My adventures in pregnancy, motherhood and beyond

Please enjoy the musings and updates and leave me a comment if you'd like!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Cooking Forays, Baking Experiments and Upcoming Scottish Games

Whew, have I been busy! I've been finding tons of recipes I want to try, baking and planning on meeting my parents in Long Beach this Saturday for the Queen Mary Scottish Highland Games! I haven't been to a games since 2007 or so, and I really can't wait to go and have that experience again; I've missed it so much. So if you want a fun Scottish weekend in a unique locale (on a cruise ship!) come along to the Queen Mary in Long Beach, it's definitely worth it (kilts!!!!).

I have been obsessed with baking lately. I can't stop making sweets, although I definitely don't need them. I made James some vanilla bean cupcakes with vanilla bean frosting last Tuesday. I was intending to bring them to his office at lunch, so he could share them with his coworkers, but making them took a lot longer than I expected it to, and I ended up taking a bit of a nap, so I brought them to him around 4. But he enjoyed them,  I enjoyed one and he shared them with his coworkers the next day; they disappeared quickly. I used this recipe and am planning on making them again soon! I also learned that my beloved Kitchenaid mixer does have some limitations. The mixer attachment doesn't reach all the way to the bottom of the bowl, so it might not mix everything as well as you'd like. For example, I had a bunch of the early butter/sugar mixture at the bottom of the bowl, which I only discovered when filling the cupcake pan. So I stopped by Target later that night and picked up at hand mixer (for about 7 bucks!) and a set of 4 plastic mixing bowls.

Now, while I love vanilla beans, I have also looked into getting some and the ones that they carry in the spice section of the grocery are ridiculously expensive. I've seen it cost as much as 13 dollars for 2 beans, and this recipe called for 3 beans, plus I wanted to make vanilla panna cotta for Valentine's day, and that requires vanilla beans too. So I found out about vanilla bean paste, which can be used to replace vanilla beans. I looked at all three grocery stores on the island, but no one knew what I was talking about. So I decided to try Whole Foods, and lo and behold, they had vanilla bean paste! I have used about half of the paste (which is more like a syrup) and I've made plenty of things now! 1 Tbsp equals 1 vanilla bean, and the bottle was only 10 dollars, so it was a pretty good deal. I would definitely recommend it.

Next, I made some Mexican wedding cakes, which are my favourite cookie in the world. I used my mom's recipe, and was pretty excited about the results. James says they're a bit doughy, and I do agree, so if you use this recipe, I would cook it for a bit longer than the recommended 15 minutes. Still, yum! Also, rolling the hot cookies in the powdered sugar didn't work for me, but using a sifter to sift the sugar on top of the cookies worked great.

I continued with my baking forays by making a vanilla panna cotta. I followed the recipe from food network and it was pretty simple. The only difficult ingredient to find (and it was nothing compared to vanilla bean paste) was plain whole milk yogurt. You basically heat up cream, mixing in vanilla beans and sugar. While that's heating up, you sprinkle some unflavoured gelatin over whole milk (I used my lactaid) and then mix that, followed by the yogurt. You then pour the mixture into ramekins (finally got to use mine!), cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 6 hours. We still haven't eaten them, so I don't know how they turned out, but we'll probably try them tonight, and I have a good feeling about it!

The same morning I made the quinoa croquettes and cilantro-yogurt sauce again. I halved the sauce recipe, which left me with a much more reasonable amount of sauce. The croquettes were great, but I had to wait for James to help me with the frying. I had a bad experience with fish once, and don't like frying things or being responsible for cooking meat in a frying pan anymore. They're just as delicious as before.

As far as cooking goes, we made Alton Brown's chicken fried steak, with mashed potatoes and green beans. I always use the chuck steak from fresh and easy, and it works great. I also never buy it by the pound (Alton Brown recommends 2 lbs) but just enough for James and I. So I look for packages with 2-4 pieces. It's definitely worth the time it takes, and it is delicious! Serve it with some garlic mashed potatoes and you have a great home-cooked meal.

