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Saturday, August 24, 2013

Welcome to Confused Students Anonymous!

This is an email I received today:

"My name is Student and I am confused."

That immediately made me of think of Alcoholics (Shopaholics, etc.) Anonymous!

So here are the five steps for achieving success in my course (that came to my tired mind immediately):
  1. If you are confused, admit it!
  2. Read the syllabus!
  3. Seek help from your instructor!
  4. Take a look at your schedule, habits, etc. and make sure you make adjustments that will give you enough time to study.
  5. If you ignored your textbook, read it!

Maybe I will come up with twelve steps when I have more time...  Any suggestions are welcome! :)

Friday, January 04, 2013

Yummy Baguettes

My sister gave this baguette pan to me for Christmas, something I wanted for a long time.  Even though I have made pretty good baguettes before, this pan made a HUGE difference.  What do you think?



The original recipe is here.  I added garlic salt instead of regular salt.  Also, I made two baguettes instead of suggested three.  Next time, I will add a bit more salt, I think.  I have never heard baguettes sing/crackle as they were cooling...  Ah, what a sense of accomplishment! :)  They taste great, too.

All text/photos below, except my notes, are from this site.

Starter

Dough

  • 1 teaspoon active dry yeast or instant yeast
  • 1 cup to 1 1/4 cups lukewarm water
  • all of the starter
  • 3 1/2 cups King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour
  • 1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons salt, to taste (I used 2 tsp garlic salt, will increase the amount next time)
1) Make the starter by mixing the yeast with the water (no need to do this if you're using instant yeast), then mixing in the flour to make a soft dough. Cover and let rest at room temperature for about 14 hours; overnight works well. The starter should have risen and become bubbly. If it hasn't, your yeast may not be working. Dissolve 1/4 teaspoon of yeast in 1 tablespoon lukewarm water with a pinch of sugar, and wait 15 minutes. If nothing happens, replace your yeast, and begin the starter process again.
2) If you're using active dry yeast, mix it with the water, then combine with the starter, flour, and salt. If you're using instant yeast, there's no need to combine it with the water first. Mix and knead everything together—by hand, mixer or bread machine set on the dough cycle—till you've made a soft, somewhat smooth dough; it should be cohesive, but the surface may still be a bit rough. Knead for about 5 minutes on speed 2 of a stand mixer
3) Place the dough in a lightly greased medium-size bowl, cover the bowl, and let the dough rise for 3 hours, gently deflating it and turning it over after 1 hour, and then again after 2 hours.

4) Turn the dough out onto a lightly greased work surface. Divide it into three equal pieces.

5) Shape each piece into a rough, slightly flattened oval, cover with greased plastic wrap, and let them rest for 15 minutes.
6) Working with one piece of dough at a time, fold the dough in half lengthwise, and seal the edges with the heel of your hand. Flatten it slightly, and fold and seal again.
7) With the seam-side down, cup your fingers and gently roll the dough into a 15" log. Place the logs seam-side down into the wells of a baguette pan; or onto a lightly greased or parchment-lined sheet pan or pans.*
8) Cover them with a cover or lightly greased plastic wrap, and allow the loaves to rise till they've become very puffy, about 1 1/2 hours.

9) Towards the end of the rising time, preheat your oven to 450°F; if you're using a baking stone, place it on the lowest rack.
10) Using a very sharp knife held at about a 45° angle, make three 8" vertical slashes in each baguette. Spritz the baguettes heavily with warm water; this will help them develop a crackly-crisp crust.  I also placed a pan of water on the bottom rack.
 
11) Bake the baguettes until they're a very deep golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove them from the oven and cool on a rack. Or, for the very crispiest baguettes, turn off the oven, crack it open about 2", and allow the baguettes to cool in the oven.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Christmas Baking

