Tag Archives: Prague

Blossoms of Kisses

Peanut Butter Blossoms

Lately, cooking hasn’t been my thang. Since getting pregnant, the fragrances I once enjoyed stirring up in the kitchen are not agreeing with me. However, since I woke up from the first-trimester zombie state, baking has been something I can tolerate.

I think I have hit what they call in the pregnancy world the “nesting phase.” My husband and I have been steadily sorting and throwing out some of the “precious” junk items that we accumulated over the years. This also includes sifting through the giant food collection in our pantry.

I noticed there was a 40 ounce bag of Hershey kisses sitting on the top shelf. For some bizarre reason, my mother sent me these in a care package. I never had a history of liking milk chocolate Hershey kisses. I am a devoted lover of dark chocolate, so it was odd to receive such a huge bag. They must have been on sale and since we got them, the kisses have never been touched.

Kisses from Mom

What to do with a 40 ounce bag of Hershey kisses? Oh, what do we have here… a recipe for Peanut Butter Blossoms??? Luckily, the bag of kisses had not surpassed the expiration date. I can pinpoint the exact moment I first tried these treats. It was just over 7 years ago when I was teaching Kindergarten in Washington DC. That December, a student’s mother made me a box of assorted home-baked cookies, including peanut butter blossoms.

Pantry occupiers

My Filipino-American household was full of delicious home-cooked meals, but home-baked goods rarely made an appearance. I think the closest thing we ever tried came from a refrigerated pack of cookie dough and that only happened once or twice. In the Philippines, my mom didn’t grow up with an oven at home, they were not part of the usual household kitchen items. Imagine, all that tropical heat to bare and more warm air coming out from an oven! I barely recall my mother or grandmother ever using the one in our NYC apartment. Baking was not their thang.This is not to say that I was deprived of cookies when I was young. I had my fill of them when I visited the homes of my classmates. It was just something I never really grew up with.

It wasn’t until my mid 20’s when I started to bake and I have to admit it happened because I was sort of “forced” into the act. Cooking and baking became an important part of my Kindergarten classroom curriculum. Through this process the children were experiencing reading, math, science, art, writing and dramatic play in a fun and creative way. And along the way, I discovered a new interest. I love that saying “All I really need to know, I learned in Kindergarten.” In reliving Kindergarten with my students, I developed a new passion and although it came later in life, I am very thankful. Now, I’ll be one of those mamas with home-baked goods waiting in the cookie jar for little hands to attack!

For _________________

Peanut Butter Blossoms (adapted from the back of the Hershey Kisses’ 40 ounce bag)


Ingredients:

48 Hershey Kisses
1/2 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup smooth peanut butter
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 egg
2 Tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
small bowl of granulated sugar or fine brown sugar

Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees or 190 celsius

Directions:
In a large bowl, beat butter and peanut butter.
Add both the sugars and beat until fluffy.
Add the egg, milk and vanilla, continue to beat well.

In a small bowl, mix the flour, baking soda and salt together.
Then gradually beat the flour mixture into the peanut butter mixture.

Refrigerate for 10 minutes.
Unwrap the Hershey kisses.
After 10 minutes, take out the mixture and shape into 1-inch balls.
Roll in granulated or fine brown sugar.

Place on lined cookie sheet.
Bake for 8-10 minutes or until lightly browned.
As soon as the cookie sheet is removed from the oven,
place Hershey kiss into the center of each cookie.
Cookie will likely crack around the edges.
Remove cookie from sheet to a wire rack to cool.

Enjoy!

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Goodbye Plums. Hello Pears!

Autumn has made her appearance. All around Prague, the signs of summer have begun to disappear. The tables of our outdoor beer gardens are no longer packed with people and with glass mugs in their hands. The hills of Petrin have exchanged their green leaves for scarlet, yellow, russet and chestnut hues. People walk the streets in layers of long-sleeved sweaters and jackets, no longer able to show off their sun-kissed shoulders.

