Thursday, December 29, 2011

Shrimp Tacos

Currently, I am residing in Todos Santos, Mexico, with Imma who I went to Alaska with in August. Our friend Gracie is staying with us as well. The road here from Cabo San Lucas is under construction, so there is no road, just dust and rocks, and it goes on forever. When I finally arrived in Todos Santos, it was too dark to see the magic of the town. To recover from the drive, today was spent with a long walk on the beach, a midday nap, cooking and reading.  

Today's sunset

The beach here is intimidating. The pacific ocean collapses on the shore with such fury it is impossible to  leave the waves once you've entered. No one enters the water here, but you don't need to swim to enjoy its beauty. I walk along the beach during the tail end of the sunrise and the ocean is littered with life. So far I have seen a whale, birds of all types, and lots of sting rays. The sting rays swim in large groups close to the shore and as the waves crash you can see them tumble. When the waves have reached their maximum height, it looks as if you are looking at the sting rays through a class window in an aquarium. After the waves crash the tips of their wings break the surface of the water created many small ripples. This morning they were jumping out of the water exposing their white belly. 

Late in the afternoon, we decided to try out the barbecue with our left over shrimp. Imma was in charge of lighting the fire. It took a while, but after a trip to the local market to buy more lighter fluid we had a rapid fire. The shrimp cooked extremely fast.

To go along with the shrimp we made salsa and a salad. We also had avocados, cheese and beans on the side. We made the tacos with corn tortillas we bought at the local market. I also cut up some papaya and salted them. The tacos were very easy and used whatever we had on hand. Specifically, the ingredients I used were as followed:
  • 1 tomatoe
  • 1/2 onion 
  • refried beans
  • gouda cheese
  • 1 avocado
  • shrimp
  • cilantro
  • garlic and olive oil added to the salsa

There isn't really a recipe to follow when making tacos like these, but thats the fun part. Just pair ingredients you want to eat and see what happens. 

As we ate our meal, we watched the sunset. Towards the end of the meal, the night sky started to take over. The dessert sky is definitely something to be reckoned with. After we finished eating, we talked and watched the stars.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Sherry and Citrus Glazed Carrots

For the past three to four years a friend of mine, Camille, has thrown a wonderful holiday party in which we all dress up. It started out as a small get together with no more than ten people all of whom were local. As the years progressed more and more people slowly started to appear. This year we had a total of thirty people, which we were not expecting. In the past we had all worn our old prom outfits, played apples to apples and ordered pizza or ate some simple pasta. However, this year, with so many new people we needed to figure out how to feed them all on a budget while creating a presentable meal.
Camille and I

A turkey was donated to our cause and we ended up making some sort of thanksgiving dinner with mac and cheese instead of stuffing. With so many picky eaters and vegetarians the baked mac and cheese was perfect. We made two pounds of the pasta and it was all eaten. As for the turkey, i just followed the instructions from The turkey turned out perfect. We also made the kale and brussels sprouts salad I previously posted. However my favorite dish was picked out of Bon Apetit Magazine, Spiced Glazed Carrots with Sherry and Citrus.

We started out with 2 lbs of carrots, but a half an hour before the dinner we had eaten all of them! So we had to buy 4 lbs more. It was a very quick dish, which took away a lot of the stress. I am not posting the recipe and instead have provided the like in the paragraph above. However I do have a few comments. The recipe calls for exact amounts, but I have found that guestimates work out just fine. Also orange juice works out fine if you don't want to buy clementine juice. Also I added more water when 'boiling' the carrots which made the recipe easier and it turned out fine. Just do whatever feels right and the dish will still be perfect. Just remember to eat it while its warm! Cold cooked carrots aren't my favorite.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Mini Lemon Cakes

Things have been a bit hectic, this past fall. Adjusting to the quarter system at UC Davis  has taken its toll and I have been unable to keep up with my blog. I do regret this, but I have learned to manage my time better and hopefully I will be able to create more posts during the winter quarter. The course work at UCD is challenging, but I am enjoying it. I am looking forward to finishing Organic Chemistry and starting the upper division biology series required for my major. 

I have been on break for almost a week and a half now. So far its been good and surprisingly productive.   Two Fridays ago, I finally passed my driver's license test which was a huge relief. I also finished my immunizations for my hospital internship next quarter. They were all rather routine, except for the chicken pox immunization record. Instead of being immunized for the chicken pox, I took a blood test to prove I already had the chicken pox. I also got to see my girl, Nanny, the best part so far.

 After a week of winter break, things started to wind down and wanting to do something special for the holidays, I baked 4 inch tall cakes to give away. I made four and gave three away to some of my friends.