We also made a soup called locro de papas. My dad had received this recipe from a coworker who had recently traveled to Ecuador. Our soup did not turn out quite as creamy as the photo on the website, but it was still pretty good. I could not find achiote powder, which is also packaged as annatto powder, so James and I substituted it with turmeric. I'd like to try it with the achiote, but when I looked up substitutions, it said since achiote is used mostly for colour, turmeric should work similarly without much of a taste difference. I would have used more potatoes, and will the next time I make this. I am of two minds about this soup. It was not what I expected from the description my dad gave me, or from the ingredients, but it was still good. It was much milder than I would have expected, and much less creamy (hence, my desire to use more potatoes next time). Laylita's photos of the process are excellent, and ours turned out pretty much the same, but a bit more yellow (probably from the turmeric). I also think that I would have used my immersible blender to blend the soup a bit more; the onions don't mash as well as the potatoes. I used monterey jack cheese, and put in a whole half a block. I also added a lot of salt, pepper and a touch of cayenne powder at the end. What really made the soup for me though was the garnishes! I have never been much for garnishes, but the feta, avocado and hot sauce was the best. I added tons of hot sauce to my bowls of soup (James isn't a spice fiend like me) and I thought the avocado added a nice creaminess (James refused to try it). We both had the leftover soup for lunch yesterday and it was just as good, although I missed the avocado. The chives were nice, but I don't think that they really added that much to the taste. I would definitely make it again, but I'm going to put more effort into finding achiote powder, and I'm definitely going to use a LOT of potatoes!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Pear-Gorgonzola Pizza and Leftover Gorgonzola Ideas

Our favourite pizza!
When discussing what we wanted for dinner, James said he was really feeling a craving for my pear-gorgonzola pizza. I gotta say, this is one recipe that i consider my specialty, and one of the few recipes I've come up with on my own. I forget how the idea wormed itself into my head, since I never used to be much for mixing up savory and sweet, but for some reason pear and gorgonzola baked with cheese just sounded good. Since adding marinara to that did NOT sound like a good idea, I figured out another way to make this pizza a reality.

Using a pre-cooked pizza crust (we tried making our own and it just didn't cook right), brush a light coat of olive oil on the pizza and top generously with mozzarella. Using a mandolin slicer, slice up a bosch pear (you can also use an asian pear or an apple pear, but bosch is best, I think). If you have a corer, core the pear first, but I never have, and I just pick out the seeds. Place the pear slices (which are perfectly thin) on the pizza all around, so that every bit would have a piece of pear. Use pre-crumbled gorgonzola (we had to go to two stores to find real gorgonzola) and pre-cooked bacon to top off the pizza. James and I always put more gorgonzola/less bacon on one side and more bacon/sparse gorgonzola on another (my side and his, respectively). Bake the pizza for the time and at the temperature the pizza crust packaging recommends (usually somewhere around 10-14 min at around 325). Pull out the pizza, slice up and serve! It tastes like something gourmet, but it's so, so easy to make!

Since I usually buy the pre-crumbled gorgonzola, I always end up with a bunch leftover. Since gorgonzola is not exactly cheap (not super expensive either) I don't want the cheese to get bad, so I've been trying to find other ways to use up not only gorgonzola, but other ingredients I end up with too much with. Now, my favourite pasta sauce is this delicious sauce made my Lucini, called Robust Tomato Gorgonzola Sauce. Unfortunately, it costs about 10 dollars for a normal size jar. So I decided to try to make my own. I found a recipe for it, but in my zeal to use leftovers, I decided to use the spaghetti sauce James had doctored the previous night. I had to add some canned tomato sauce since the ground beef had soaked up a bunch of the liquid, and then added in some of the gorgonzola I had left over. While it wasn't quite the same taste as the Lucini sauce, it was still pretty good. I would definitely consider doing it again, but also want to try the recipe I found. I'll let you know when I make that and how it goes. Other ideas for leftover gorgonzola:
-Put it on apple slices (works well with blue cheese too, yum)
-Put on a crostini with some honey
-Sprinkle on top of a salad, especially with a vinaigrette
-Eat with a pear
-Bake on top of garlic bread
-Mix into mashed potatoes for a rich, creamy, savoury taste

Keep tuned for some more cooking info: I'm making mexican wedding cake cookies and a surprise for James in the next few days!

Beef Empanadas and Cheesecakes

I spent yesterday baking, crafting, cooking and baking AGAIN.

