Reign of the Kitchen

It’s so great to be back in the kitchen again. And while I always feel a bit nerdy taking photos of my food, it’s great to be taking pictures of my creations once again.

Since I’ve been home, I’ve eased away from the daily meal of rice and beans. Instead, I have been enjoying baking and cooking things that are not rice and beans.

So here are a few kitchen experiments of the last three weeks.

CHOCOLATE
I brought some shelled, roasted cocoa beans from Costa Rica that I thought I could make into chocolate. It didn’t exactly work as I envisioned…We don’t really have the right kind of machinery, but I was able to grind it up enough and bake some chocolate cookies.

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This ended up being several hours of trial and error. I tried a coffee grinder which got clogged up. Then the blender which still didn’t get the cocoa small enough. I used a rolling-pin which worked well, but took an extremely long time. In the end I dumped the remainder of the cocoa beans into the blender and sifted out the larger bits which I blended again. At this point I had given up on making smooth chocolate, hence the decision to make cookies instead. I did make a few “chocolates,” which had good flavor, but were a bit grainy (make that a lot grainy). The cookies turned out quite well. In fact so well, that they were gifted away/consumed so fast that I have no pictures of them.

BAGELS
And speaking of not having photos, I don’t have photos of the eight perfect bagels I made. The machinery at the local grocery store was down the day my mom and I went to buy bagels. And of course the packaged bagels have a bunch of preservatives and unpronounceable ingredients. So, I searched for a bagel recipe. I told my mom I was going to make bagels and of course she assumed that it was a lot of work and would take a long time. Actually for a bread product, bagels don’t take much time at all. I had it done from start to finish in about three hours. That includes the rising time. Moral of story: Try baking some bagels. It’s not as hard or time-consuming as it may seem.

BUTTERNUT SQUASH
I looked up a couple of recipes for stuffed butternut squash and combining the ideas came up with this. Continue reading

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Please Pass the Salsa Lizano

Well thankfully I didn’t gain any pounds while in Costa Rica, but it certainly wasn’t my diet that kept it that way. It’s a good thing I was working on farms, because for three months I dealt with “comida tipica.” Costa Rican food is good flavor wise (not sure if it’s very healthy) the first few times, but after a while everything started looking and tasting the same.

Breakfast

gallo pinto with fried eggs, bread, and ripe plantains

100_2028gallo pinto with scrambled eggs, fried plantains, and cream

100_2038Banana Pancake

Eating out: Lunch/Dinner 

Very typical plates that you can get at any Costa Rican restaurant or soda (basically a kitchen with a bar all over Costa Rica, in the countryside and city) are called casados (marriage). Generally you get rice, beans, salad, some sort of meat in a sauce, and a refresco for $3-$5. Continue reading

Changing Seasons and Baking Bread

Well the weather certainly has turned here. Last night was the first freeze of the season. I love this time of year, when the leaves change colors and the air is crisp and cold. Fall is nature’s way of being ironic. The sun is shining and the skies are blue, but it certainly isn’t warm. I like the balance of cold mornings and the warm afternoons. It’s also the time for me to wear my hats, jackets, sweaters, sweats and scarves. I finally can bundle up in the comfort of my blankets. Granted, this is both good and bad because I’m reluctant to leave the warmth of my blankets in the morning. I enjoy curling up with a hot drink.

Now fall happens to also be the time I want to eat carbs, which means I tend to want to bake. So, I just wanted to share my baked creations.

Here are some orange muffins made with rice flour, which actually turned out pretty well. Still not as good as all-purpose white flour…But the raisins and toasted pecans made it rather tasty. DSC_0149

Here is a blueberry and peach pie with homemade all butter crust. The blueberries and peaches were seasoned with a bit of ginger and nutmeg. Had I had another peach I would have added that because there was a bit too much crust. Although, everyone knows the crust is the best part. And this one was particularly fantastic, probably the best I’ve ever made. The trick was the grate frozen butter into the crust instead of trying to cut cold butter with a pastry blender. DSC_0183

And I baked some whole wheat bread. There is nothing like the warmth and comfort of freshly made bread. It makes the house smell absolutely wonderful.

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That’s it for now! I’m definitely going to cherish every fall day because soon I will be in experiencing a whole different climate. I’ll be back to shorts and t-shirts very soon.

