My adventures in pregnancy, motherhood and beyond

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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!

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