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Archive for the ‘Kitchen Eureka!’ Category

soap and tomatoes

I have a penchant for eating tomatoes; uncooked, with a little salt and vinegar. It is something that I learned from my mother at an early age, and I’ve carried it into adulthood. Unfortunately, the Babii does not seem to have inherited this penchant for tomatoes and vinegar, even though I ate them a lot when I was pregnant with her.

My mother taught me to always wash the tomatoes with soap and water, but it never registered fully until I started doing my own groceries.

R and I go to a local farmers’ market at least once a month. The food there is cheaper, although it takes a little more effort to go through each stall, walking the entire length of the street where the market is located, and picking out the meat, poultry, fish, etc.

There I saw fruits and vegetables falling off stands, rolling on the ground, and put back onto their shelves for customers to buy.

So now I more conscientious about washing my food. Again, it takes a little more effort. But a few extra minutes spent at the sink is waaaaaay better than a few hours spent in the emergency room for food poisoning (trust me, I’ve been there).

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So the Babii decided to become a pastry chef. A few years ago, she wanted to be a manicurista (manicure/pedicure girl). Then she wanted to be a parakeet trainer. After all our Masterchef Australia marathon sessions, she now wants to be a pastry chef.

No-cook lemon and strawberry cheesecake

The Babii with her no-cook lemon and strawberry cheesecake

It looks like a bloody expensive career that her father and I should probably start saving for, but on the bright side, she seems more serious about it than all her other previous “career options.” She actually takes the time to read cookbooks and research on the Internet. For the past year she has made her own cup cakes, cakes, tarts and pies and surprisingly, she seems to have a knack for baking.

I say “surprisingly” because I have a love-hate relationship going on with dough. Pie dough, bread dough, anything involving dough, tends to be a miss and miss thing with me. The Babii, on the other hand, took to dough like a fish to water, making her first pie ever with flying colors. Errr, sort of.

apple pie

When we first got the Good Housekeeping cookbook, the Babii was so fascinated with all the explanations and the wide array of pastries she could make. One night, she decided to make apple pie.

I told her she was on her own, seeing as my history of fudging pie crusts would not work in her favor. So she made her own dough and rolled it out. With a few questions here and there, she also made her own filling and assembled the pie.

apple pie

And voila!

apple pie

The house was filled with the sweet smell of apples and cinnamon baking in the oven. R, who is a big fan of apple pie, could hardly contain his excitement. He was given the honor of having first dibs on the pie.

As he put the first scoop of apple pie in his mouth, we held our breaths, waiting for the inevitable approving look. Instead, he made a grimace and looked like he had a hard time swallowing.

It appeared that the Babii, instead of putting 1/8 teaspoon of salt, had put in 1/8 cup. (Oh, agony! Oh, agony!)

Needless to say, she was appalled and horrified.

We tried to convince her that it was alright to make mistakes, that other than the salt issue, the pie was perfect. We told her she could make the pie again, but since that night she has not. She has made lemon meringue pie, chocolate tart, cheesecake, cookies, and lemon custard cake, but no apple pie.

Sometimes I ask her if she would make apple pie for me and she would wrinkle her nose and say, “Maybe next time. I’m still not over my last apple pie.”

My future pastry chef has apple pie trauma.

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Muffins and Beer

Earlier I talked about the bacon, cheese and pepper muffins that I made from Casa Veneracion. I’ve made it a few times for the Babii and myself, and it has been a hit with the family for the past year or so.

In my version, however, I substituted the bacon with cubes of Spam, since finding good bacon here is like searching for a needle in a haystack. Well, finding Spam is pretty much the same thing, but I get care packages from my Dad so it’s a little easier.

I also changed the grated cheese to diced cheese, mainly because I am a cheesaholic and prefer my muffins, like my ice cream, chunky.

The photo above was taken when I made Spam and cheese muffins and mushroom muffins. I realized belatedly that I should have put in cheese with the mushrooms as well, but it’s never too late! Just slather it on top.

I had this for second breakfast (Hobbit-style) together with a bottle of Nesher Malt which is technically a beer. It tastes like San Miguel Cerveza Negra, only without the alcohol. It’s supposed to be good for pregnant women. 😀

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No, I have not dived off the deep end and mixed these two things together. Today I made some some blueberry muffins, and some chocolate chip muffins. Separately. Sort of.

I am currently having a love affair with muffins. My own muffins. I used to buy muffins from bakeshops and cafes when I was still in school, but always found them dry and generally unimpressive, not to mentioned overpriced.

I took a second look at muffins when the Babii went to school and I ran out of lunch options. After snooping a bit on the Internet, I found Casa Veneracion’s bacon, cheese and pepper muffins. That opened a whole new muffin world for me.

What I like most about muffins is that they are so easy to make; no need for electric gadgets (and hence, more things to wash), quick to prepare, and easy to carry wherever you go. You can have it for breakfast, a midday snack, bring it to school, a picnic, or to the office. Best of all, once you have the basic batter down pat, you can play around with it and put in the filling of your choice! (Yes! Muffins can be sweet or savory!)