Food Photography

Yes, this has seem to become a hobby. I already knew cooking was a hobby of mine, but now taking photos of the food I eat has become one too. I just find food beautiful. (It also is a great way to document memorable meals). Perhaps there is some gene built into humans that makes us like beautiful food. It certainly is important in the culinary world. Food with many colors is appealing. Generally the food with color are fruits and vegetables. Put them together in different combinations and their flavors dance on one’s taste buds.

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Healthy treat? Sort of.

So tonight my mom asked, do you have any secret chocolate chip cookies hidden away? Well of course I don’t. However, when she said chocolate chip cookie I immediately thought of the single serving chocolate chip cookies I have come across online. There is one basic recipe of a chocolate chip cookie in a mug. I knew that I just had to indulge and find out for myself what these cookies were like. I tried looking up “healthy chocolate chip cookie in a mug” but there really isn’t such a thing. If you are going to have a chocolate chip cookie you might as well indulge in the butter and sugar. You can comfort yourself with the fact that you are having such a small serving. It’s even smaller if you share it.

I mixed it together and added some chocolate chips.

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The final step was to microwave for about 45 seconds. Here is the finished product.

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I wouldn’t call these a healthy dessert you should eat every day, but if you get an occasional craving for something sweet these are sure to satisfy. To improve the flavor and texture, don’t bother using whole wheat flour. I didn’t mind it, but my mom didn’t like the somewhat grainy texture. If you had finer whole wheat flour it would be just fine. These are even more convenient for those who don’t like to bake or have the time to bake. So, go indulge in dessert today.

Poached

Here was my first attempt at poached eggs in a pot of boiling water. I’ve made poached eggs before but only with a pan that has individual ramekins that you crack the eggs into. In my opinion it’s kind of cheating. Anyway, I decided I would take a crack at it (pun intended haha) without the poacher. I put on a small pot of boiling water and added some vinegar. Then I cracked an egg into a custard cup and dumped it in the boiling water. The egg whites didn’t exactly stay together, but it didn’t completely fall apart. The second egg I attempted turned out about the same as the first. The yolks were just right, but I found the egg whites cooked a bit too quickly. Next time I’m going to boil water in a bigger pot.

I consider this one a success. They were especially tasty with the home fries I made. Making the home fries was also a first for me. I followed the America’s Test Kitchen recipe and they were absolutely delicious. I also added some freshly chopped chive. Yum. I happened to have this for dinner. Yay for breakfast at dinner.DSC_0100homefries

 

Paleo Week Two

paleo rolls

So I had so much fun the first week trying out the paleo diet, I decided to pursue it for a second week. Although, this week I’m not being nearly as strict. I have had some potato salad, some chocolate, and a few corn chips, oh and chocolate mint coconut milk frozen dessert. Other than that I’ve been sticking to the diet pretty faithfully. Continuing the paleo diet has given me an excuse to try some paleo baking.

Right now in the fridge, we have five different kinds of flour. However, right now on the paleo diet I can only make use of the tapioca flour (aka tapioca starch) and coconut flour. I love to experiment, so after a thorough scouring of the internet I came across a few recipes to try. Last week I made some banana walnut muffins. You can find the recipe here. Unfortunately, I didn’t take a picture of them, but I thought they tasted pretty good. I loved the convenience of them especially for breakfast. They weren’t too weird. Although, nothing can replace the taste of all-purpose flour. I think breakfast is the hardest meal to plan for on the paleo diet. There just aren’t many “normal” breakfast options.

Today I experimented with the tapioca flour and made some paleo rolls from a recipe I came across online. They are quite tasty, but I can really taste the coconut flour. My mom didn’t notice it though, although she had one when they had cooled down. One downside to this recipe is that it uses so much oil! That’s probably why they tasted so good. They have a kind of soft doughy center and crusty exterior. They reminded me of puff pastry (probably because of the oil). If I make these again I think I may replace some of the oil with some other liquid, like almond milk. I’m not sure how that will affect the texture. I also want to try adding some baking powder. If you get to try these changes before me, let me know how your rolls turn out!

Next I’m going to try making paleo crepes…

Vegetable Curry

curryI’ve really been craving some curry. Looking up several curry recipes for ideas, I made up my own using what vegetables I had. I sautéed some diced onion, and then added garlic and ginger and yellow curry. Then I added chicken broth and coconut milk. I simmered carrots, cauliflower, onion, and mushroom in the sauce. Then I added raisins and parsley to garnish. A squeeze of lemon juice at the end finished it off quite nicely.

