough is smooth.
4. Lightly oil a large bowl, and place the dough in the oiled bowl, turning to coat with oil. Cover this with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in size. When in a warm place, this should take about an hour.
5. After dough has risen, preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Line baking sheets with Silpat.
6. In a large bowl, dissolve baking soda in 4 cups hot water.
7. Take risen dough out onto a lightly floured surface and divide into 12 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a rope and twist into a pretzel shape. (See this video for pointers! I made mine without the middle twist, but I’m also a pretzel newb.) After all the dough is shaped, dip each pretzel into the baking soda-hot water solution and place pretzels on baking sheets. Sprinkle with kosher salt.
8. Bake in preheated oven until browned, about 7 minutes.

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Categories: Recipes

Happy 2014!

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Another year gone by, and this blog neglected for what seems like eons. I am most definitely still around, and I’d love to share some updates with my dear readers, FAQ style. If there’s anything else you’d like to know, ask away in the comments! Bar any inappropriateness, I will answer your questions.

Q: Are you still displaced from Hurricane Sandy?
A: Nope! We moved back to our home in Long Island City after almost five months of being displaced, and our building is well on its way to recovery. We are so blessed to have Tim’s sister live so close by, and they generously gave us space in their home for the entire time. We gained so much perspective during that time, and I do feel like God used the storm to show us just how much He cares for us.

Q: Wow! What was it like living with your in-laws for so long?
A: I’m not exaggerating the least bit when I say it was so much fun. It was like one really long slumber party. We had a lot of movie nights, I enjoyed having people to cook for, and then there was the dog that brought so much joy each day. Plus, we experienced first-hand the transformation of their beautiful new apartment! If you need home inspiration ideas, check out my sister-in-law’s blog. Chris and Jenn, we don’t thank you enough for all that you did for us. Not many people could stand living with their in-laws for a little while, much less five full months. Thanks for sharing your home when we needed one.

Q: Are you still baking?
A: Yes! Once we moved back into the apartment and got full use of our gas and electricity, I’ve been giving my oven some much needed attention. I’ve been baking mostly comfort desserts, which to me are chocolate chip cookies and green tea mochi cake. During the long break from baking, I’ve made quite a list of projects I want to try, so I will be baking a lot more this year.

Q: I heard something you changing jobs–what are you doing now?
A: You heard right, and I quit my job earlier in the year. Instead of selling enterprise software, I have made a huge decision to launch my wedding planning business, Savour Weddings. It’s been quite the journey since I started helping friends out with their weddings some six years ago, and I believe that this is the perfect job for me at the moment. There is nothing like the end of a wedding, after the couple has been sent off to start their marriage by all their friends and families–I relish in that moment and will work so hard to ensure that happens at every wedding.

Q: Are you going to get back to blogging?
A: Yes, yes, yes. I’m back in my home, I’ve got a flexible work schedule, and I’ve been baking and cooking. I would love to continue blogging my baking projects, but I may include some cooking and other related posts as well. I miss my blogger friends and readers, and I am sorry I’ve been away for so long.

Q: So what all happened in 2012?
A: I’ll answer this question with an Instagram recap. Here are some memorable moments from the year:

To celebrate our 5th anniversary (and Texas Independence Day), Tim and I served Frito Pies to over 200 people at church! What a joy to bring a little bit of Texas culture to NY.

We lived with little Wonka for 5 months, and there’s nothing like the warm welcome from a dog when you come home back work. We’d love to get our own dog, but we consider this one almost like our own. (Chris and Jenn just don’t know it.)

I traveled to Thailand this summer, mostly to spend time with family, especially my ill grandmothers. A month later, my paternal grandmother, Khun Ya, breathed her last breath. I cherish the time I got to spend with her, and I’m glad she’s not suffering any longer.

Breaking Bad had its last season, and I celebrated my birthday Walter-White-style. Minus the whole drug empire thing, of course.

And then there were all the weddings I worked! Yuna and Addison’s wedding featured a relaxed Brooklyn brunch, and they taught me that the best is certainly yet to come. I look forward to an awesome 2014!!

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Categories: Briefs

2012 Reflection

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January 1st is always a day of reflection for me. I’ve put off reflecting back on 2012 for a long time because it’s been a very trying year for my family, and if I leave myself alone with my thoughts, my mind wanders, and a lot of emotions take over.

It’ll be helpful for me to walk through the year’s events, so let’s review the year Instagram style.

In January, I sampled beignets all over New Orleans, in February I became part of the LFCC Deaconate Team, and then in March, Tim I celebrated four years of marriage by eating lots of uni and ramen.

In the spring, I had some health issues taken care of, and everything in life seemed to halt while I recovered. I was very encouraged by everyone’s thoughts, prayers, food and flowers, and I took that time to nurture myself spiritually and physically. I also took the time to grow a little herb garden on my balcony.