I used Martha Stewart's Lemon Cake Recipe, which I found online. The only change I made was substituting the buttermilk for milk and lemon juice. I did this partially because I forgot to buy buttermilk and I liked the idea of adding more lemon juice. To make the substitute I added 1 tablespoon of lemon juice to a 1 cup measuring cup and then filled the rest of the cup with milk. I let the mixture sit for about 7 minutes before adding it to the recipe. 

Baking these cakes was quite tedious, as I did not have small round cake pans. To overcome this problem I used a cookie sheet with a 1 1/2 inch border to bake a long, thin cake. I cut small circle cakes out of the parent cake, much like making cookies. The cakes don't have to be circular, but I found the circle to be easy to work with and it looked better frosted than a square or rectangular shape. I cut out 12 circles so each cake could have 3 layers. 

Next I used buttercream frosting to connect the different layers (The frosting recipes are at the bottom of the post). I added lemon flavor to the icing. After each cake was assembled I colored my frosting with food coloring and frosted each cake accordingly. Since the cakes were hand cut there are a lot more crumbs on the edges, which makes it harder to frost. To over come this problem I started with a lot more frosting than I needed and never let my icing spatula or knife touch the actual cake, only the frosting. The technique is similar rolling out pie dough. This will avoid crumbs appearing in your frosting and allow for a smoother frosting surface. After the cake is completely frosted I remove some of the extra frosting as I smooth out the cake. I admit, I still need practice when it comes to making a perfectly smooth cake, but that is what youtube is for.

In the picture below, notice the vertical lines on the side of the cake. My cakes were actually a bit lopsided, but the vertical lines created the illusion that they were straight by pulling the eye upward. 

After the cakes have been completely covered in frosting I let them sit overnight in the fridge allowing the frosting to harden. Then I made Royal Icing with egg white, also by Martha Stewart. This is the icing I used for the decorations. Unfortunately the icing wasn't as thick as I expected it to be, making it difficult to work with, because the designs would melt together. I most likely added to many egg whites per cup of powdered sugar. 

If I was to bake these cakes again I would change several things. First off I would buy mini cake pans, its just too much work without them. Also I would add more lemon zest to the cake batter and buttercream frosting. Instead of making the cakes three layers I would make them 4 or maybe even 5. I think the tall and thin look for small cakes is more professional. As for the icing, I would do a little more research and find an icing that is stiffer and can accommodate more designs.  I would also try a different icing for the outside coating, something tastier. 

Martha Stewart's Meringue Buttercream Icing
makes 3 cups

  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 5 large egg whites
  • pinch of cream of tarter
  • 1 pound (4 sticks) of butter, cold, unsalted and cut into pieces
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla or lemon juice
"1. In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring sugar and 1/3 cup water to a boil. Boil until syrup reaches soft-ball stage (238 degrees on candy thermometer).

2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, use the whisk attachment to beat the egg whites on low speed until foamy. Add cream of tartar and beat on medium high until stiff, but not dry.

3. With the mixer running, pour the sugar syrup into egg whites in a steady stream and beat on high speed until steam is no longer visible, about 3 minutes. Beat in butter, piece by piece, on medium speed.

4. Add vanilla [lemon juice] and beat for 3 to 5 minutes, until frosting is smooth and spreadable. If it looks curdled at any point during the beating process, keep beating to smooth it out. If it becomes too soft for piping, stir over ice water to stiffen."

Martha Stewart's Royal Icing 
makes about 2 1/2 cups
  • 3 large egg whites
  • 4 cups of confectioners' sugar (powdered sugar)
"1. Place egg whites in an electric mixer (it should be very clean and dry) and beat, using the whisk attachment, until frothy. Add 1.4 cup of sugar and mix well. Gradually add remaining sugar, beating on low speed and scraping down sides.

2. Increase speed to high and continue to beat mixture until soft peaks form, about 5 minutes. At this stage, icing will be very thick. Add water [lemon juice], a few drops at a time, to thin it to consistency of a thick mayonnaise; after that it depends on the kinds of decorating you are doing. As a rule, icing should be stiffer for making petals, more malleable for lettering- but you will need to experiment. Storing icing at room temperature in an airtight container; keep bowl covered while working with icing. It should be used within two days."

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Sweet Potato Casserole With Pecan Crumble

This post is a continuation of Thanksgiving from the previous post, Kale and Brussels Sprout Salad. By the time I got around to making this dish, around 3 pm, my feet were aching from cooking since a little before 10 am. Thankfully, I had help preparing the sweet potatoes. 

As usual, we were running late, since we planned on eating at 4 pm and we still had over an hour of work to do. However, guests had started to arrive and everyone pitched in, shortening the preparation time. Around this time, when the kitchen is fully of chatter and I am surrounded by familiar faces, I remember why Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. 


