A Valentines Ode to My Parents

Happy Valentines Day!

I’m not one to go crazy for this holiday. It was a lot of fun for me as a child: exchanging little cards and candies, getting sick from sweets at school. But these days its just another holiday that, for many, requires spending lots of money on silly heart-shaped pillows. But it isn’t a “serious” holiday. No one gets time off work, or flys home for the weekend to have a special meal with their relatives. At most, some people may fly to see their honey on this day…if they are madly in love and have lots of money to burn, or really in trouble and need some impressive way to win them back.

But it is a nice holiday nonetheless. I don’t mind it because I know no one really expects me to buy them a teddy bear or a rolex. For me Valentines Day is a day to bake…if I feel like it. And I usually do. I whipped up some improvised Red Velvet Cupcakes last night, thinking I’ll take them to Hec’s parents house this Sunday. Trying to be cute, I put forth my best effort in calligraphy. I messed up a few swirls here and there, but you can at least read the names.

As I piped out the names of each person who would be in attendance I got a little homesick for my mom and dad. It’s not like missing Thanksgiving or Christmas, but I want to be able to share these little moments with them also. I have really gotten to experiment with lots of cooking and baking this year and, to be honest, I’m quite proud of my growth. I think my parents would enjoy many (probably not all) of the things I’ve been making. I wish I could deliver a batch of these cupcakes to their house on Sunday to eat after a family dinner.
So here’s to you, Mom and Dad. I love you both very very much. Thank you for all the support and understanding you have given me in life, and especially since I moved far away. It’s not the ideal situation, but please know that I love you just as strongly while down here as up there! Although you can’t enjoy the taste of these cupcakes, they were made with a lot of love for the both of you!

Quesadilla de Zacapa

We American’s know quesadilla to be tortillas filled with melted cheese among number of other ingredients. In Guatemala, while you do find this Mexican dish in many locations, the quesadilla is a sweet cake found primarily in the eastern part of the country, specifically the state of Zacapa. It uses a very salty crumbly cheese, queso seco (literally, dry cheese) that turns into a powder when you rub a chunk of it between your fingers. I suppose something like parmesean could be used as a substitute in recipes calling for queso seco, although it’s flavor is sharp like a cheddar or even blue cheese.

Recipes vary. Some use rice flour, others all purpose. Most of them contain a lot of butter, lard, cream, ect. My version is much healthier, if not too close to tradition. I was very pleased with the outcome, although it wasn’t a replica of the original treat.

Ingredients:
1 egg
1/2 cup fat free milk
1/2 cup plain greek style yogurt
3 T butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup queso seco or parmesean cheese
1 cup whole wheat flour, or rice flour
1 t baking powder

Directions:
1)Preheat oven to 350F
2)Beat egg. Mix together milk, yogurt, butter, and sugar.
3) Add the cheese. Combine thoroughly.
4) Mix in flour and baking powder until just combined.
5) Bake until toothpick comes clean, about 45 minutes.

Chocolate Pepitoria Cake

Choc Pumpkin Cake - Slice

I dedicate this post to Ellen, my celiac-stricken friend.

I saw this recipe on Whole Life Nutrition and had to make it right away. It contains an ingredient that has quickly become a favorite since moving to Guatemala, and I find any excuse to add to my meals, salads, and now desserts! This ingredient I speak of is pepita, or pumpkin seeds. It was used in a way I had never seen it before…as a replacement for wheat flour. First of all, I have rarely seen the seeds used in the U.S., especially not in their powdered form (known as pepitoria in Guatemala, and used to season fruits, to make stews, and even prepared as a juice); and I certainly had never heard of it being used for baking in place of flour. Can you imagine my excitement?!

Choc Pumpkin Cake - PepitasChoc Pumpkin Cake - Flour

I love the nutty flavor of pepita, but besides that, they are very nutritious — packed with omega-3 fatty acids and protein. And although it is good for you it has a substantial amount of fat and calories, much more than your average flour. So as a flour replacement it is quite heavy. However, I decided to give this recipe a try because it contains pretty much all good stuff: pumpkin seeds, coconut milk in place of much of the oil, and honey in place of much of the sugar.