As my husband and I took the tram up to Jiřího z Poděbrad and joined the Burčák wine festival, (another sign the season is coming to an end,) I wondered if I could truly say goodbye to summer and embrace the Fall. I asked my husband what he thought and during our ride, we listed a few things that we would be looking forward to in this next act of the seasons. I’ll share five of them with you.

Reason 1: Being able to sit out in the Autumn Sun vs. the Summer sun. For me, this means not having to worry about wearing a high amount of sunblock protection and breaking out. For my hubby, that means having to sweat less and be able to bear the sun’s rays.

Reason 2: There will be less tourists in Prague and we can peacefully walk across the Charles Bridge once again without the heavy crowds and traffic of visitors.

Reason 3: My birthday is in October! (I was more excited about this than my hubby, he didn’t think readers would really be interested in this fact. Oh well.)

Reason 4: We both have a great collection of scarves and hats, our favorite accessories! Autumn’s weather forces us to sport them around.

Reason 5: Baking! I love to bake and my husband has no problem enjoying the treats. There is nothing like warming up a home with the scent of baked apples, butter and cinnamon floating throughout the house. Of course, I thought this was the best reason of all.

As an homage to Summer and a toast to Fall, I came up with a cake to celebrate the event of the Autumnal equinox. Since plums are usually associated with summer and pears with the fall, I thought I would pair them together with a touch of cinnamon. It was a delicious match!

Reader…What awaits you this Fall?

Pear Plum 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 small pear, peel, core and cut into 1/4 thick slices
2-3 small plums, slice in half, remove pits and cut into 1/4 thick slices
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
1 tsp. vanilla
1 large egg
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 Tablespoon brown sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon

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.

Pour mixture into the pan. Then decorate with the pear and plums, alternating the fruits side by side. Combine the brown sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl. Evenly sprinkle the mixture over the fruits and batter. Bake for 25 minutes.

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Beerlao & Fried Seaweed Combo, please!

Beerlao/fried seaweed combo

I have never been a big fan of beer. Well, maybe not so true. On a hot day, I do enjoy a tall refreshing shandy or a bottle of fruity beer, like Mango, Kriek or Peach. But does that really qualify as beer? I don’t think the purists would agree. Beer drinkers may object to the words “Sugary and Sweet,” it could tarnish the image.

Before we left for our trip, friends that had previously visited Laos, raved about the country’s fermented brew-Beerlao.  Many claimed it was THE best beer in the world. Ok, whatever, beer is beer, right? I live in Prague, the Czech Republic- a country well-known for its beer. If I couldn’t appreciate the third most popular beverage after water and tea here, how could I do that elsewhere?

Luang Prabang, Laos. One of the most gorgeous cities I have ever seen. The city is surrounded by two bodies of water, the Mekong and Khan Rivers. It was home to the spiritual retreat of the Royal Family, therefore Buddhist temples are found at every other corner like Starbucks in any cosmopolitan city. With temples and lots of them, come plenty of monks strolling the streets in flowing saffron-colored robes. My husband and I wondered if there might have been some historical intention for choosing this blazing orange color. The dramatic contrast of the draperies against Luang Prabang’s luscious green hilly background had a breathtaking effect.

Sunny Saffron

After we settled into our guesthouse and swapped our winter wear for something more suited to the city’s sunny and pleasant temperatures, we headed to town. With one main road, and a few side streets we quickly familiarized ourselves with the town’s layout. The central avenue consisted of restaurants, shops and foot massage stalls that catered to tourists. We decided to break away and lose ourselves in the village’s natural beauty. We veered off to the right and trekked along the river bank.

Not too long after wards, our stomachs began yearning for food. Fortunately, there were some local restaurants along the river border to rescue us. We came upon a balcony filled with white plastic tables and chairs overlooking the Khan river. We noticed that there were several native residents dressed in their hotel uniforms taking their lunch break. We didn’t think twice and headed for the nearest vacant outdoor patio furniture set.

