Category Archives: Prague Inspires!

Stories inspired by life in Prague

Bionic Blueberry Buttermilk Cake

I’ll probably regret this. I’ve got two six-week old newborns that are happily fed and snoozing away. I too should be sleeping. I shouldn’t be baking. I shouldn’t be blogging. However, fortune is on my side and she has come disguised as my mother.

This divine woman has given up a few months of her life in NYC to come and help me care for the two new additions to our family. Over the last few nights, with a little help from a breast pump, she has taken over the dreaded middle of the night wake up call and fed our two little darlings. This means for the first time in over a month, I have had a stretch of uninterrupted sleep (five hours is a lot these days!) and that makes me feel like the Bionic Woman!

Sleep is a precious thing.

With all that extra energy I wanted to do something I haven’t been able to do in a long while: spend some time in the kitchen. This whole new lifestyle has pumped up my cravings for cake. Probably not a good thing since I still have about 10 pregnancy pounds to shed. But, I gotta have my cake!

Stocked up in the fridge was a container of buttermilk and a basket of blueberries. That combination called for a Blueberry Buttermilk cake with a spiced pecan topping. A perfect way to make the transition from summer to autumn.

Blueberry Buttermilk Cake with Spiced Pecans

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons butter (at room temp)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350°/180.

In a large bowl, cream 1/2 cup butter with the granulated sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs and vanilla.

In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Stir into butter mixture. Add buttermilk and mix; gently fold in blueberries.

In a small bowl, stir together the brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and pecans. Pour half the cake batter into a greased 8-inch square baking pan. Sprinkle with half the brown sugar mixture and top with the remaining batter.

Combine the remaining brown sugar mixture with 2 tablespoons butter and sprinkle over the top of the batter. Bake until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, about 45-50 minutes.

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Maple Syrup Score

Last week, I came into a bit of good fortune, although it was somewhat bittersweet. Our friend Lindsey was coming to the end of her three-year stint in Prague. The greatest party planner in the world, Ms. Alli B., gathered up a few of her friends for a little surprise. We showed up at her apartment with some Thai take out and extra hands to help her out with the packing. In addition, we used the opportunity to celebrate her upcoming birthday a few weeks early.

Spread all around the apartment were the bounties of her years in Prague and of the exciting places she visited. Each piece told a story and highlighted a moment. Friends recounted events around some of the peculiar objects and narrated bits of Lindsey’s history as an ex-pat living in Prague. It was a simple, yet sincere and touching way of reaching closure. I believe not just for Lindsey, but for us, her friends as well. It is never easy to say good-bye to the friends we meet when living abroad. One never knows when you might cross paths again.

As we helped her sort out her goods, Lindsey was also getting rid of items in her pantry. At some point, she held up an unopened bottle of maple syrup and I immediately claimed it. Maple syrup is a highly prized ingredient here and it can cost a fortune. I was very happy to go home with it.

My parting gift...

It has been almost a week since Lindsey left. I have used the maple syrup a few times to top my pancakes with and for this recipe of Maple Syrup Scones. As I prepared the scones, I couldn’t help but think of Lindsey and her love for this sweet syrup. I never got to make these baked goods for her, but I think she would have liked them. We will miss her at our table, but she will never be forgotten.

Maple Syrup Scones (from the Rose Bakery cookbook:Breakfast, Lunch, Tea)

1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
1 big tablespoon of baking powder
1 big tablespoon of sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup of unsalted butter, cut into pieces
4 tablespoons maple syrup
4 tablespoons milk or buttermilk
1 egg, beaten for glazing

Pre heat oven to 400 degrees F/ 200 C

In a large bowl, mix the flours, oats, baking powder,
sugar and salt.

Add the butter and rub it in with your fingers, until
it starts to look like breadcrumbs.

In another small bowl, combine the milk and syrup together.
Stir together.

Make a well in the middle of the dry mixture.
Then pour the liquid mixture in the well.
Begin with a fork to combine the dry and wet
ingredients together.
Then finish with your hands.
If the mixture is dry, add a few drops of milk.
If too wet, add some flour.
The dough should not be sticky and you should avoid
overworking it.
The dough should have a slight firm touch to it.

Dust your counter with some flour.
Then roll or pat out the dough to 1 1/3 inches thick.

Using a biscuit cutter, cut the scones out into rounds
and place them on a greased baking tray, so that they
almost touch.

Glaze the tops with the beaten egg.

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden.

Allow them to cool before breaking apart.

Serve warm with some jam, or more butter
and enjoy the smell of maple syrup floating
through your home!

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A Little Bit Filipino & A Little Bit American

Rice is the staff of life!