Because the recipe doesn’t have flour, arrowroot is added to allow the same binding process to occur. At least that is how I understood it. I could not find arrowroot anywhere in Guatemala, even after asking my agricultural engineer suegro who knows everything there is to know about things that come from the earth. I researched some replacements and found that cornstarch, which is much less nutritious, might work as an alternative. So I used that. I also skimped a little on the oil, but I’m not sure that was a good idea.

So how did it turn out? To be honest, something went wrong with this batch. IMG_3158I’m not sure if it was because I did not use arrowroot, or because I skimped on the oil, both, or perhaps I’m just not a knowledgeable baker. It could be any of those things. The first cake I baked overflowed…oops (When making a full batch of something I have to make two small cakes because I use a toaster oven). I just filled the pan a little too full. And it was also deflated looking. I attributed the deflation in the first batch to the spilling over, but I’m not sure that was correct, because the second batch deflated as well. Sad…

But, despite its appearance, it tastes great! I love the nutty-chocolate flavor, and the cake was very moist. After tasting a piece from the first over-flowed batch, I decided to add a bit more sugar. It was delicious, but not all that sweet for what I was anticipating.  The recipe below contains that adjustment, however keep total sugar/honey to 2/3 a cup if you want to try the original recipe. Finally, the coconut milk was a genius addition. You can feel it in flavor and in the moist texture.

If this combination of ingredients intrigues you, I suggest give it a try. I really would recommend using arrowroot if you can find it. Try natural food stores, or whole foods, or even traditional grocers are getting fancy these days to compete.

Chocolate Pepitoria Cake

Ingredients:
2 cups ground toasted pumpkin seeds
3/4 cup coco powder
1/4 cup arrowroot powder (I used cornstarch)
1.5 teaspoons baking soda
.25 teaspoons salt
1 cup coconut milk
3 eggs
2/3 cup honey
3 tablespoon natural cane sugar or brown sugar
1/4 cup butter or coconut oil

Directions:
1. If you don’t have pumpkin seed flour, you can make your own. For two cups flour, toast 8 oz pumpkin seeds until they pop, about 3-4 minutes. Let them cool, and grind them in a coffee grinder.
2. Mix dry ingredients in a bowl, set aside.
3. Whisk together the wet ingredients, and then pour them into the dry ingredients whisking vigorously or use a hand mixer/blender.
4. Bake in deep dish cake pan, at least 9×9, at 350ºF for about 35-40 minutes, checking occationally. You don’t want it to spill over, now do you?

Ice Box Rolls

Icebox Rolls - Dinner Rolls

This is a dough recipe from my childhood. Although my mom never used it to make dinner rolls, as pictured above, it was the base for her famously delicious sticky buns. She bakes the rolls, filled with cinnamon and sugar, on top of a bed of oozing caramel and pecans, and serve them warm on Christmas morning. She would only prepare the rolls once a year, and then when we were older we learned to beg in such a way that she was convinced to make them a little more often, for example at Easter or Thanksgiving. Then came the day I learned to make them! It was deceivingly simple. I enjoyed the process of rolling out the dough, filling them, letting it rise, and turn golden on top, before smearing them with a cream-cheese frosting. I began making them semi-frequently that I started inventing occasions to drop a dozen over t a friends house — because who can indulge in that sort of thing so often?

Icebox Rolls - Honey SwirlIcebox Rolls - Pistachio Rolls

It had been a few years since I made them. When we moved to Guate and we didn’t have an oven in our “kitchen”, I figured there would be no need for baking recipes. That was very sad to me. Until I read on the Crockpot Lady’s site that you can indeed bake in a crock pot! Actually Héc was the one who discovered that…he wanted to make cornbread. And I believe that was the very first baked good prepared in the crock pot. So I asked my mom to send me the recipe again.

What I didn’t realize at first was what a versatile recipe it is. You can use it as a base for cinnamon buns, but you can also bake it as a regular loaf of sandwich bread, or mini dinner rolls too. Dinner rolls are the method I use most frequently, however occasionally I will roll up a batch of specialty dessert rolls filled with honey and pistachios, or even make rolls on the savory side filled with caramelized onions, garlic, and butter, for a variation of garlic bread. You can even toss some herbs right into the batter.