Once I fully recovered and found myself back at work, things instantly sped up and it came time for our Asia trip, to visit Japan, Thailand and Taiwan. Tokyo was everything I imagined, and three days were simply not enough to experience all that I wanted…

I stopped blogging after I mentioned that my grandmother was very ill. The great news is that my grandmother has since left the hospital, and though she’s not fully recovered, she’s in stable condition and can live at home with some assistance. I’m thankful for the chance to spend time with both grandmothers this summer, and while all the food was great, the time spent with family meant much more.

Taiwan was another whirlwind of a trip. Even though we spent about a week there, we jumped from city to city so often, it felt like a nonstop night market. We sampled lots of stinky tofu, soup dumplings, beef noodle soup, mango shaved ice, bubble tea, delicious fruits, but we were fortunate to be accompanied by so many family members and family friends. Just like in Thailand, this trip was about family which made all the food taste better.

After the trip, we returned to another case of reverse culture shock, which was fixed by eating lots of ramen and Taiwanese breakfast, and lucky for us both are easily accessible here in New York. I also had the joy of coordinating two weddings in September for some extraordinary couples. Both were beautiful days, and they couldn’t have gone better.

In October, I had a fantastic birthday that started out with bacon, continued with a close peek at the Christopher Columbus statue, and ended with some bluegrass in Astoria. Tim also made me some amazing beef noodles. Seeing that the majority of the year was pretty awesome is just the reminder I need to get my mind off of the most recent events. Speaking of which…

October 29, 2012. Contrary to what most people thought, Hurricane Sandy did not turn out to be nothing. While we prepared as much as we could, we had no idea we would witness a huge surge come tearing through our neighborhood, into our garage, up through our lobby. And in no way did we anticipate that the storm would still be affecting us in the new year. Sandy’s effects were truly devastating to many, and I pray nobody will ever underestimate the danger of hurricanes again. We certainly have a lot to be thankful for, like our lives and a standing building, but it requires a conscious choice to acknowledge this as part of God’s will, and not to give up hope. It’s this hope that we must hold onto while we are still displaced and are battling countless things to be able to return home in 2013.

It’s been hard to get in the holiday spirit while dealing with Sandy’s aftermath, but we were able to make a trip to visit my parents in Houston, TX for Thanksgiving while we stayed in New York for a cozy Christmas with my in-laws. We were even able to celebrate my nephew’s first birthday, and it’s been a real joy to see how God has grown everyone through the year.

This year has been like a difficult bread recipe — one that requires a lot of kneading and waiting them some more kneading and more waiting. Eventually when the bread finally goes through the heat in the oven, the dough that was worked and waited on turns into a wonderful bread that fills the home with the aroma of freshly baked bread.

With all the storms I’ve encountered in life this year, I know now that it’s all part of a process, much like that bread recipe. And with that in mind, I can say with confidence that I do look forward to 2013. I pray I don’t encounter as many hardships as in 2012, but even if I do, I know it’ll just be another step in life. My hope is in Jesus Christ, and may He be the solid Rock on which I stand.

p.s. Happy 6th year to this little blog. May 2013 bring many more stories and motivation to continue the baking and blogging!

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Categories: Briefs

Thailand

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My three days in Tokyo took up a month’s worth of posts, but I’m finally done posting about that leg of the trip. The next five days were spent in Bangkok visiting my side of the family.

Thailand has come up in conversation a lot recently. My former manager just came back from a 3-week trip to Asia where he was able to visit his daughter who happens to be studying abroad in Bangkok for six months. It was great to hear his stories and how he loved the food and the people there.

It’s also come up because Khun Ya, my paternal grandmother, is very sick and is in the hospital. There’s not one specific reason why she’s there, but the collection of health issues she’s been struggling with over the last few years have all gotten worse at the same time. My parents are en route to Bangkok at this very moment to be with the family. While I’m sad I cannot go along with them, Tim reminds me that we were able to visit her when she was still well and even able to come out to a museum and dinner at a restaurant. Being 95, that is no small feat.

Khun Ya is also a fantastic cook and makes some of the spiciest and tastiest dishes I’ve ever had. Each time we visit, there is always a surplus of goods to eat, in true Urwongse fashion.

While I spend some time praying for God to work in great ways around Khun Ya and the family, I’ll share some pictures from our visit. And if you’re so inclined, I’d really appreciate your prayers for the Urwongse family as well.

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Categories: Briefs

Sushi Kanesaka

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Sushi Kanesaka is a small sushi restaurant in the basement in the Misuzu Building in Ginza. It wasn’t too hard to find with the help of Google Maps on our phones, but for those who need visual cues, this Street View might help you find the place.

We went into the basement through the noren, which are those half curtains typically donning the name of the restaurant, and we came across the wooden door that let us peek into the beautiful space. The maître d’ slid open the door, welcomed us in, and seated us on the Chef’s right side of the bar. After placing our belongings out of the way, she came to take our order. For a weekday lunch, that meant choosing between the 5,000¥, 10,000¥ or 15,000¥ menu. We chose the 10,000¥.

We were lucky to be served by Chef Kanesaka himself, and he was very pleasant. Kanesaka-san spoke English with us, and we chatted about New York sushi restaurants among other things, and he generously told us about each dish in English. The relaxed atmosphere was why we chose Kanesaka, and it definitely met our expectations.