At the end of the dinner, pictures are being taken everywhere. With so many cousins its hard to get everyone in one photo, but we manage. This year, we had a new addition to the family, with the birth of my cousin Amber's baby.

Right to left: Amber, me, Sophie, Natalie, Todd, Tess, Loni
I have always wanted to make some sort of sweet potato casserole for Thanksgiving, but I worried the dish would be too sweet. Yes, this dish is sweet, but its more of a natural sweet, full of fall spices.I have always had a large sweet tooth so this dish was the perfect addition. Placing a dab of this casserole in the middle of my plate I was able to mix a little into every bite. The combination of nutmeg and ginger is absolutely stunning.  I look forward to another occasion to make this casserole. 

"This is an especially festive, over-the-top take on the classic Thanksgiving casserole, topped with a crisp pecan crumble and dotted with marshmallows.

For the Filling:
  • 3 lbs sweet potatoes
  • 1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 6 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon 
  • 1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 1" piece ginger, finely grated freshly ground black pepper, to taste

For the Crumble Topping:
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped pecans
  • 1/2  tsp kosher salt
  • 5 tbsp unsalted butter, cubed and chilled
  • 1/4 cup mini marshmallows

1. Heat oven to 425 degrees. Place sweet potatoes on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and bake until soft, about 1 1/2 hours; let cool for 30 minutes, and then remove skins. Pass potatoes through a food mill into a large bowl; stir in sugar, butter, cream, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, eggs, ginger, and pepper. Pour mixture into a 1 1/2 qt. baking dish and smooth top; set aside.

2. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees. Stir together flour, oats, sugar, pecans, and salt in a bowl; add butter and, using your fingers, rub butter into flour mixture until large crumbles form. Mound crumble mixture over filling, dot with marshmallows, and bake until filling is hot and crumble and marshmallows are browned, about 30 minutes. Let cool for 15 minutes before serving."

The picture and recipe description are from the Saveur Magazine.

Kale and Brussels Sprout Salad

This year was, most likely, my families last Thanksgiving at my Uncle Mark's house in Sacramento. Every year, since we moved back to California, we have attended Thanksgiving at my Uncle Mark's house with about 25 other guests, including family in friends. It has been a very nice tradition and definitely my favorite holiday. I mean, what's better than a day simply about food, family and friends? It seems that everyone is happy on Thanksgiving, despite prior disputes and anxieties. Uncle Mark and his family have moved to a beautiful plot of land in Clarksburg, California. The property is perfect for them, and their kids, Asher and Talia, love it. 

This year my dad and I cooked the Thanksgiving dinner with the help of my Aunt Jen. As usual my fantastic cousins, the Olender's, brought amazing pies for dessert. My dad cooked the turkey, which my Aunt Jen's father raised, and the stuffing. With the help of family and friends, I made the side dishes; bacon mac and cheese, salad, mashed potatoes, creamed peas with bacon and a sweet potatoes casserole. I have only posted the sweet potato casserole and salad recipe. 

I added the salad to try and lighten things up. I was worried at first, because we have never had a salad for thanksgiving before, but it worked out perfectly. It was everyone's favorite dish. The salad is light, but crunchy enabling it to keep up with the rest of hearty Thanksgiving dishes. Even though we all ate ourselves into food comas, the salad allowed us to feel a little less guilty about it. 

"A bright alternative to heavy sides, this salad features Tuscan kale."
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 Tbsp minced shallot
  • 1 small garlic clove, finely grated
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt plus more for seasoning
  • Freshly ground black pepper for seasoning
  • 2 large bunches of Tuscan Kale (about 1 1/2 lb. total), center stem discarded, leaves thinly sliced
  • 12 oz.  brussels sprouts, trimmed, finely grated or shredded with a knife
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1/3 cup almonds with skins, coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup finely grated Pecorino

In a small bowl combine lemon juice, mustard, shallots, garlic, salt and pepper. Stir and set aside. 

In a large bowl, combine thinly sliced kale and shredded brussels sprouts.

"Measure 1/2 cup oil into a cup. Spoon 1 Tbsp oil from cup into a small skillet; heat oil over medium-high heat. Add almonds to skillet and stir frequently until golden brown in spots, about 2 minutes.  Transfer nuts to a paper towl-lined plate. Sprinkle almonds lightly with salt.

Slowly whisk remaining olive oil in cup into lemon-juice mixture. Season dressing to taste with salt and pepper. DO AHEAD: Dressing, kale mixture, and toasted almonds can be prepared 8 hours ahead. Cover dressing and kale mixture separately and chill. Cover almonds and let stand at room temperature. 

Add dressing and cheese to kale mixture; toss to coat. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Garnish with almonds."

The picture and recipe description are both from the Bon Apetit Magazine. 

My dachshund, Nanny, and I

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