Basking in the Southeast Asian warmth, we were extremely thankful to get a break from the gray cold winter we left behind. After all that traveling and walking, it was time to have our first Beerlao. The waitress took our drink orders and then it was back to figuring out what else to order. Discovering Lao cuisine was going to be exciting! Glancing at the menu, the words FRIED MEKONG RIVER SEAWEED grabbed my attention. Fried Seaweed? I wondered how different that could be from roasted seaweed, (just happens to be one of my favorite low-calorie snacks)  But, hold on… fried seaweed? I had to feed my curiosity and order it.

Lovely Luang Prabang

Our refreshingly cold 640 ml bottle of Beerlao arrived in moments. The beer was sold in two volumes. One could either choose a quart(640 ml) or a pint (330 ml). The sizes seemed peculiar to my husband. The waitress poured our beer into glasses that looked better suited for serving whisky. It felt strange not to have my fingers wrapped around the handle of a beer mug. Toast, “clink,”  sip…it finally felt like we were on vacation.

Hold on, did I say a sip? I downed that delicate glass of beer, a feat I have never before accomplished. On the rare occasion where I have ordered one with a meal, I’ll leave with my glass still half full. Was I thirsty? Was it the beautiful landscape that swept me away? Was I in fact enjoying a beer for the first time?

As my husband poured me another, our waitress had returned with our food. Sitting before us were a few folded rectangular pieces of evergreen Mekong River Weed. Glistening from its bath of oil, we noticed some of its other ingredients. Pressed into the thin layers were slivers of garlic, thin slices of tomato skins and sprinkles of white sesame.

River weed getting some sun

I looked at my husband, raised my eyebrows, shrugged my shoulders and reached for a piece. As I dipped the leaf into the side of curry paste, I noticed it was still warm and firm enough to pick up the spicy topping. “CRRRUNCH” were the sounds of my first bite. As I continued to eat, my other hand tried to catch the crispy flakes of  seaweed that were unexpectedly falling below my chin. The thin brittle texture surprised us, as did the flavor. There was nothing overpowering about its taste, it was neither smoky or fishy. I could sense the flavor of the oil, but the seaweed itself was subtle. In fact, I think the part I enjoyed about eating it was its crispness.  The cold refreshing beer and the crunchy strips of weed complemented one another for a fine first act.

Getting back to the beer…

For the rest of our stay, I ordered many more bottles of Beerlao. And just as I was beginning to relish its taste, it was time to return home. Like many other tourists, I purchased some souvenir T-shirts from the nightly Hmong Street Market. At $2 a piece and a their cool Beerlao designs, it was an amusing way to take the experience back home. I wasn’t going to pack cans or bottles to take back to Prague and sadly, their export market has yet to reach this part of the world. This was the end of the line for me and this backpacker’s beer,( its English nickname.)

Now, here comes the hardest part. How does one describe the taste of beer? In my opinion, Laos’ national ale had a very light flavor, similar to a Pilsner. However, there was something more refreshing and appealing about it but, I couldn’t yet distinguish why.

When we got back, I told my parents all about our trip. With my father, I went into great detail about my positive beer experience. (My dad has a knack for shooting off random facts at any given time, connecting bits of trivia to discussions.) And as I was telling him about my impressions of Beerlao, he went off on a tangent and began discussing the production of beer. From him, I learned that rice is one of the ingredients used to make most Asian beers. Huh?

Curious to know more, I did some research and soon discovered that besides using malt, the other main ingredient in this golden lager was indeed- jasmin rice! I heard about rice wine, but beer? Those grains that nourished me throughout my childhood were being used to produce beer? It made me think about chef Marcus Samuelson’s quote “So much of cooking and eating is about where do we want to go in our memories.” I wondered if those first few sips had awakened my taste buds and caused my brain cells to travel to a familiar and cozy place in my personal history? Maybe I needed a brew with a link to the first flavors of my youth to finally enjoy it or maybe, I would just never be a fan of beer.

Lao local gathering river weed

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Proof is in the Pudding

Blueberry Scone Pudding

I really enjoy baking and I always end up making excessive amounts for my teeny tiny household of two. Ordinarily, I would give the extra treats away, but this time I thought I’d  transform them into another delicious dessert. In honor of a visit by two dear friends, (he’s British and she’s Italian American) and a handy basket of ripe blueberries in the fridge,  I baked a batch of Blueberry Scones.

