Tag Archives: ex-pat cooking in prague

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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Mom:1 Me:0

No relish, No good.

Recent phone conversation between my mother and I:

Me: “What do you put in your macaroni salad?”

Mom: “Macaroni, chicken, relish…the sweet relish…”

Me: “I can’t get that here in Prague. They don’t sell that in the stores.”

Mom: “Uh-uh, then you can’t make it. It won’t taste good.”

Me: “What else do you add?”

Mom: “Pineapple, salt and pepper…:

Me: “Don’t you put carrots and celery too?”

Mom: “Oh yeah and raisins.”

Me: “I don’t like raisins in it.”

Mom: “Well, you still can’t make it, if you don’t have sweet relish. Love you, gotta go, am cooking.”

Sweet relish is not been something you find on the shelves of the grocery stores in Prague. Sauerkraut in two varieties: red or white cabbage: Yes! Jars and jars of pickles: Yes! Sweet relish: No!

I proceeded to make the salad without that coveted ingredient. How important could the sweet relish really be? The pineapples would add some sweetness to the dish and so would the mayonnaise. At least that’s what I thought to myself.

But, as usual Mother knew best. After letting the salad sit in the refrigerator, we tried some. It wasn’t the same, it was missing something and I knew exactly what that was.

Uggh… If I was going to save this Filipino macaroni salad, I would have to make the relish myself. All from scratch.

And here it is…

My first jar of sweet pickle relish! Mama would be proud!

It wasn’t as tough as I thought. I turned on BBC news to keep me company and then worked on chopping the vegetables into teeny, tiny pieces. That was the most arduous task of the process. What followed afterwards, was simple, but it did take about 5 hours.

I immediately added the 4 tablespoons of the home-made relish to the salad. With my sturdy wooden mixing spoon, I stirred and stirred until all the ingredients were well combined.

I scooped some salad into a bowl and after tasting it, I immediately thought of my mother. She was right. If I was ever going to make this again, I couldn’t make it without including the sweet relish.

What makes mothers right all the time? It doesn’t matter whether I ask my mom about a big or small matter, she always seems to have the answer, the right answer and that bugs me. I get even more irritated when I disagree with her and she still comes out the winner.

Is that a part of motherhood that I will get to look forward to? One day, will I have all the right answers too? Will I possess the acumen to dish out the proper responses to my daughters’ endless queries? Well, at least I can tell them how to make a jar of sweet relish, when they find themselves in a country where it isn’t sold.

Sweet Relish (just in case you wanted to make some too)

4 cups diced cucumber (seeded and with the peels on)

1 green pepper

1 red pepper

1/4 cup salt

2 1/2 cup sugar

2 cups cider vinegar

1 tablespoon mustard seeds

1 bay leaf

Chop all the vegetables into fine small pieces.

In a large bowl, mix the vegetables with the salt.

Then add cold water until it covers all the vegetables.

Let it sit for 2 hours.

Then in a pot big enough to boil the vegetables, add the sugar, vinegar, mustard and bay leaves.

Let the liquid come to a boil, then add the vegetables.

Bring the heat to a simmer and let it cook for 10 minutes.

Then place in a clean jar. If you are an expert with sterilizing and canning, you will know what to do. If not, ask your mother!

Recipe for macaroni salad can be found here: https://adventuresintheredkitchen.wordpress.com/2011/05/21/a-cool-salad/

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Peanut Butter & Chocolate Chip Heaven

Peanut Butter & Chocolate Chip Cookies

From as young as I can remember, my dad has always had a sandwich made of two slices of toasted white bread with peanut butter to go along with his morning coffee. Peanut butter was definitely a staple in my house.

I love me some peanut butter too. I love it alone, with jam, with honey and I especially love it with some chocolate. And today, I am feeling naughty. I want to indulge. So far, I have been really good with my pregnancy diet. Even the doctor says I could gain a few more pounds. Therefore, I am going to allow myself some leeway this week. Not too much, just a little.

Peanut Butter and Chocolate: What a perfect pair!

I am craving something sweet, but I rarely do store-bought items. Star-studded bakeries: Yes! Grocery store: No! My mantra is the best baked goods for my body has to be the type baked by my own hands. Lately, I have been craving a peanut butter/chocolate combo and a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup is not what I am talking about.