  1. Oreshki (Filled Nuts):  The original recipe is here.  I used this electric gadget.  Here are my changes:  (1) Instead of margarine, I used butter.  Yes, more calories but the difference in taste is -- Wow!  (2) Iinstead of vanilla essence, I used almond bakery emulsion.  These little balls are so fragrant and yummy!  (3) The filling calls for three sticks of butter and I only used two -- it's plenty.  (4) When shells are baked, there are leftover crumbs.  I mixed in crumbs into the filling.  It made it thicker.  I made goodie bags for S. to take to his coworkers.  They were begging for more! :)
  2. Zefir (Homemade Marshmallows -- if you don't like marshmallows, do give this recipe a try; these marshmallows are nothing are like sugar puffs sold in stores; they are creamy, yummy, and fragrant).  The original recipe is here.  It's a great recipe to make along with Oreshki since there are leftover egg whites!  I doubled this recipe because I had lots of egg whites -- do NOT do that, too much white fluffy stuff to deal with!!!  One batch is plenty anyway.  I used mango flavor but raspberry flavor Jell-O will make these fluffy balls so pretty, like Lea's picture.
  3. Banana Raisin Bread:  I "cheated" with this one...  We wanted to give little gifts to our neighbors but buying a tin of cookies is not the same...  Something homemade is much better...  So I bought banana bread mix and added some raisins.  We delivered bread last night and our neighbors were very grateful.  Maybe next year I will have time to make more things from scratch...
  4. Apple Spice Cake:  The recipe is here.  I still have to make several for our immediate families.  Dollar Tree had reusable cake carriers so I bought six, for easy packaging.  S. is in charge of wrapping ribbons around each carrier! :)

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Birthday Cake

This is a very old family recipe.  Traditionally, it's called "Firewood in the Snow" and arranged as a pile of "sticks," in a pile of creamy frosting.  Here how it usually looks:


I decided to arrange the "sticks" in a square gift box shape and decorate with a ribbon.  Ah, it did not work as envisioned.  Hmmm, just like the intended recipient of this cake...  lol... Stubborn sticks kept, well, sticking out!  The frosting kept sliding!  It resembled a pile all right but, unfortunately, nothing like what I wanted.  Frustrated, I stuck it in the fridge last night.  This morning, though, the frosting saturated crumbly sticks and wasn't as runny on the outside.  I was able to slice off the stubborn ends and achieve a somewhat square box shape.  Then I wrapped the ribbon and here is what is awaiting the birthday guy, who is not home yet.  I sure hope he likes it! :)



 
Dough Recipe:
  • 2 sticks butter
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3-4 cups all-purpose flour (to make a cookie consistency dough)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
Note:  I was not happy with this dough.  The ingredients are not the same in quality as when I was growing up and it's difficult to guess just the right combination, so I think I added too much flour.  The dough was easy to roll out but too tough, in my opinion.  Next time, I will make a much softer dough and just shape "sticks" by hand, folding cherries (or preserves) inside.
  • filling:  very thick cherry preserves or sweet cherries in heavy syrup, drained
Frosting Recipe:
  • 32 oz sour cream (I always use Daisy because it's thick and creamy), drained overnight to thicken
  • 16 oz heavy cream
  • 2-3 cups confectioner's sugar
  1. Beat butter and sugar until fluffy.
  2. Add sour cream and salt.
  3. Mix flour with baking powder, then slowly fold into the mix.
  4. Make the soft dough -- see my note above.  It will be sticky and very soft but, as long as you can roll little balls, enclose preserves or cherries, and roll out (in your hands) into sticks, it's fine.  You need to make 15-16 sticks.  Alternatively, you can make filled cookies (round shape) and make a snowball pile.
  5. Bake at 400 until golden brown.
  6. To make frosting, beat heavy cream until thick. Add sour cream and sugar and beat until thick.  It won't be as thick as cream cheese frosting, for example.  It's OK -- the dough needs to saturate.
  7. Arrange in a pile, generously covering each layer with frosting.
  8. Refrigerate at least overnight.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Grading Adventures and Birthday Cake

I really want to know what my students have learned (and haven't) as well as allow them to learn the skills rather than just memorize "stuff."  I really do carefully review what students have produced and offer feedback.  Otherwise, why ask students to complete projects, right?  Yet, I see more and more instructors taking the "multiple-guessing test" route and only glancing through the projects, if they assign any.  Of course, these instructors are saving hours (let's be honest -- days) of grading "hard labor" but how about authentic learning?  No wonder our graduates are clueless... 

Anyway, back on track...  guess what I did all week?  Yep, grading! :)  Some projects were actually a joy to review.  Some I had to pull myself through and try hard to remain objective.  Using rubrics helps but you know how it goes...  I finished grades for my full-time job by 6:00 am this morning!  They are due at noon so I was six hours ahead.  Yay, me!