The recipe comes from one of my favorite cookbooks, Breakfast, Lunch and Tea by the Rose Bakery. (If you are ever in Paris, Montmarte to be exact, be sure to drop by… DIVINE!!!) Curious about how simple I found it was to bake scones, I asked my friends if it was a common thing to do in England. I was also wondering what people normally did with the extras. Scones, as I have experienced a day later, have lost much of their pizazz. However, I often feel guilty about throwing them out.  My friends pointed out that most people purchased scones from a bakery, hardly bake them at home and therefore it was quite rare to have any left overs. HMMM…

Following the Rose Bakery recipe I ended up with 15 blueberry scones. My husband and I each enjoyed one and our two friends consumed a total of 4.  All together that made 6. Now take that away from 15 and we are left with 9. Nine scones leftover for the very next day. But scones, as mentioned a day later taste a bit flat. Well… what to do? What to do?

As we were tidying up the kitchen, I turned to my friend and said “Don’t you think these would be good as a bread pudding?”

She nodded in agreement. Therefore two days later this is what I came up with.

Leftover Scone Pudding

About 2 cups of stale scones (in this case we used 9 blueberry ones)

1 cup milk

1 cup cream

1/2 cup sugar (add 1/4 more if you like it sweeter)

1 tsp vanilla

4 eggs, beaten

Optional: If working with plain scones, add raisins or currents and 1 tsp of cinnamon if you like.

Heat oven to 180/350 degrees.

Using a 8 inch square pan, grease -if not using a silicone one, crumble the leftover scones around the pan. (If your scone recipe doesn’t use much butter, drizzle about 2 to 3 melted tablespoons over the scones. In this step, you can also mix in the raisins with the bread if you are planning to use them.)

In another bowl, combine the milk, cream, sugar and vanilla extract (cinnamon as well, if using).

Beat the eggs separately and then add to the liquid mixture. Mix well.

Then pour the mixture over the pieces of scones. Press bread down into the liquid mixture to make sure that they are well covered and soaked.

Bake in the oven for 45 minutes. The top should look brown like toast.

Enjoy!

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Ham it Up: Filipino Style!

Filipino Hamon donning the essentials: sliced pineapple rings, maraschino cherries and a few sprigs of parsley

Uzená šunka s kostí is Czech for Smoked Ham with Bone. During the seasons of Christmas and Easter, one can easily find and track the scent of ham being roasted out on a grill in the streets of Prague. However, when I buy a chunk of  uzená šunka s kostí from my neighborhood butcher, I take it home and transform it into a Filipino Hamon. I guess that’s as fusion as I can get lately.

It’s an old family recipe. Coincidentally, this dish also happens to make a bi-annual appearance on our table during the Christmas and Easter holidays. Before preparing all the necessary ingredients, I would often give Pops a ring for a quick recipe review. As soon as I asked my father to repeat the steps on his hamon recipe, the excitement and delight in his voice was immediately transmitted over the phone as he coached me through his familiar routine. Nowadays with the help of Skype, I can even show him the piece I bring home from the butcher. Luckily, he always approves and can sleep well knowing that just because we don’t live close to one another, we can still indulge in some “Holiday Hamon” while living abroad.  This tasty, yet uncomplicated recipe provides you with a ham that is tender in texture and deliciously sweet in flavor. When you see the ingredients, you might be slightly turned off, but trust me, the results are absolutely divine!

Filipino Hamon as dictated by my father (prepare the night before serving)

1 Cured Pork Butt on the bone, with or without skin, it is up to you, so are the grams and kilos)

1 bottle of beer

1/2 container of pineapple juice

1 liter bottle of  7/up or Sprite

2 bay leaves

1/2 -1 cup of brown sugar (depends on how large your ham is)

Sliced pineapple rings

Maraschino cherries

Parsley

In a large pot, add all the liquid ingredients, ham and 2 bay leaves.