Savory Muffins (after the muffin monster)

Today I wanted to make muffins but ran out of cornmeal. Fortunately, the Good Housekeeping cook book has a basic muffin recipe that didn’t use cornmeal. The recipe was good for 12 muffins, but I didn’t want to plow through a whole week with just the same muffins (it can get REALLY tiresome based on experience). Since we had a forlorn half-eaten bar of Lindt dark chocolate and an old jar of blueberry confiture that nobody seemed to like, I decided to turn half of the batter into chocolate chip muffins and the other half into blueberries.

Basic Muffin Recipe (from Good Housekeeping):

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup milk

1/2 cup melted butter

1 large egg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 175 degrees Celsius. Grease twelve 2 1/2″ by 1 1/4″ muffin pan cups. (I find that using muffin liners makes it easier to eat the muffins at school or the office, so I use those instead.)

2. In large bowl, with wire whisk, stir flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. In medium bowl, with fork, beat milk, melted butter, egg and vanilla until blended. Add liquid mixture to flour mixture; stir just until flour is moistened (batter will be lumpy).

3. At this point, I halved the mixture in separate bowls. In the first bowl, I folded in about 3/4 cup of the blueberry confiture. (Overfolded is more like it—- The batter looked like Grimace had his way in the kitchen.) In the second bowl, I folded in about 1/2 cup of the chocolate, roughly chopped.

4. Spoon the batter into the muffin cups and pop them in the oven for 20-25 minutes.

At this point, I always remember that not all ovens are made equal, and something that normally takes 25 minutes to cook in a recipe takes my oven five minutes less. So I keep a watchful eye on the clock and on whatever is cooking inside in case it starts to look burnt.

 Chocolate Chip and Blueberry Muffins

At the end, the Babii came to me with eyes as wide as saucers. “Mama! Half of your muffins are burned! How did that happen?!?” (They are NOT burned. They are PURPLE!)

And now I have confession to make.

I found out at the last minute that our milk had spoiled, but we had some 15% fat cream in the fridge which we normally use for pasta sauce. So did I?

Oh, yes I did! And this was not the first time! (cue evil laugh)

I’ve noticed that the same amount of cream in place of milk can make a muffin really soft and fluffy. As with a little extra butter. Sigh. Food is my vice.

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Cooking Stash

I promise, this blog is not turning into a food blog. It just so happens that this past few months food has played a central role in our lives. Well, food always plays a central role in any Negrense’s life. Perhaps I just managed the time to document it more.

This is our small kitchen library. Most of the books we bought from regular book stores, some from flea markets (it shows), others were gifts. Then of course, I have my trusty purple notebook where I jot down recipes when I have the patience. Otherwise, I print them off the Internet and file them in a folder (not shown here).

I haven’t cooked from all the books yet, but I must say some stand out more than others.

Step-by-step Baking has been very helpful. It has a wide array of savory and sweet goodies I can make, including pictures showing how to do things…well… step by step. With the Babii in school, it presents interesting alternatives to the regular sandwich.

Good Housekeeping Cookbook

My kitchen bible, though, has to be the Good Housekeeping Cook Book (125th Anniversary edition). (Confession: I already read Good Housekeeping way back when I was 11 years old– that’s how I knew that it was good.)

Each section has a backgrounder that teaches the basics: how to buy good meat, how to store it properly, the different cuts, etc.

Section Guides

Of course, like most good cook books these days, it also includes conversion tables. (Why can’t people just follow the metric system?)

Conversion Tools

There must be thousands of recipes in this book. The book itself is almost a thousand pages. And believe it or not, the Babii has cooked more things from this cook book than I have!

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Wondering what to do with all that leftover Christmas ham? Do it the Negrense way: fried with caramelized sugar:

ham and spam

How to do it: coat both sides of sliced ham with sugar, preferably brown. Heat a pan on the stove and add enough oil to coat the bottom. Fry the ham until the sugar caramelizes to your desired color/consistency. Remember to keep the fire low to avoid burning the sugar. Serve with hot rice.

Cleaning up hint: keep the stove running and pour a few cups of water into the pan. As the water simmers and comes to a boil, scrape the bottom and sides of the pan. The caramelized sugar will come off easily. (Of course, you can do it at a later time, such as AFTER you eat all the carbs and cholesterol— Whee! Exercise!)

Cleaning the pan is hell, but the the ham and the calories are all worth it.

Best served with a side of scrambled eggs. Also good for lunch or dinner.

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I found a bottle of mild curry paste right before we went on holiday, and thought I’d experiment a little with something new:

 Mild Chicken CurryFor the first time ever, chicken curry.

Indian food does not figure  anywhere in my repertoire, so I did some research on how to actually use the paste.  It was only  then that I realized that is a complicated mix of all sorts of spices and leaves. Perhaps next time I’ll try making it from scratch.

I used this recipe from Allrecipes.com as a general guide, substituting the paste for all the spices. I also added potatoes and carrots, simply because the curry of my childhood always had carrots and potatoes.

The verdict? Quite good, but probably not spicy enough for R.

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