And so I decided to get a few hours of sleep...  Two hours later, my cell phone rang (I would have ignored the house phone but cell is usually urgent).  Our new instructional coordinator wanted to know if I updated the program performance review files.  Really?!  After just announcing late last week, in the middle of final exams and grading?!  Ah, sometimes usually support staff is clueless...  I politely (at least I remember being polite -- not sure since I was half asleep) told her that her deadline of early January will be met but not this week, no need to freak out and pester me now (well, I don't think I used those words, I sure hope not)...

Back to sleep...  Brrrrrrring, brrrrrring, brrrrrring!  A part-time instructor, panicking because she forgot how to enter her grades into the system.  She did manage to average them in the LMS but our reporting system is separate.  Help, grades are due by noon!  No kidding!  So I woke up enough to guide her through the steps.

Back to sleep...  Brrrrrrrring!  Another part-timer, with a different problem -- knows how to enter grades but has no idea how to average grades in the LMS!  This one takes much longer because of formulas and explaining, repeatedly, how to complete all steps.

Two part-timers, really?!  Never happened before but it has been a rough semester...  One of our full-time instructors resigned a week before classes so we had to pull warm bodies off the street to teach some of the courses.  As a result, I spent countless hours this semester troubleshooting all kinds of problems that experienced instructors are usually able to resolve on their own.  I am dreading next semester since we will still heavily rely on part-timers...

Now I am very tired but wide awake... if I go back to sleep, I will just get a headache... and I still need to finish grades for my TA position.  Just a few more hours but that needs to be done today, for my sanity.  I want to relax this weekend and resume writing on Monday.  I promised myself that I will not check email next week so I can fully concentrate on completing my prospectus.  Next week is a Christmas gift to myself.  If I manage to pull it through, what an amazing gift that will be!

Because I dive back into more grading, I need to do the fun part -- cake for S., whose birthday is tomorrow!  He also wants Pelmeni.

I decided to make this cake:  Gift Box Cake.  I am using my own recipe, though, and just use the decoration idea.  My recipe involves baking cookie sticks filled with cherry preserves.  The sticks are arranged in a rectangular pile, with sour cream-heavy cream-confectioner's sugar frosting generously slathered on, to completely cover the "base."  The combination of cookies, cherry preserves, and the above-mentioned frosting is -- Wow!  It's a family recipe, passed from generation to generation.  It looks very pretty when cut, too.

Instead of gingerbread men, I will use doves around the cake.  Or maybe just leave the "box" white.  White box and frosted red ribbon may look better without anything else?  Any thoughts/advice?

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Thanksgiving Plans

Ah, feels good to write a post, even if it's just a list of things to do... 

Another year has flown by in a haze of tons and tons of work, multiplied by new responsibilities due to faculty changes and new policies...  I still haven't accomplished the major milestone -- my prospectus.  However, I am taking tiny but determined steps, so getting there; a little closer every day. 

As Thanksgiving is rapidly approaching, I am so thankful for people in my life who sometimes do drive me crazy but I never doubt their love because it's so sincere.  I am forever grateful to my major professor for providing advice and encouragement as well as understanding that my super slow progress does not mean laziness or lack of academic skills, just total lack of time and, yes, overcommitment at times.  I wasted lots of time naively waiting for the "perfect" time to write.  Now, it's "making" the time to write, even if it's hard to come by...

Now to the yummy part!  My parents are spending Thanksgiving at our Florida house so I am in charge of the feast.  Some friends are coming, too -- so we will have a crowd.  We have hosted several small dinners this past year but I really haven't had a chance to do much of entertaining, one of my favorite things.  So it's a treat!

However, I am keeping it fairly simple, due to the above-mentioned lack of time.  Also, my Dad will try to fix some things around the house, stuff that S. can't tackle on his own.

Here is my menu.  Even though it's long, S. and I will work together, so it will be fine.  Cake will take the most time.  Everything else is no big deal.

Appetizers

(1) Spinach Dip
An all-time favorite but oh so simple!

(2) Hummus

(3) Mutabbal

(4) Marinated Cheese and Olives

(5) Vegetable Platter (my favorite and the most fun to make!)

Bread

(1) Buttered Rosemary Rolls

(2) Fresh Pita Bread

Meats

(1) Smoked Turkey and Ham
I bought both from a student who is raising money for the study abroad scholarship.  Her husband makes the best smoked meat I have ever tried.  And it's one less thing for me to do, even though I do love the aroma of turkey roasting in the oven... next year, maybe...