We started with seaweed and myoga ginger salad. Myoga is a flower bud of a ginger plant that tastes like ginger, but much more fragrant. There were many times throughout this trip when my taste buds would experience something new and my eyes would just open wide in response. You know those times when your brain understands something new for the first time, like a complex math concept or a new grammar rule? This was certainly one of those moments, but in the realm of food.

Starting from the top left, going clockwise, we started with hirame or fluke, shimaji or stripe jack, maguro, and toro. Each piece of fish was so sweet and perfectly complimented by Kanesaka-san’s rice, which was the Goldilocks of sushi rice. It had the perfect amount of vinegar and was just the right temperature so that the grains separated just enough while eating. Both the fluke and stripe jack were great pieces, but the tuna definitely stood out. When we thought the maguro was already rich in flavor, out came the toro, a fattier piece of tuna that just melted in our mouths.

Next was ika served differently from anything I’d seen before. Because the quality of the ika wasn’t perfect to Kanesaka-san, he sliced the piece into paper-thin slices, and continue to slice and dice the ika into small slivers that he dressed lightly with lime and sea salt. The texture was a little different, but in a good way, since I wasn’t distracted by what could have been a chewy piece of ika, and the lime and sea salt really complimented the piece.

The next four pieces were tiger prawn with a baby shrimp paste, herring, horse mackerel with scallions, and bonito with shiso. The tiger prawn was very tasty especially with the added paste, but I was a little disappointed it was cooked, as I’ve grown to love raw sweet ebi. I loved the detail of Kanesaka-san’s knife work on the herring, and thought it was the fishiest tasting piece of the lunch, it was still great. Both the horse mackerel and the bonito were paired with herbs which rounded out the pieces. The mackerel was surprisingly unfishy and mostly sweet, and the bonito reminded us of a lean tuna. Everything we had at this point shook up what we thought we knew about fish flavors.

We were then served a clam miso soup that gave us a break from all the wonderful nigiri. I’d never had clams in miso soup, and therefore had another one of those eye-opening moments. But after the soup, I’m very sad to say that I didn’t take a picture of what was the best piece of the meal.

The ark clam was an incredible unique piece of sushi that I really don’t know how to explain it. It appeared to still be moving when Kanesaka-san placed it on our plates, and we were so excited to try it, I forgot to snap a picture. It was fresh and crisp in both flavor and texture. Words and my lack of picture does it no justice. Also to note, we were the only ones who got the ark clam. We couldn’t pinpoint the differences between the different priced lunch sets, but all we know is we picked the 10,000¥ and we got the ark clam.

Next was the uni. I dearly love uni, and I always say I love the briny taste and how it reminds me of the ocean. But this uni was so different. It had all the same texture and sweetness, but no ocean taste! Nothing about it was fishy, and I was just amazed that a piece of uni could taste like that.

The tamago and anago marked the ending of our meal, so I tried to savor these pieces. The tamago tasted like dessert to me, perfectly sweet and fluffy, cooked evenly throughout, absolutely well done. And the anago was without heavy use of the sauce I usually associate with saltwater eel. It was warm and delicate and sweet on its own, it really didn’t need the sauce. And last but not least, the tuna temaki. Simple and pure, it was a great way to wrap up this lunch.

The food was amazing, as you’ve seen, but what made this an unforgettable experience was what happened after we left, after we said our “gochisousama deshita.” You see, it had been raining the entire time we were in Tokyo, but we took a chance that day and left our umbrella in the hotel. Sure enough, as we were about to leave Sushi Kanesaka, it was a steady drizzle. We were in no rush to get anywhere, so we decided to wait in the building’s entrance for the rain to stop.

After a few minutes, three of our fellow diners at Kanesaka (a woman and her parents) came out to leave, and when they reached where we were, the father said sweetly, “Oh. Rain. No umbrella?” We shook our heads no, but tried to tell them it was okay and we were going to wait. The daughter went back into the restaurant, and we assumed she must have left something. As quickly as she went in, both she and the maître d’ came out, carrying two extra umbrellas. They held out a long clear umbrella to us and kept insisting that we take it. Of course we bowed our apologies and said we didn’t need the umbrella, but they kept insisting. After several rounds of bowing, we gave in and took the umbrella. And then they tried to give us another one! We had to strongly push back about taking two, and bowed our deep grattitude to all of them.

We’ve always been very fond of Japanese culture, and our tiny trip to Japan only grew that love deeper. We were shown such respect by everyone, and above the sights and food, it was an extraordinary place to visit (and we were only in Tokyo!). We carried that umbrella all over Thailand and Taiwan; if our friends at Kanesaka went through the trouble of getting it for us, we certainly wanted to bring that keepsake home with us.

Sushi Kanesaka
8-10-3 Ginza
Misuzu Bldg., fl. B1, Chuo-ku
Tokyo, 104-0061
T 03-5568-4411

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Categories: Eats