One of my favorite cookbooks “Breakfast, Lunch Tea” from the Rose Bakery in Paris, France (a tres super place, make sure to visit when in Paris) features a simple Peanut Butter Chocolate Biscuit Recipe which I enjoy. One because it always satisfies the savory/sweet PB & Chocolate craving, but also because it is just a one bowl job! All the ingredients seem to flow one right after the other and the clean up bit is effortless.

Finger Lickin' Yumminess!

It has been especially hot these past few days in Prague and since I am on an little bit of an indulgent streak, I’ll bypass the glass of low-fat milk today and cool off with a Peanut Butter Chocolate Vanilla Ice Cream Sandwich.

PB& Choc Chipwich

Peanut Butter and Chocolate Chip Cookies:(adapted from Breakfast, Lunch, Tea)

1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup crunchy peanut butter
1 1/4 cups of soft light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
2 1/4 cups plain flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
7 ounces chocolate chips or chopped pieces of chocolate

Beat butter, peanut butter and brown sugar until light and creamy.
Add vanilla.
Add eggs, one at a time and beat well.
Using a wooden spoon or spatula, fold in the flour and salt.
Mix the baking soda with a teaspoon of hot water and quickly add this to the batter.
Then fold in the chocolate.
On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into two logs.
Then place in fridge and chill for 2 hours until hard.

Preheat the oven to 350 F.
Grease baking tray.
Cut the dough into 1/4 inch slices
and place an inch away from each cookie.

Bake for 15 minutes.
Cool for 10 minutes.
Enjoy with milk or ice cream!

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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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Two Buns in the Oven

For the past three months or so, I have been unable to cook, eat well and write. Sometime in the middle of December, I found out that I was pregnant. Shortly after that, my body was quickly possessed by nausea, fatigue and a new super power sense of smell. We spent our Christmas holidays visiting our relatives in Spain and the newly pregnant me unwillingly had to reject many delicious dishes of fideua, paella, jamon and even sweet pieces of turron. I lived on tea and dry crackers, but it’s all been worth it. I am going to be a mommy!

Fideua

The last thing I can remember cooking and happily eating was siopao(sho-pow.) That is the Philippine name for it. It is a popular snack also found in China and other Southeast Asian countries. In China it goes by the name Bao. When I was a little girl, my family would all pile into our navy blue 12 passenger van and venture outside our borough of Queens for Manhattan’s Chinatown. As soon as we crossed the Williamsburg Bridge, my mouth would begin to water. A warm, white, spongy bun with a scrumptious filling would soon be in my hands.

Now, when I say my family jumped in the car, I don’t just mean my immediate family such as my parents, myself and my two brothers. This also included my three aunts and my grandmother. Therefore, when we went to buy these buns we would get at least two dozen. One siopao was never enough. Two of my aunts would leave the car and head to the shop. The rest of us stayed behind in our family bus, most likely double parked, as we excitedly searched for their return among the crowds of people. In each of their arms, would be a white cardboard box filled with our steamed goodies.

The buns came in a variety of fillings: red bean paste, sweet roasted pork, tofu and vegetables or chicken and egg. The fillings, although very tasty, were never that important to me. I was more interested in eating the doughy parts of the steamed bun. I enjoyed their soft spongy texture and can remember many times being scolded for not eating all of my food!

Siopao filled with tofu, shrimp and veggies

Siopao is still a family favorite and when I am back in NYC, we make a trip to one of the many Chinese or Filipino bakeries that serve them. Nowadays, we don’t even have to leave Queens to enjoy them, she has her very own Chinatown and Little Manila. Sadly, I can’t say the same about Prague. Some days before I discovered I was pregnant, a craving for siopao had hit me. The only way to satisfy myself, was to make them. Fortunately, I had Andrea Nguyen’s book, “Asian Dumplings” on hand and her easy to follow recipe for Zheng Bao (steamed filled buns.)

Siopao is not something you can easily whip up, but it is worth the time and effort, especially when they are unavailable. I was actually surprised by the way my batch had turned out. The similarity of the texture and flavor of the buns quickly reminded me of the kind my family would purchase in NYC’s Chinatown. I couldn’t believe these were made by my own two hands. Between my husband and I, the siopaos didn’t last for very long. Two for a snack, two for dinner and two for next day’s lunch.