Icebox Rolls - OnionsIcebox Rolls - Rolling

Another thing I love about this recipe is that there is no kneading, you let it rise overnight in the fridge with no worries, and you can keep it in there for up to five days. Thats where it gets it’s name : icebox as in refrigerator of the old days. Its a hassle-free yeast break recipe, as simple to make as cookies. Its wonderful to mix up a batch on Monday and make freshly baked rolls for dinner each night. Its really perfect.

This that I feature below is a full recipe as my mom makes, however I generally cut it in half because in our house we are only two. A full batch can turn out somewhere between 3-4 dozen fist-sized rolls.

Icebox Rolls

Ingredients:
2 pkgs yeast
1/2 c. lukewarm water
3 tablespoons butter
3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoons salt
2 cups hot water
2 eggs
8 cups flour

Directions:
Soak yeast in lukewarm water. In separate bowl, place butter, sugar, and salt and pour hot water over this. Let cool. When lukewarm, add the soaked yeast, eggs and half of the flour. Stir well. Then stir in remaining flour. Do not knead. This mixture will seem too soft, but it is not. Place in refrigerator and use as wanted. Will keep for 4 or 5 days. When using, form into rolls and let rise about 30 minutes at room temperature before baking.

To make cinnamon-style buns, roll the dough out into a rectangle on a lightly floured surface, spread with about 3 tablespoons butter, sprinkle with a mixture or 1/2 cup brown sugar and 2 teaspoons cinnamon. Or, get creative and put whatever you want inside. Roll them up tightly and gently pinch the end closed. Make cuts in the roll about two inches wide, and place spirals up in a greased baking dish. Let rise about 30 minutes at room temperature.

Oven: bake at 400º F for 20 minutes.

Slow cooker: Place dough in a glass or ceramic pan that fits in your slow-cooker, and put some scrunched up foil underneath to support the pan(I use the lid of a canning jar). This is to prevent the bread pan from directly touching the inside of the slow cooker – otherwise the outside may burn before the inside has finished cooking. Bake for 2 hours on high, covered.

Thanks Mom!

Health Nut Bread

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This was a lucky experiment from last week that I wanted to pass on. It was complete improvisation and I didn’t measure anything except the baking soda and salt (don’t wanna mess those up). It was late afternoon, a few hours after I had eaten lunch, and I was starting to get hungry. Lately I had been craving
pan de queso, a sweet bread from a local bakery which is made with sweet cheese and pounds of sugar and butter (or perhaps even lard). They are rich and delicious, and the moment the idea popped into my head I started for my shoes. But then as I was looping the last bow, the thought of ingesting something that decadent slowed me down. I know that delicious things can be made with healthy ingredients. I sat there for a minute weighing the pleasure I might get from the act of eating the delectable confection versus the disagreeably heavy feeling I would have afterward.

I kicked off my shoes and went to our pantry box. I pulled out anything I thought looked good: dates, shredded coconut, walnuts, wheat bran, flour, honey from Ipala. I was lucky there were two bananas going bad sitting on top of the fridge, and actually you can see in the picture that when I held them by the stems the peeled themselves. I had recently made a batch of yogurt that was draining in the fridge, so I decided I would use a little of the whey to pack in the nutrients. This was going to be power food, not only to quench my craving but fill me with good stuff too.

I beat an egg, mashed in the bananas, added a drizzle of vanilla, a larger drizzle of honey, a slosh of the whey along with a few tablespoons of the yogurt, and mixed it all well. Then I threw in two large handfuls of walnuts, crushing them before adding them to the batter, along with a large handful of minced-to-a-paste dates. I had forgotten the flour, so at that point I added just a little, and realized it didn’t need much to reach a consistency I liked. Perhaps it was three quarters of a cup, perhaps less. I added some wheat bran for extra fiber, along with oats because I love the texture in cakes. Then the necessary salt, baking soda, and some cinnamon and ginger for flavor.

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