Let the marinade come to a boil and then turn the heat down.

Let the ham simmer for 30 minutes.

Then let it sit overnight. Be sure to rotate it at some point.

For the next day…

Heat oven to 200 celsius or 400 fahrenheit.

Place ham in a large baking pan.

Take a brush and glaze the ham with the liquid marinade.

Then rub the ham with brown sugar. Make sure it is evenly coated.

Bake for 30 minutes.

Garnish with sliced pineapple rings, maraschino cherries and parsley.

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Where the Red Kitchen Shops…

Prague’s Mosaic of Specialty Stores

Are you interested in diversifying the items in your pantry and creating dishes from countries you have visited or want to reconnect with those flavors from abroad? Fortunately, Prague’s melting pot continues to expand and as Anthony Bourdain once said, “People come with their food.” If you are looking for a few specific regions, here is a list of shops to buy the ingredients that are missing in the international aisle at your local Tesco, Albert or Bila.  To my fellow Prague People, feel free to add-on to the list!

Asian:

Korea Mart You’ll find fresh blocks of tofu, dried sweet potato noodles to make a plate of Jap Chae or some of those spicy grilling sauces to go with your next Korean BBQ. Just one block away from the metro and tram stops. Gorazdova 356, Prague 2, Mon.-Fri. 10-20:00, Sat. 10-20:00, Sun. 12-18:00

Arirang Korejské and Japonské potraviny Is your stir-fry missing something? This grocery store sells a variety of cooking sauces, such as hoisin, hot and sour and fish sauce. A good Pad Thai needs fish sauce! If you need to spice up your plate, fresh kim-chi should do the trick. The frozen section offers a variety of fish and seafood, as well as frozen eggrolls and mochi cakes.  Korunní 47, Prague 2 Open Mon.–Fri. 9–18:00, Sat. 9–16:00

Japa You’ve conquered rolling the bamboo mat; here is just the place to get all your ingredients to throw a sushi party. Wait, there is more. They also sell frozen dumplings, udon noodles and delicious Japanese rice crackers for a healthy snack.  Puškinovo nám. 10, Prague 6, Tel. 233 320 629. Wed.–Fri. 11–19:00, Sat.–Sun. 10–18:00

Shalamar Attempting to cook some Mataar Paneer and you’ve just realized that you don’t have methi or curry leaves in your pantry closet? You’ll find that, along with spices such as garam masala and cumin, as well as fresh vegetables like okra, hot peppers and baby eggplants being sold here. Also, if you just want to cheat, they sell prepared packets of dishes like Butter Chicken or Korma that you can whip up in an instant. You’ll find what you need for Pakistani and Indian cooking right here. If you’re hungry, be sure to visit the Pakistani restaurant right next door! Lipanská 3, Prague 3 Open Mon.–Fri. 6 a.m.–20:00,  Sat. noon–20:00

African & Middle Eastern

AfroAfrik Don’t be fooled by the African art, textiles or even the supply of hair products. This place also sells groceries; they are just located down the stairs on the bottom floor. You’ll find boxes of Fufu, flour made from plantains, frozen goat meat and fish, some vegetables such as yam and okra, bags of fried plantain chips and more. Stepanska pasaz 36, Prague 1 Tel. 777 324 928,

Farah Oriental Market As soon as you step foot into this shop, you will quickly encounter barrels and barrels filled with grains, legumes and fresh spices. They also have a deli counter where you can purchase olives, dried fruits or fresh meat. In their dairy section, there is a selection of halloumi and goat cheese. Their frozen section sells yufka (phyllo) dough so you can make some homemade borek. There is also a huge selection of Middle Eastern canned goods and breads for sale. Myslikova, 5 Prague 2, Mon.-Fri. 9-19:00, Sat. 9-17:00