Last week, James decided that he wanted to make a cheesecake. I had made him one before for his birthday, though because I lacked an electric mixer (hand-held or otherwise) I made it with a potato masher, holding the mixing bowl between my feet, sitting on the floor in front of the tv (it took forever to mix). But in the end it turned out ok, so I wanted to use the same recipe this time. I figured I could find it on the back of the Philadelphia cream-cheese package like last time. Upon getting to the store, I found that the only recipe on the box was for a spaghetti bolognese sauce. Using our smarthphones (yay smartphones) we looked up a recipe really quickly. It didn't sound like the one I'd used before, but we figured it would be just as good. So whole James was at work, I pulled out my kitchenaid (love!) and started to make the cheesecake. I got the crusts down, and mixed up the filling, poured it in and stuck the pie pans in the oven. Well, did I get a surprise. When I took out the cheesecakes they had both risen like a souffle and one had even cracked. When James got home, he tried to take the cheesecake out of the pan, which failed, then ate it from the pan itself. It did not taste like cheesecake. So we went off to the store to get cheesecake supplies and ingredients for our dinner (beef empanadas).

The beef empanadas were a recipe from real simple, and sounded pretty good. So we got the ingredients, but when we went to get the 1/2 lb beef, the prices were just ridiculous! I meant, at fresh and easy, we get beef for $1.99/lb, but it was like $6.99/lb at the store on the island. Since it was pretty much the same price, we ended up getting bison, which I love. It tastes like beef, but it's much healthier and more sustainable (as of now at least). With our ingredients in hand, we went home to make empanadas and a new-york style cheesecake. James grilled up the beef, and we used a half of an onion that we'd previously chopped up. In fact, the only thing we didn't have at home were the refrigerated pie crusts and the golden raisins. If you're gonna make this, take out the pie crusts about a half hour before! They need to thaw (or else they will tear!)!!! Despite James' hesitation about raisins, beef and ketchup together, the empanadas turned out really well. Instead of a cookie cutter (since I don't have a round one) I used a drinking glass, which had a diameter of over 3 inches. It still seemed small. We could put about a tablespoon of the beef mixture in. Make sure you press the edges of the crust together really well, or else they'll come apart while you're baking them and they'll look like weird little tacos. Anyways, we didn't use sour cream, but they were delicious. James liked them so much he took the leftovers to work for lunch the next day!
mmm yummy

Then the second cheesecake attempt. We used this recipe and it turned out great. The cheesecake rose a bit, but didn't crack, and it ended up tasting great. We did make a few changes, and there are a few things I'd like to change the next time. We lined the pie pan with aluminum foil, leaving enough foil along the outside to use as handles to make pulling the cheesecake out easier. I'd recommend cutting the crust recipe in thirds, since we only used about 2/3 of the crumbs and the rest went into another pie pan that we didn't have enough filling for.  Baking the crusts for 10 minutes before really helped a lot since it made the crust nice and crispy. One thing I had learned is to put the cream cheese in the mixer first, beat it for a while, then add in the sugar and the eggs as the mixer was on low. With these proportions, the filling is nice and liquid-like, easy to pour into the crust. The sour cream topping was super easy, just pour it on the top of the cheesecake and bake for another 10 minutes. The foil worked magnificently, and we transferred the cheesecake to a plate in the fridge, where we left it overnight. The next day James cut the cheesecake into 8 pieces (the recipe says 16) and we had it for dessert. It was delicious! It tasted so good! Maybe a bit heavy on the sour cream, but as long as the bite had everything- topping, filling, crust- it tasted great. And it looked a lot better than the previous cheesecakes had. Just be careful when you're cracking eggs, since I lost a bit of the shell in the mix and had to find it the hard way---yuck, but it still tasted delicious!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Quinoa croquettes, cilantro yogurt sauce and brie soup

An influx of blogs all of a sudden! I'm actually catching up! Yay!