Last week, I went on a little field trip with my friend Beth. I call it a field trip because we both left the comforts of our local neighborhoods and headed over the river and across town to meet for lunch at one of my favorite Italian restaurants in Prague: Osteria da Clara. It’s THE place to go to in Prague for an authentic Italian meal. I feel like I can say that with some authority after living in the land of pasta, limoncello and espresso for three memorable years.

Since the restaurant was also close to the neighborhood of Vinohrady, we decided to extend our culinary adventure and visit two specialty grocery stores in the area. The neighborhood of Vinohrady is well-known for its flow of ex-pat residents, fine cafes and restaurants. In addition, it’s also the place where one can find a variety of specialty food shops, ranging from Russian, Italian, Hungarian, Greek and the two we popped into: British and Asian.

I don’t know why but every time I walk into one of these grocery stores and see a bunch of familiar brands that I grew up with in the States, I am hit with feelings of nostalgia and excitement. I returned home with a couple boxes of cereal, a bag of sweet rice flour and a plan to make two rice desserts that I grew up with, a Filipino recipe and then an American one!

Palitaw

Palitaw: For me this is the Filipino version of Mochi.It is made from the same type of flour, sweet rice flour, which gives it its gummy, chewy and sticky texture. By itself, it would taste quite bland, but mixed with grated coconut, sugar and toasted sesame seeds, it becomes a very delicious dessert or mid-afternoon snack. My family always served this at parties and Christmas time.

Rice Krispies with pecans, cranberries & chocolate chips

Rice Krispies Treats: I am still on this pecan, dried fruit and chocolate chip combination kick. I decided to add these extra ingredients to a batch of rice krispies treats. This simple snack reminds me so much of my childhood!

Palitaw (Good ol’ Grandma’s recipe)

1 cup sweet rice flour
3/4 cup water
1 cup grated coconut
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup toasted sesame seeds

Heat oven to 350 degrees and toast sesame seeds until brown and golden.
Using a wooden spoon or rubber spatula, mix the flour with the water.
Make little balls and then flatten them.

Boil a quart of water in a deep pot, then bring down to a simmer.
Remove the rice cakes when they begin to float to the top.
(This should take about 30-50 seconds)
Remove from water with a slotted spoon.

Allow a few minutes to cool down.
Combine the sugar and sesame seeds together.
When the cakes are cool enough to handle, roll them in coconut.
Before serving, sprinkle some of the sugar/sesame combination on top.

Rice Krispies Treat with Pecans, Cranberries and Chocolate Chips (adapted from the good ol’Kellogs box)

3 tablespoons butter or margarine
1 bag or about 40 regular size marshmallows or 4 cups miniature marshmallows
6 cups Rice Krispies
1/3 cup chopped pecans
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1/3 cup chocolate chips

Grease a large baking pan and spread the chocolate chips all around the pan.

Melt butter and then add the marshmallows.
When the marshmallows have melted, add the rice krispies, pecans and cranberries.
Mix well.

Then with a rubber spatula, spread the mixture evenly across the baking pan.
Allow it to cool.
Then cut into squares.

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It wasn’t my fault…it was the Pregnancy Haze!

I’ve heard about the pregnancy haze, the bouts of forgetfulness, your brain clogging up and the clumsy mishaps. But, I didn’t think it would happen to me. Just like an elephant, I never forget a thing! Yet, those hormones overtook my system and I can’t believe the consequences of what occurred when the pregnancy haze casted its net on me.

Last week, my husband and I were invited to dinner at our friends’ house and to choose some baby give-aways to take home. With my overflowing basket of strawberries still around, I happily volunteered to make a dessert. I wasn’t going to make anything fancy, just something light and easy. That usually means I would bake my “go-to cake”, a Buttermilk Cake with fruit topping. This cake goes well with a variety of fruits, such as apples, pears and berries. The strawberries would make a fine accompaniment to the soft and moist texture of the cake and adding a dollop of sweetened whipped cream on the side, wouldn’t hurt.

Dinner was delicious and the menu was perfect for such an unusually warm Spring day. Our friends quickly pan-fried some blocks of tofu coated in Italian seasonings, then baked it in the oven, layered with herb-seasoned tomato sauce and mozzarella. There was also some home-made garlic bread and a mixed green salad. I should have taken pictures of the food. It was so tasty, I allowed myself to two helpings. Heck, I’m pregnant, no shame in going after some seconds!

After the dinner plates were cleared, our hostess asked me if I was ready to serve the dessert. The cake was sitting in its platter and the cream just needed to be whipped. It took just a few seconds to get the fresh whipped cream ready and as soon as that was done, I began to remove the covering on the cake. As I did that, the plastic wrap stuck to my fingers, as well as some of the cake topping. I tasted the sticky coating that remained on the tips of my fingers and suddenly my mouth felt like I had swallowed a glass of ocean water!