Mediterranean

Nostos This Greek delicatessen reminds me of the ones I grew up with in Astoria, NY. The shelves are stacked with various bottles of Olive Oil, packets of dried olives and marinated olives for sale. The refrigerated counter is displays a wide selection for a mezze dinner, such as Taramosalata (fish roe spread), Melitzanosalata (eggplant spread) and marinated seafood. You’ll also find blocks of sweet halva, baklava, feta cheese and Greek yogurt, which you can use to whip up some tzatsiki at home. You can also purchase it ready made as well! Skolska, 32 Praha 1 Tel.775 282 952, Mon. – Fri. 10- 20:00, Sat. 10-15:00

Aromi La Bottega Don’t have time to make your own fresh pasta or some pesto? No worries, Aromi La Bottega has it ready for you. You will also find a good variety of Italian cheeses, cured meats, glass jars of marinated vegetables, such as roasted peppers, some spreads as well as bottles of Italian wine and olive oil. Manesova 83, Prague 2 ,Tel. 222 725 514
Mon. – Fri. 12- 20:00 Saturday 15- 20:00

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The One and Only: La Tortilla de Patata

la tortilla de patata

I didn’t fall in love with my husband for his cooking, but fortunately he does make one delicious tortilla de patata. This is a dish that he grew up with and although my Spanish mother-in-law is an excellent cook, he is the big winner in this category. This is something she can’t truly accept. Especially after finding out that he doesn’t cook it in a similar manner.  The tortilla de patata is basically an omelette intermixed with fried potatoes and onions. It is usually served as a tapa with a slice of bread and this basic and simple, yet hearty dish is ubiquitously found and enjoyed all over Spain.

What my mother-in-law can’t seem to believe is the way her son cooks the tortilla. During one of her visits to Prague, she was shockingly surprised to witness how he fried the onions and the potatoes together!  In her eyes, he had committed a sin.

In fact, there are many such opinions about how to cook tortilla and why it tastes better if made according to a specific way or technique. This is an endless topic of conversation among Spaniards and they can go on debating for hours around what we might think is a simple potato, onion and egg fare.  There are several factors that some people believe that heavily influence the tortilla’s outcome, from the right frying pan, to the oil, to the type of potatoes, to how one should cook the onions and potatoes separately, to the plate or technique used to invert it and well, the list could go on and on. According to my father in law, cooking with high quality olive oil is the secret to a tasty tortilla. Heeding his advice we traveled back one summer, from Spain, with 15 liters of olive oil in the trunk of our car. We even purchased a special non-stick frying pan so that our tortilla would simply slip out when it came time to invert it.

Luckily, my husband’s tortilla de patata is consistent in texture, flavor and looks.  He never ceases to satisfy me and our guests with this straightforward meal. This is what he had to say about his “technique”…

“Some people are going to say this is wrong because they like to put the potatoes and onions in the egg before it goes in the pan. I developed this system because I didn’t want to get more bowls dirty. It was out of economy. Soon enough, I discovered that this completely enhanced the marriage. It’s the egg. The egg is the traveler. The onions and potatoes are fine at home. Not a half-cooked meal traveling to a raw egg” J.A.

And this is how you cook it…

Tortilla de patata (a juicy version)

1 kilo of potatoes: peeled and chopped into quarters

1 large white onion: chopped

4 eggs

1/2 cup of very good olive oil (spanish preferred of course)

salt

Heat the olive oil in the pan.

When hot, lower the flame and add the onions.

A few minutes later, add the potatoes.

The heat should be low so the onions and potatoes don’t burn.

Sprinkle salt on top (to taste)

Don’t be lenient, it really adds to the flavor.

In a separate bowl, beat the eggs and throw in a dash or two of salt.

When the potatoes have softened up, (this takes about 15-20 min) , drain the excess oil out into a glass bowl. (Vegetables should stay in the pan, it’s a tricky one and will take some practice.)

Then add the eggs to the onion and potatoes frying in the pan.

When the top looks almost cooked, place a sturdy flat plate on top.

Carry the pan and plate over to your sink.

Flip the omelette on to the plate and slide it back into the pan.

It should only need a few more minutes to cook.

Enjoy warm or cold with some fine bread and a tomato salad on the side.

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