A few weeks later, at a routine check up at the doctor’s office, the sonogram revealed that I was carrying twins! Funnily enough, at that stage the two circles she was pointing to on the screen, known as gestational sacs, resembled two small siopao buns. Ironic- that the last thing I remember joyfully cooking and eating were these buns and here I am waiting for the two in my tummy to arrive.

Siopao!

Siopao (adapted from Asian Dumplings by Andrea Nguyen)

Dough:

1 1/2 teaspoons of instant dry yeast
3/4 cup of lukewarm water
2 Tablespoons of a neutral oil
2 Tablespoons of sugar
2 teaspoons of baking powder

In a small bowl, add yeast then the water. Let it sit for a minute.
Then mix in the oil and dissolve the yeast. Set it aside.

In a food processor, add the sugar, baking powder and flour.
Pulse it two to three times to mix well.
Then with the motor running, pour the yeast/water mixture through the tube.
After 30 seconds, it should start to form into a ball. If it doesn’t, add a few drops of water.
Run the machine for another 45-60 seconds.
It should form into a ball, with a few pieces of dough sticking to the sides.
Take it out and on a lightly floured surface, knead it for a few minutes, until it feels medium soft.
The dough should not stick to your fingers.

Place the ball of dough into a clean, lightly oiled bowl.
Cover it with some plastic wrap and let it sit in a warm place for 45 minutes or until it has doubled.
After it had doubled, punch it down.
If you press the dough and it springs up with a slight indentation left behind, it is ready!

Shrimp, Tofu and Veggie Filling ( should be prepared ahead of time and can be refrigerated for up to 2 days)

Sauce:

In a small bowl, combine the following:

2 teaspoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
3 Tablespoons lukewarm water
2 1/2 Tablespoons of light soy sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons sesame oil

Stir together well, making sure the sugar crystals dissolve well.
Then set aside.


Filling:

2 Tablespoons Canola Oil
1 large scallion, chopped into thin slices
1 cup of cabbage, finely shredded (omit thick center part)
1/2 block of firm tofu, sliced or chopped into fine pieces
1 medium-sized carrot, sliced into thin pieces
6-8 small mushrooms, chopped into tiny pieces
1 cup of cooked shrimp, diced into small pieces
2 teaspoons cornstarch dissolved in a Tablespoon of water.

Note: The smaller the vegetables are cut, the easier it is to place the filling into the dough.

Stir-frying the vegetables

In a wok or medium skillet, heat the oil over medium heat.
Add the scallions, and cook for 30 seconds, stirring constantly.
Add the tofu and vegetables.
Stir to combine and then add the sauce.
Cook for 3-5 minutes.
Then add the shrimp. Stir and mix well.
Cook for another minute.
Then add the cornstarch mixture and cook for another half-minute.
Check seasonings and add to taste, only if needed.

Set aside and cool.

Assembling the Siopao:

Pre-cut 12 4X4 squares of wax or parchment paper

Take the ball of dough and divide it in half.
Place one ball on a lightly floured surface.
The other half goes back in the bowl and cover with plastic wrap.
With two hands, shape the ball into a long log.
Then divide the dough into 6 small pieces.
Roll each piece into a ball and then flatten it out with a rolling pin or shape with your hands.
The center of should be thicker than the sides.

Take a spoonful of the filling and place it in the middle of the dough.
Lift the edges of the dough and bring them all to the center.
Pinch and close.
Turn it over and place on a piece of parchment paper.
You can rest the buns on a baking pan or cookie sheet.
Do the same for the rest of the dough.

Let it rise in a warm place for another 30 minutes.

To cook the buns:

Prepare the steamer equipment 10 minutes before the dough’s second rising is complete.
When the buns have risen, place the buns in the steamer and let it cook for about 12 minutes.
Remove each bun with a spatula and allow them to cool on a wire rack.
Remind your eaters to remove the paper before eating!

What to do with the leftover buns (if there are any…)

Wrap tightly in plastic wrap. It can be left out overnight or refrigerated for up to a week, frozen for a month.
To reheat, best to steam them for 5 minutes or dab a few drops of water on top of the bun and place in microwave for 30 seconds.

If there is leftover filling, you can wrap some in dumpling wrappers and pan fry or steam them!

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