Baby Food for Grown-Ups

My first taste of this bowl of nourishment was some years ago at my mother-in-law’s home in Spain. The texture reminded me of baby food, but it tasted so much better. It’s not a pretty looking bowl of soup, but once you get pass that and have a couple spoonfuls of this thick and creamy purée, you will enjoy its delicious flavor and nutritious benefits.

I recently made this for a friend who underwent some serious dental surgery. Poor thing, she had to receive 30 stitches in her gums. Yes—ouch! Until her stitches are removed, liquids and soft foods are the bulk of her current diet. As I write, she has about 4 days left to go.

When I need a quick meal, I whip this up. It goes great with a salad or a sandwich on the side. And when my twin girls arrive, I am sure it will be one of my go-to dishes. Once they are ready for solids, it will be something the whole family can enjoy together. My mother-in-law would definitely approve!

Pure de Verdura (Vegetable Puree Soup)

3 potatoes
1 zucchini
1 carrot
1 onion
1 clove garlic
2 bay leaves
water or vegetable broth
bouillon cube (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
olive oil

Peel and chop all the vegetables.
Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large pot.
Add onions.
After a few minutes, add the other vegetables.
Stir and let cook for a few more minutes.
Then add enough water or broth to cover the vegetables.
(If just using water, you may add a bouillon cube here)
Add mashed garlic clove and bay leaves.
Let it come to a boil, then lower heat.
Cook for at least 20 minutes or until vegetables are tender.

Then set aside to cool.
When ready, remove the bay leaves and pour into a blender
or use a hand blender, to purée all the ingredients.
Pour mixture into a serving bowl.
Add a tablespoon or two of good olive oil.
Mix well.
Salt and pepper to taste.

Top with croutons and serve.


Homemade croutons

2 slices of whole wheat bread
Few tablespoons of olive oil
salt and dried herbs

Chop the bread into tiny cubes.
Heat a small pan with some olive oil.
Add the bread to the pan on low heat.
Sprinkle some salt on top and other dried herbs to your liking.
Cook until toasty brown on both sides.

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The Magic of Magdalenas

Magdalenas

My husband and I just celebrated our 6th wedding anniversary. When we met 6+1 years ago, we were both living in Washington,DC. We met two months after I relocated from the gorgeous land of Italy to the capital of the U.S. At the beginning of our relationship, I wasn’t exactly in the best state of mind. I was experiencing a bout of reverse culture shock. My reason for moving was work, but I moved to an unfamiliar city where I didn’t know a soul. I wasn’t really sure what I was doing, except that I had said “yes” to an excellent job offer. Although I tried to involve myself in a range of activities and meet new people, I remember feeling lonely and lost during those first few months.

That fall, I met the future Mr. Adventures, who moved to the States from Spain just three years before. Our paths crossed at a meet-up group for Italian conversation in a café at Dupont Circle. He says it took him 3 minutes to know. I was stubborn. Although I thought he was hot at first sight, the last thing I wanted back in the States was a boyfriend. I had plans to move back to Europe. But, he was cute, he was from Spain and we exchanged emails.

We hung out a few times and eventually I invited him over to my place for dinner. With my heart and soul still lingering across the pond in Italy, I barely did a thing with my new apartment. A few things were unpacked, mainly my kitchen ware and cookbooks and the only bits decorating my walls were photos of cherished moments of living in Italy. Stuffed in one of the corners of the apartment, were a stack of unopened boxes.

Interestingly enough, the few objects that were unpacked were items I had acquired during my frequent stays in Spain. Over the years, I took advantage of living a less than 2 hour flight away, to visit the Iberian peninsula and see my madrileña friend Laura. It was from her, her mother and friends that I learned a great deal about the food and culture. My favorite wine glasses are from Spain and they look nothing like the usual long stem tulip shaped ones we often see. These are just short, round glasses with a simple functional design that I adore.

When I served the wine in these glasses, the future Mr. Adventures was surprised to see them. After investigating my abode further, he was also amazed to see a Filipino-American girl with a cookbook from one of Spain’s popular TV chef celebrities: Karlos Arguiñano. Another funny discovery was when he found out that the reason I bought the book was for a particular recipe. He couldn’t believe it and felt like he was home.