A few weeks ago I went on a big craft binge, bookmarking hundreds of sites for future use and in Etsy's blog, I found a recipe for quinoa croquettes and cilantro-yogurt sauce. I'd never heard of quinoa (pronounced "keen-wah") which is a grain that is very good for getting protein. The night before I made it, I had the most bizarre dream about trying to find quinoa the night before, involving me going to a little town market (Boney's Bayside here in Coronado) which told me they didn't have it, then trying to find a Whole Foods that carried it. The dream was so realistic I almost gave up before I started. Boney's Bayside did have it, and I didn't even have to wash it as it was pre-washed. I bought the scallions (same thing as green onions, in case anyone else is confused), a zucchini (which is the same as a zucchini squash), pre-shredded carrots and parsley. I did NOT use grapeseed oil, but normal canola oil. For the sauce I bought cilantro, an onion, plain yogurt and since I couldn't find ume plum vinegar (available at whole foods) I used normal rice wine vinegar. 

This recipe makes A LOT of sauce!

What the sauce looks like when finished
I made the sauce first, which was pretty simple. Using my combination blender/food processor I put the cilantro, soy sauce, vinegar and cubed onion into the food processor and blended until it was smooth. I then added the yogurt and the olive oil and blended again. Depending on the size of your food processor, I recommend using a blender. My food processor wasn't quite large enough and the sauce ended up leaking from the top when it was blending, so I had a bit of clean up already. I moved the sauce to a tupperware and stuck it in the fridge until dinner was done. 

Pre-cooked patties
I then began on the croquettes. The boiled quinoa looked a bit like couscous or a risotto when it was cooked. You combine 1 cup with quinoa with 2 cups of water, bring it to a boil then simmer, covered, until the water is completely absorbed. After allowing the quinoa to cool a bit, mix the julienned carrot and zucchini, garlic powder, salt, parsley, egg and flour. When it's well mixed, form then into little patties about the size of a crab cake. 

After frying
Add enough oil in a large skillet to cover the bottom. Heat it up and you can get your husband to fry the quinoas in batches until they're browned on each side. The recipe said this should take 3-4 minutes, but James and I found it took more like 6-7 minutes a side. Just keep an eye on them, and let them get crispy. Add additional oil as needed, and when you're done, you'll end up with a dozen or so croquettes that look like this: Place them on a paper towel (or a paper bag according to the recipe) to absorb some of the oil and serve them with the cilantro-yogurt sauce. Absolutely delicious. I had one cold the next day for a snack, and finished the last few for a light lunch the next day, and they were just as good as they were fresh. Just reheat them in a toaster oven is possible. If you use the recipe for the sauce, you will have a TON of sauce left over. It would be great as a salad dressing or a drip for veggies or plain potato chips.

Brie Soup mmmm
I also served a brie soup as a side for this dinner. I found the recipe on MuggleNet (yes I am a bit obsessed with Harry Potter--when will they be released as e-books??) and decided that since I love brie and soup I would love brie soup. I made sure I had all the ingredients: butter, onion, celery, flour, chicken stock (or broth), brie cheese, and half-and-half. After dicing the onions and celery, sautee them in the butter until the onions become translucent. Whisk in the flour and allow it to cook/heat for 3 minutes (it may seem like it's burning, so keep stirring it) and then gradually whisk in the chicken broth. I cannot stress how important it is to keep stirring and do this gradually--it helps prevent lumps. Let the soup tender for about 15 minutes (until the celery is tender) and then stir in the brie cheese cubes and give it time to melt a bit. 12 oz (.75 lb) but I only used .6 lb of brie (the largest I could find) and it tasted quite brie-ish enough. Now, mugglenet tells you to use a blender for the soup, but having had some experience with hot liquids in blenders, I decided that I would use an immersion blender. The cheese is kinda hard to clean off, but, as we discovered while washing it, my immersion blender has a detachable blending attachment, so that will make it easy for the next time. Use the immersion blender until the soup is smooth and then stir in the half-and-half, season with salt and pepper and serve warm with a baguette. (There is a recipe for the baguette, but I just used a store bought one...I'd had enough cooking.)
It's a good soup, but it is very rich. And it makes enough for like 3 or 4 people to eat. James didn't care for the taste (he doesn't like brie) so we had a bunch left over. I think that if you mixed it in with mashed potatoes it would taste really good, but I haven't done this yet, so it's all in theory. It wasn't fantastic with the croquettes, but it would be really nice on a stormy night...if you like brie.