This was quite a satisfying dinner. I made it follow the paleo diet guidelines. However, it would’ve been nice to have some potato or rice with it. I didn’t miss it too much though.

Paleo what??

That’s right, this week I’m testing out the paleo diet.

I would classify myself as a fairly healthy teenager. I don’t eat ton of sweets, fried food, salt, or white flour. Still I occasionally feel a bit guilty when I eat a donut or have a couple pieces of chocolate. Then I compare what I’m eating to others, and I don’t feel so bad.

I’m not a huge advocate for any particular diet. I’ve read a lot about diets. Every where you look they all seem to be saying conflicting things. Why do I even bother reading about diets? Because I am on the search of ways to improve my health and energy levels. Also like most people, I desire to have a flat stomach. I’d really like to weigh what I did in seventh/eighth grade (when I stopped growing).

The freshman fifteen is not a myth, perhaps a bit exaggerated, but I definitely fell into the weight-gain trap of college. I tried to eat well in college, but I found myself eating late at night and when I was stressed. I ended up gaining seven pounds in the first semester (the gym obviously didn’t help much). The second semester I stayed at a consistent weight, but still I was ten pounds heavier than I had been  as a senior in high school. Now that I’m back home from college the weight is coming off pretty quickly. Without too much effort I’ve already lost about five pounds.

In an effort to speed up the process of weight loss and to satisfy my curiosity I’m giving the paleo diet a try. I don’t think it will be too challenging. Granted I’m only doing this for a week. It’s not going to become part of my lifestyle. In the past I’ve tried out vegetarianism (which isn’t all that difficult), and I tried God’s Diet. The premise of this diet is to eat only things that God has made, basically no processed foods. I find this similar to the paleo diet, except that the paleo diet is even more restricting. This week I can only eat what the cavemen ate. According to Dr. Loren Cordain founder of the paleo diet dairy products, legumes, refined foods, and processed foods were not a part of their diet.

So what can I eat? Vegetables (but no potatoes), fruit, nuts, meat, fish, and oils. I’m actually enjoying the challenge of trying to come up with meals I can eat this week. I checked out some paleo diet recipes online to get some ideas. Some of these meals seem a bit strange (especially breakfast) but a lot of “normal” foods have to be replaced.

Here’s what I ate today.

Breakfast: A boiled egg with wilted lettuce and a spoonful of almond butter

Lunch: A banana, some pecans, and leftover chicken marbella (chicken in a plum and olive sauce)

Dinner: Ham, sautéed lettuce with toasted almonds and a lemon parsley vinaigrette, daikon radish, and cherries

Oatmeal Scones

oatmealscone

I used the America’s Test Kitchen recipe for oatmeal scones. You toast the oatmeal first which adds a great nutty flavor. My mom tries to limit her sugar intake so instead of using the called for amount of sugar I substituted it with Spenda and brown sugar. My mom didn’t notice much of a difference, but I think Spenda has an after taste. So if you can taste the difference go with a combination of brown and white sugar. I also substituted some of the white flour for whole wheat which worked quite well.

Here is the recipe with the adjustments I made. If I hadn’t been cooking for my mom I wouldn’t have used Spenda.

Oatmeal Scone

1 1/2 cups old fashioned oats
1/2 cup half-and-half
1 egg
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup of whole wheat flour
1/3 cup sugar (used a combination of brown sugar and Spenda)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon table salt
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1/2 cup of plumped currents (use any dried chopped fruit you like)

1. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Spread the oats on a rimmed baking sheet and toast in oven for about 7-9 minutes. Cool on a wire rack and reserve two tablespoons of oats. Increase oven to 450 degrees.

2. Whisk half-and-half and egg together in a measuring cup. Reserve one tablespoon for glazing.

3. Pulse the flour, sugar, baking power, and salt in a food processor until combined. Add butter and pulse until the mixture looks like coarse cornmeal. I do not have a food processor, so instead I used a pastry blender but it took quite a bit of time to incorporate the butter.

4. Fold in the liquid ingredients. Mix the dough by hand until everything comes together.

5. Dust the work surface with a tablespoon of the reserved oats. Add the dough. Then dust the top with the remaining one tablespoon of oats. Pat into a 7-inch circle about one inch thick. Using a bench scraper cut dough into eight wedges. Set on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

6. Brush the surface with reserved egg wash and sprinkle with some sugar (if you wish). Bake about 12-14 minutes. Let cool and enjoy!