Gracias Karlos!

When in Spain, one of my favorite things to eat for breakfast are magdalenas. I was introduced to this light spongy treat on my first trip to Madrid. That was more than 15 years ago. I arrived early in the morning and didn’t get much rest on the plane. To help combat the bad jet lag, mi amiga madrileña, Laura made a pot of strong coffee and to accompany it, she put out a small plate of these baked treats. Since then, I have been a devoted fan of magdalenas.

My husband believes that it was a sign. I believe that everything we experience in life leads up to something. I had no idea that 15 years ago when I tasted my first magdalena that it would end up having a role in my love story, but it did and here I am writing about it.

Don't be afraid to dunk it in your coffee! Que Bueno!

Magdalenas (adapted from La cocina de Karlos Arguinano)

4 eggs
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 3/4 cups flour
1/4 cup softened butter
1/4 cup virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon baking powder

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Place muffin cups in your baking tin.
Beat the eggs with the sugar.
Keeping the mixer on, add the butter and oil.

In another bowl, sift the baking powder and flour together.
Pour the dry mixture into the wet mixture.
With a wooden spoon or rubber spatula, gently mix the batter going in one direction.

Pour the batter halfway into the baking cups.
Sprinkle a pinch of sugar on top of each magdalena
and then place in the oven.
Bake for 15-18 minutes.

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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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Oatmeal Pecan Apricot Chocolate Chip Cookies

Oatmeal Pecan Apricot Chocolate Chip Cookies. Say that three times. That’s a mouthful, isn’t?

How to describe this cookie?
-Light
-Airy
-Crispy
-Like granola (brother’s two cents)

I don’t even know what pushed me to bake this morning as the weather in Prague has reached some incredibly warm heights. In between the sweltering heat, there have been spectacular thunderstorms, including flashes of lightning and drops of hail. It’s supposed to be June, right?

For the past few days, the thought of a combination of oatmeal, pecans, apricot and chocolate has obsessively preoccupied my mind. I searched for some cookie recipes, but didn’t really find anything that fit the bill. I went back to my trusty Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook, when in doubt that book always comes to the rescue!

I found a plain oatmeal cookie recipe and so I adapted it, not slightly, but a lot. The results were better than I expected. I love surprises!

Oatmeal Pecan Apricot Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 cup uncooked quick cooking oats
3/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup chopped dried apricots
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 190 degrees
Grease cookie baking sheet

In a large bowl, cream both sugars with the butter.
Add egg.
Then vanilla.
Beat on medium speed.

In a separate bowl, combine oats, flour, baking soda
and salt.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet mixture.
With a wooden spoon or rubber spatula, mix well.
Then fold in the apricots, pecans and chocolate pieces.

Drop by spoonfuls, keeping them 1 inch apart.
Bake for 12 minutes or until lightly browned.
Immediately remove from tray to wire rack to cool.

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Not Just Your Ordinary Banana Bread

Guys will eat just about anything. At least the guys in my household. Before leaving our home yesterday, I prepped a few ingredients that I planned to use later that evening for dinner. I chopped up some carrots, celery, scallions and put them together in a bowl with diced pineapples and tuna. I wrapped it up and placed it in the fridge. I also boiled up some elbow macaroni and left it, covered on the counter to drain.

The boys (this would be my husband and my brother) were busy upstairs painting shelves in preparation for the babies’ arrival. I planned to meet my friend, Ms. Alli B. and keep a good distance away from the fumes. I came home six hours later. The shelves were almost dry, the windows were all wide open and the bowl of ingredients I left sitting in the fridge was scaled down to half.

When I pulled it out to begin preparing the macaroni salad I had in mind for dinner, my husband said, “Oh, we ate some of that. It was a good salad.”

“What?” I said surprised as I looked down at the bowl.

“For lunch. I had some of the leftovers from take out and then I saw that and we had some,” he responded.