“That’s strange,” I thought to myself. I traced my finger over a small part of the cake, tasted it and there it was again, that salty flavor took over my palate. I brought the cake over to the table and ask my husband and another friend to taste it. They both lightly swiped the top of the cake and tried it. “Does it taste salty to you?” I asked. They both shook their heads “No,” and I was relieved. For a quick moment, I thought I might have wrongly executed the last part of the recipe, which is to take a tablespoon of sugar and sprinkle it over the fruit and batter before baking it in the oven.

Sugar and Salt: how could I go wrong?

The cake was sliced up and triangles of it were passed around along with the cream. Hannah was the first to dive into the dessert. Suddenly, her head begins to move from side to side and she announces “Oh, yeah. No, no… salllll-ty!”

Note to pregnant self: This is where you keep the sugar!

I took a bite of mine and indeed I had mistaken the salt for sugar when making the cake. Hannah suggested we cut the top of the cake off and dab the whipped cream on top. It worked, but it wasn’t my best sample of the cake, which happens to be my husband’s favorite. I couldn’t help but profusely apologize about the ruined dessert. Fortunately, our friends were both forgiving and understanding. Not to mention, that this was a very unusual display of my baking skills. My baking track record has been clean until this strange disastrous mishap. I just couldn’t believe what I had done, for sure I thought I dipped that measuring spoon into a container of sugar, but I was embarrassingly proven wrong. The only explanation for such an error of judgment could be an attack of the dreaded pregnancy haze!


Strawberry Buttermilk Cake
(adapted from Bon Apetit’s Berry Buttermilk Cake)

Heat oven to 400˚F/200˚C
Grease an 8 inch circular baking pan

Ingredients:
1 cup of sliced strawberries
1 cup flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 stick softened butter (50 grams)
2/3 cup sugar, plus 1 tablespoon of SUGAR
1 tsp. vanilla
1 large egg
1/2 cup buttermilk

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Then set aside.

In a larger bowl, beat the softened butter with 2/3 cup of white sugar. Beat at high-speed until light and fluffy. Then add the vanilla and lastly, the egg.

At low-speed, begin to add a little of the flour mixture and then alternate with the buttermilk. Continue to pour small doses one by one, ending with the flour mixture. Careful not to over mix the batter.

Pour mixture into the pan. Then decorate with the strawberries. Evenly sprinkle the remaining tablespoon of SUGAR over the fruit and batter. Bake for 25 minutes. Cool and serve with sweetened whipped cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Sprinkle with SUGAR!!!

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My Strawberry Marathon

While others are running the Prague Marathon on this splendidly sunny May weekend, I will see just how many strawberry dishes I can come up with.

One of the most important ingredients you will always find in my red fridge is buttermilk. Sadly, I only discovered the glorious benefits of buttermilk five years ago. Since then, when it comes to baking, I can’t live without it. Anything I make with buttermilk just turns out so moist and delicious. One can never go wrong when this sour, off-white, watery thin liquid is a part of the recipe. If you have any fabulous dishes that use buttermilk, please pass them on!

The basket of strawberries I brought home the other day, from the farmer’s market, is still more than half-full ! This morning, I was busy trying to think of ways to incorporate the fresh berries into our breakfast. Smoothie? Yogurt with strawberries and other mixed fruits? Pancakes with strawberry topping? How about a buttermilk strawberry muffin?

I wanted something cakey, but not too sweet, but similar to the size of a cupcake and of course it had to be moist, so whatever I was going to make had to include some buttermilk. The muffins turned out just right. It had that crunchy muffin top and the texture was in between that of a muffin and cupcake. The baked sliced strawberries added to the moist sweetness you found after taking a bite.

Luckily there are many outdoor potluck celebrations going on. This batch made 30 medium-sized muffins! I am taking some to a bridal barbecue shower this afternoon and planning to serve them with some whipped cream. These would also be especially great to serve for breakfast on Valentine’s Day! But as you can see you don’t need to have a special holiday to enjoy these, just lots of strawberries around.

Strawberry Buttermilk Muffins

1/2 cup softened butter or margarine
1 cup sugar
4 large eggs
1tsp.vanilla
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 grated lemon peel
1 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 cups sliced strawberries

Pre-heat the oven to 350/180 degrees.
Prep your muffin tin.

In a medium bowl, cream the butter and sugar.
Beat the eggs in one at a time.
Then blend in the vanilla.

In a another medium bowl, combine the flour,baking powder, baking soda and salt.
Add the flour mixture to the cream mixture.
Using a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, begin to add the buttermilk.
Gently stir and add the grated lemon peel.
Be careful not to over mix.
Fold in 1 cup of the sliced strawberries.

Fill your muffin cups half-way.
Then add the remaining strawberries to the mixture.
Bake for 20 minutes or until golden and center comes out clean.