All recipe links are just sample recipes.  I am mixing things to taste so no specific measurements, sorry...  S. will be in charge of taking pics so maybe I will post real photos later...

(2) Pan Kibbeh
This one is for S. who has been asking me to make it for some time now.  He is favorite Kibbeh is football-shaped but that takes way too much time and patience...  After I graduate, honey... 

(3) Pozharskie Kotleti
This one is for Mom and Dad, somewhat a tradition in our family.

Sides

(1) Cornbread Dressing

(2) Vinegret Salad
Another tradition in the family -- and it's fairly healthy, too.

(3) Mimosa Salad
There are many variations but it's pretty much selecting the ingredients and layering them, usually ending with shredded cooked yolk -- for Mimosa effect...  I usually use canned chicken (normally, I don't like it, but it works great in this recipe; canned salmon or mackerel are great, too, if you like fish), chopped olives, eggs, cheese, shredded butter (just a little bit, for the onion layer), finely chopped onions, and a little bit of mayo, just to moisten the layers.  Another tradition...

(4) Cranberry & Broccoli Salad

(5) Potatoes in Alfredo Sauce

(5) Grape Golubtsi

(6) Apricot Cranberry Sauce

(7) Mushroom Gravy

Beverages

(1) Assorted soda and juices
(2) Sparkling Mimosa
(3) Assorted coffees (Tassimo)

Dessert

(1) Apricot Meringue Cake
(2) Assorted fruit platter

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Old and New Adventures

Since I will be away from home all summer (details below) and, even more importantly, I am running out of time, I am working hard on the prospectus.  Things finally slowed down at work and so I have been able to concentrate on writing -- finally!!!  Fingers and toes crossed, I am hoping to finish Chapters 1 and 3 by Monday.  I really, really, really need to meet this goal!  I have failed to meet it again and again.  Now, I am out of time.  Who would have thought it would take so long?!  Certainly not me!  I usually do my best to clear things out of the way.  It annoys me to even have any unread emails in my Inbox.  But work and lots of personal things that I can't blog about have been winning so far...

Now here is a carrot dangling, as a reward for taking care of prospectus...  I am going to spend 12 weeks in China this summer, completing an internship in my field!!!  Yeah, I already had to buy the flight, in order to get the invitation letter for Chinese visa, so the trip is not dependent on prospectus.  However, there is no way I will be able to relax and enjoy the experience if the prospectus hippo is sitting on my back.  So have to take care of some old adventures before enjoying the new ones.  Prospectus is not the end but it's a huge leap.  Once I get it out of the way, results and conclusions will fall into place much faster.

Since I am completing a PhD, not Master's, internship is not required.  However, I am very happy about this opportunity because (1) it will make me a better instructor and (2) it will open doors if I ever decide to leave the world of academia.  And I will spend 12 weeks in China, with most of my weekends free for hopping on the train and exploring.  S. might even join me for a week.  That would be awesome!  He is not thrilled about me being away for so long, of course, but he IS thrilled about me being able to do something like this.  Thank goodness for Skype! :)

I had lunch with last year's intern today.  Even though she is in my department, I haven't met her before because I am rarely on campus these days, since I finished all my coursework already.  She provided lots of helpful suggestions.  Even better, we realized we have lots of things in common -- boyfriends in the same field, both of us enjoy cooking, we chose similar menu items w/out discussing them ahead, and many other things.  Now I have another great friend! :)

The process of obtaining Chinese visa has been interesting so far...  I received my letter of invitation yesterday and decided to start the application right away.  Well, you can't mail your application.  You have to bring it to the nearest Chinese consulate or ask somebody else to do it for you.  The nearest consulate is almost 11 hours away, one way!  I could find a travel agency but was not sure about handing my passport to them.  How do I know if they are reliable and won't sell my passport???  Ouch! 

Then I remembered that one of my good friends was attending a conference in the same state and would have to drive back through the city where Chinese consulate is located.  I called her immediately, hoping she has not left yet, and she agreed to come back one day later.  I overnighted my packet to her and she will take it to the consulate tomorrow.  Hopefully, I will have a visa by Friday afternoon.

Now back to writing so I can take care of old stuff and then enjoy the new stuff! :)

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