“You guys. This is for dinner!” I said shocked that they would just go in and eat whatever they saw. “I was going to use it for a Tuna Macaroni Salad.”

“Well, it was healthier this way,” my brother joins in.

I couldn’t believe they just ate it, plain and simple like it was and that they liked it. Chopped carrots, celery, scallions, diced pineapples and canned tuna. I managed to salvage the remains of what they kindly left behind and added the macaroni, mayo and home-made sweet relish. We ended up having it for dinner, but I was still suspended with disbelief. Amazed, in fact, that they thought that I had prepared those ingredients as a salad for them. My guys will eat anything.

The recipe I am posting today has nothing to do with my story, except that the boys gobbled this up too. It’s the recipe that introduced me to my all time favorite baking ingredient. If you have read the blog a few times, you would know what that means: buttermilk! This banana treat is not your ordinary banana bread recipe, it doesn’t even have a bread-like texture. The loaf tastes more like a cake. It’s sweet, moist and you can’t just have one piece. It is another recipe from the lovely Parisian café, Rose Bakery. Do go try this recipe and tell me how it goes…

Banana Cake (adapted from Breakfast, Lunch, Tea)

3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
3 ripe bananas, mashed
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/3 cups flour
1 cup chopped pecans
1 tsp. vanilla extract (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Grease a large loaf tin and line it with parchment paper.
Beat the butter and sugar until light and creamy.
Add eggs, one at a time and continue beating.
Mix in the bananas and buttermilk (and vanilla if using)

In another bowl, sift the baking soda, salt and flour together.
Then fold into the banana mixture, along with the pecans.
Using a wooden spoon or rubber spatula, combine and mix the ingredients well.

Pour the batter into the tin and bake for 45 minutes
or until your knife/fork comes out clean from the center.

Remove from oven and cool in tin before taking it out.

Enjoy with or without the guys around!

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Low Maintenance Birthday Cake

I am sure I’ve mentioned this before. I don’t like cleaning up the dishes, which is why when it comes to birthday cakes, I do adore this recipe. All the ingredients are placed and mixed into one bowl. Voila, easy peasy.

A few weeks ago, I interrupted my husband with a very important question. He was intensely curled up with Orhan Pamuk’s recent novel, The Museum of Innocence, when I said, “Can I ask you a question?” Sweet guy that he is, he paused to respond and gave me his full attention.

Here was the all important question: “What kind of cake would you like for your birthday?”

I was sure he was going to say something with strawberries, as he is a summer birthday boy and isn’t much into sweets. The first cake I ever baked for his special day was a Strawberry Shortcake and since then we have had other strawberry filled delights: Strawberry Mascarpone Cake, Strawberry Tiramisu, Strawberries with Chocolate Cake, just to name a few.

He looked up from his book and turned to me. With a thoughtful expression, he said “Mocha chocolate cake.”

I said, “Really?”

“Yes, that sounds good to me. I want something with mocha.”

Well, this was a first in our relationship.

Struck with disbelief, I asked once more “Really, nothing with strawberries?”

“Nah, mocha,” and he returned to reading his book.

No problem, I thought. Through many trials and tears, I have built up my confidence and relationship with mocha frosting. And I have, what I consider the best Devil’s Food Cake recipe. Why is it the best? Well, here are the two top reasons for me:

1) It contains buttermilk (my favorite ingredient for baking and it means you will get a moist cake!)
2) All ten ingredients are mixed together at the same time in one bowl.

It’s truly a low maintenance cake.

I quickly decided to make a devil’s food cake with mocha buttercream frosting. But then, the other day, mi amor throws a curveball at me. When discussing plans for his birthday, he says he really didn’t want a cake. He just wanted to go home and have some ice cream. I said, “Do you want me to make you an ice cream cake?”

“No, just plain ice cream,” he says.

I just couldn’t accept it. We couldn’t have a birthday without a birthday cake, especially since I already devised a plan for it. I was really looking forward to sinking my teeth into that moist chocolate cake and coffee frosting. So, this year we shall have both. We shall have ice cream and eat our cake too!

(Tip! Best if made a day in advance. The chocolate flavor will intensify!)