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I’m in the Mood for…

… a strawberry custard like tart. Why? Because when I left my house this morning to meet a friend and turned the corner, I walked into a farmer’s market that popped out of nowhere! Surprises like this, usually result with some spontaneous unintended purchase. On this particular day, it was a basket of luscious red strawberries.

I guess I am a sucker for good packaging. I left home with a plan to stop at the supermarket on my return home. Strawberries, however, was not on my shopping list. Raspberries were.

But alas, there was not a raspberry stand at the farmer’s market and this basket of crimson berries was calling my name. I knew I could just adapt the Brown Butter Raspberry Tart I was reading about in Bon Appetit the night before.

Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, I love my berries. When I see them packed in their baskets, I know that summer is near. And when summer is here, my second favorite dessert after a cup of ice cream is anything made with fruit. With such a huge number of strawberries on hand, this might just be a 1 in 3 part series about strawberries.

Brown Butter Strawberry Tart
(adapted from Bon Appetit)

Crust: (for a 9-inch tart pan)
7 tablespoons melted butter
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour, plus a tablespoon
pinch of salt

Filling:
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs
pinch of salt
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut in cubes
1 1/2 cups of sliced strawberries

Preheat oven to 375/190 degrees and place the rack in center of oven.
It is recommended to use a rubber spatula to mix the melted butter, sugar and vanilla
in a medium bowl.
Toss a pinch of salt into your flour and add it to the butter mixture.
Stir until well combined.
It will look like breadcrumbs.

Crust:
Using your fingertips, begin to press the dough evenly around the sides of the pan.
When all the sides are covered, begin to work your way towards the bottom,
pressing it down evenly and smoothly from the sides.
Bake crust for 18 minutes, then set aside to cool.

Filling:

Whisk the sugar, eggs, and salt in a medium bowl.
Add the flour and vanilla.
Put the diced butter in a heavy sauce pan.
Cook over medium heat, until the butter has a copper tone to it.
Be careful not to burn it!
Transfer the butter to a heat-resistant glass, best if it is a measuring cup to be sure you melted half a cup.
Gradually pour the browned butter to the other mixture and whisk until well-blended.

Place 1 cup of sliced strawberries in a circle around the cooled crust.
Pour the browned butter mixture over the berries.
Add the remaining strawberries to the top of the mixture.

Bake for 40 minutes or until the center comes out clean.
Enjoy and think of the sunny summer days ahead!

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Random Musings: Love your Lentils


Lentils were an absent staple in my childhood and it wasn’t until late into my adult years that I did come to appreciate them. Today, I am a happy convert and no longer shy away from these mini discs of protein. I dug this recipe out of my notebook of loose clippings and handwritten recipes from friends and family. This one is from an American friend named Courtney, originally from Portland, Oregon. Our paths happened to cross in Prague.

I love lentils!

Some of the exciting parts about living abroad are the interesting people you meet from all corners of the world and sharing the experience of living in an unfamiliar land where you must learn and adapt to a new set of customs and rules. The most difficult aspects of these ex-pat friendships is never knowing when those friends might move, dealing with the pain of having to say good-bye and then mustering the effort to start all over again and find a new set of friends. The bittersweet cycle repeats itself: make new friends, but somehow manage to keep the old. I notice that the development of these overseas friendships are more intense in comparison to the ones that were steadily nurtured in the stable streets of my childhood.

Moving to a new city and then meeting others in the same situation, one instantly forms a bond with others who share the experiences of these major life adjustments. Those experiences quickly help shape your relationships and there are so many ups and downs that come with acclimatizing to a new culture that you bare all your insecurities with the circle of people who suddenly become your support group away from home.

After knowing Courtney for three years, she left and moved to Cairo, Egypt. As a farewell, she gathered her girlfriends (and one guy, my husband, who went home with a batman costume) for a clothes swap with some wine and nibbles for us to enjoy. She served this hot lentil spread and I couldn’t stop breaking a piece of ciabatta bread to scoop up the lentil purée. It’s absolutely delicious and I don’t know why I don’t make it more often. Courtney left plenty of fun memories behind, but this recipe is her legacy…

Hot Lentil Spread

1 cup red lentils
2 cups water
2 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
1/2 red pepper, chopped
2 red chilis (sliced thinly and with seeds removed) or 1/2 tsp of chili flakes
6-8 basil leaves, washed and chopped
4 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 juice of a lemon
1/4 teaspoon honey
salt to taste

Rinse lentils.
Put lentils, garlic, and 2 cups of water in a saucepan.
When the water start to boil, reduce the heat.
Cover and cook for 20 minutes.
When done, set aside to cool.
Using a hand blender, purée the lentils.
Add the red pepper, chilis and finely chopped basil.
Then stir in the lemon juice, honey, oil and salt to taste.

Reheat the mixture.
Serve with fine bread, sliced carrots, cucumbers or tomatoes on the side.

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