I've been on a bit of a hiatus from reading. I have plenty of books, both nook books and physical books and a list about a mile long on my springpad account (seriously, like 87 to read books), but for some reason not much has been able to grab my interest lately.

I'm very close to the end of The Bible of Clay by Julia Navarro. I'd seen Navarro's books for a while and the covers had always intrigued me, so when I needed a new nook book I decided to grab that one and try it out.'s rare that I find a book that I don't enjoy, but this one is on that list. The characters who are supposed to be the protagonists are more like antagonists: one of them is even a former Nazi, and some exploits are described that make him an easy character to hate. The others are related to this man and therefore seem to be accomplices, or at least tacitly approving of his dealings, which include illegal antique smuggling from Iraq. The story involves a set of tablets on which a young scribe wrote the story of creation as told to him. The author switches between three groups in the modern day and the scribe, Shamas, and Abram. Usually I like stories that delve into the past (Labyrinth by Kate Mosse, The Eight by Katherine Neville, Bloodlines by Jan Burke, etc) but in this case, when they showed the story of creation as Shamas wrote it down, it was pretty much word for word Genesis from the King James' Bible, which would not be the story that Abram told (think of a game of telephone!). Anyways, I'm interested in the story and how it ends since the archaeologists are trying to find the tablets before the Iraq war begins. I'm too interested to stop reading, but I don't like ANY of the characters (all of whom have some serious character flaws) and the writing isn't good enough to make up for it.

I did finish the first book in the Septimus Heap series, Magyk by Angie Sage. This was a book I did enjoy. It was a simple book, meant for a younger audience, but I've found that I really enjoy youth and young adult books since they're a fast read, pretty fun and usually involve some sort of magic, which helps you lose yourself in the world. In this world, there are Wizards of two levels (Ordinary and one ExtraOrdinary Wizard), a lost princess, child-swapping, an evil necromancer, witches in the woods, a dragon boat (the dragon is alive!) and fun little twists and turns. It reminds me of reading in German, because of all the words they capitalize (Wizard, the Hunter, etc). I would definitely recommend this book, especially if you're a fan of Harry Potter or Rick Riordan's books. I would say that both JK Rowling and Riordan are slightly better authors, but I enjoyed the story, lost myself in the world and want to read the rest of the series. The best part for me: it was on my to read list, and I found it on for FREE! (Under free nookbooks--don't have a nook? No problem, download the app: iphone, microsoft phone, android, pc, mac, ipad, etc and read it on that device!)

Thanks to a friend's suggestion, I used my gift certificate to purchase the new Jennifer Lee Carrell book for my nook. Entitled Haunt Me Still, it follows her debut novel Interred With Their Bones, which I absolutely loved! The debut dealt with a previously unknown Shakespeare manuscript and the daring story and intrigue of the woman who somehow ended up recruited to find it. This next one deals with the Bard's "Scottish Play" and has the same characters looking into the possibility that there is a lost version of the play, and that their performance of the play may be cursed. I'm really looking forward to reading this second novel and seeing how it went.

Also on my list is a book called The Sherlockian by Graham Moore, which I found by browsing iTunes' audio books (I'm on the 5th Harry Potter, so I'm running out of books). Moore's book involves (who else but) Sherlock Holmes! In this case, it switches between the early 20th century, with Arthur Conan Doyle and modern times, with Harold White searching for Doyle's lost notebooks that may explain the death and resurrection Holmes went through. Sounds just as interesting and literary-minded as the Shakespeare mysteries, so I'm looking forward to reading or listening to that one.

Keep your eye tomorrow for a few different recipes, including quinoa croquettes, cilantro-yogurt sauce, cheesecake and gorgonzola tomato sauce!

Christmas Cookie Photos

 Chocolate chip oatmeal cookies, all made from scratch! Close up below

 These are called palmiers. Or butterfly cookies (that's what I call them). They're usually bigger, but these tasted just as good!
 Close up of a palmier below.
 White chocolate dipped pretzel rods with milk chocolate drizzled over them. These were DELICIOUS!
 Mixed bag of white and milk chocolate covered pretzel rods with crushed candy canes.
 Milk chocolate covered pretzel rods with sprinkles.
These were a few of our holiday cookies that we gave out to family. They were all delicious and I wish we'd made some extras for ourselves!