Devil’s Food Cake with Mocha Buttercream Frosting (adapted from The Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook)

Cake:
2 cups flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
1/2 cup butter, softened
3 eggs
3 ounces or 3 squares of unsweetened chocolate, melted
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon double-action baking powder

Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Grease and flour two 9-inch round cake pans.

Place all the ingredients into one large mixing bowl.
With mixer, begin at low-speed.
Stop constantly to mix batter with a rubber spatula
to make sure all the ingredients are well combined.
When the batter looks well mixed, increase the mixer
speed to high and beat for 5 minutes.

Divide the batter into the two pans.
Bake for 25-30 minutes or until the center
comes out clean with a toothpick or fork.
Cool pans on wire racks for 10 minutes.
Then remove from pans and let it cool
completely.

Mocha Buttercream Frosting

1 16 ounce package of confectioner’s sugar
6 tablespoons butter, softened
1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup cocoa
1/3 cup hot coffee

In a large bowl, mix at medium speed.
Beat all the ingredients until very smooth, add a little more coffee is necessary.

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My Favorite Rice Treats

Inarizushi & Onigiri

For the past ten years, I taught Kindergarten. I learned a lot about cooking and baking from my years in Kindergarten. A number of those years were spent teaching at two International Schools in Europe. The students in my class came from all corners of the world. Some of my favorite recipes come from those classroom experiences. Every week, one school period was devoted to cooking/baking and many parents graciously volunteered to lead the activity.The following rice recipes are from a mother of one of my former Japanese students who gave our class a lesson on making onigiri (rice balls) and inarizushi(fried tofu sushi).

Umeboshi plums and mint leaves

For the following recipes you will need umeboshi plums, which can be purchased at Asian or Vegetarian grocery stores. They are Japanese pickled plums which have a very sour and salty taste. When blended with rice and mint leaves it balances the intense tart flavor of the fruit. You will also need to purchase aburage, seasoned fried tofu. These come canned or frozen. Both foods are a delicious healthy mid-day or after school treat. It is a very simple recipe for children to follow. And as much as my students enjoyed making them, they also happily devoured the delicious rice snacks in seconds! Now, go and hit those Asian grocery stores!

(VERY IMPORTANT TIP! Make sure to keep a bowl of water by your workplace and remember to dip your fingers in the water before handling the rice. It keeps the rice from sticking to your fingers.)

Umeboshi Rice Balls (makes 20)

1 1/2 cups of cooked sushi rice
4 umeboshi plums (this is usually packaged with shiso leaves, add a few of them too!)
1/4 cup chopped mint leaves
2 packages of pre-cut crispy toasted seaweed

Remove the pit from the umeboshi plums.
Slice the fruits into very fine pieces.
Pull the mint leaves off the stem.
Rinse well.
Roll up and slice into thin slivers.
Add the umeboshi and mint to the rice.
Using a wooden spoon or wooden rice paddle,
mix all the ingredients together.

Remove the seaweed from the package.
Place a bowl of water and a small dish of the salt
beside your workplace.
Dip your fingers into the water and then dip
one finger into the salt.
Smear the salt into the middle of your other hand.
Pick up a small portion of the rice mixture and press
it into your palm until the rice begins to stick
together.
Take a piece of seaweed and wrap it around the rice.
Repeat until all the seaweed is used up.

Inarizushi (Fried Tofu Sushi, makes about 16)

1 cup of cooked sushi rice
One package of aburage:marinated fried tofu (found at Asian grocery stores, either canned or frozen)
1-2 tablespoons of gomasio (sesame salt seasoning found at Asian grocery stores)
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar

Gomasio

Mix the vinegar and salt together.
Sprinkle the gomasio and vinegar/sugar mixture over the rice.
With a wooden spoon or wooden rice paddle,
blend all the ingredients together well.

Separate the fried tofu pockets.
Bring a bowl of water to your workplace.
Dip your fingers into the water.
Open the skin of the fried tofu and
stuff the inside of the pocket with the rice.
Repeat until all the tofu pockets are filled.

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