Wednesday, October 31, 2012

My new favorite baking blog

I must share this with absolutely everyone who will listen.  My friends over at Sweet Athena introduced me to Sweetapolita and I have been glued to her blog ever since.  It's full  of gorgeous cakes, recipes, sprinkles, frosting and gorgeous photography.  I am finding a ton of inspiration!  Her cakes are spectacular with perfectly even cake layers and frosted with a professional hand.  I am so impressed and jealous of all her experience.  I am kind of falling in love with this 6 layer chocolate marshmallow work of art.  My kids are going love me and my husband and my thighs are going to hate me after I start trying out some of these recipes.  

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

3 fabulously Fall dinners

Cooking seasonally helps me feel connected to the Fall we miss so dearly in the United States.  It's sunny season once again in Ethiopia and I am desperately trying to feel connected to the falling leaves, pumpkin pie latte, visible chilly breath in the air, gnarly looking gourd kind of weather back home.  

One of my favorite ingredients is squash during this time of year (anytime really but especially during the Fall).  In the States acorn and butternut squash is prevalent but overseas we've had access to large yellow squash that taste somewhat like a combination of the two State-side varieties.  The squash in the Philippines was very sweet and creamy. In Ethiopia it's not quite as sweet and creamy but along the same lines in flavor. It's perfect for two of our favorite family meals.  

Have you ever made vegetable fritters?  Vegetables taste delicious this way and it's perfect kid food.  Smitten Kitchen has a great selection of vegetable fritter recipes but we prefer squash fritters like our cook in Manila used to make.  I've adapted Yaya's recipe a bit here (since she never wrote it down for me I had to recreate it-I kind of like mine better even).  
Squash fritters with ginger soy dipping sauce
4 cups grated squash
1/2 yellow pepper diced
1 green onion or leek diced
salt and pepper
1 large egg beaten
1/2 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
vegetable oil for pan frying

Peel and grate the squash ( 4 cups can be an approximation-slightly off is just fine), dice the peppers and onions or leeks.  Place all the vegetables in a large bowl and season with 1 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper.  Stir the vegetables so salt gets distributed.  Let the bowl sit for a few minutes to soak.  

In a small bowl combine the flour and baking powder.  Set aside.  Heat 1/2 inch oil in a skillet on medium heat.  

Get a large towel or cheese cloth and pour all the salted vegetables on top and press all the extra liquids out of the squash.  Return to bowl.  Add the beaten egg and stir.  Then pour in the flour and baking powder combination and toss to combine.  It shouldn't be too wet and gooey so there are liquids dripping off the vegetables when you grab a handful of the mixture.  It should only be slightly gooey like the photo below.  
Place handfuls of the squash mixture into the hot oil pressing to flatten the glob slightly.  The oil should sizzle nicely.  Allow the fritter to cook on each side-turning only once for about 3-4 minutes or until the fritter is nice and brown.  You want the egg in the middle to cook and the outer edges to be crispy.  If your fritter gets too dark turn the temp down on the burner slightly.  Use a sppatula to remove the fritter and place on a paper towel covered platter.  To keep the fritters warm and still crispy, heat your oven to 200 degrees and place cooked fritters on a drying rack or holed baking sheet before serving.  
For me, the ginger soy dipping sauce is what makes these fritters perfect.  It might sound like a strange combination of flavors but I am asking you to just try this sauce before you decided you don't like it...or the idea of it.

Ginger soy dipping sauce
1/2 cup soy sauce
1 large lemon juiced or 2 medium lime's juiced
6 cloves garlic minced
1 small white or purple onion minced finely
2-3 Tbsp grated fresh ginger
pepper to taste

Combine all these ingredients and then taste.  If you like a little more ginger-add more.  If you feel it needs a bit more citrus-feel free!  Keep in mind that the ingredients really soak and combine after the sauce sits in the refrigerator some.  I make this and we dip right away.  Any leftovers get placed in the fridge overnight.  The next day this sauce is a lot stronger.  Just a word to the wise.  Fresh ginger is the key to the flavor of this sauce.  Buy the fresh ginger and keep it in a plastic bag in the freezer.  Frozen ginger grates much nicer and you will never have to worry about it going bad.  Best part is that you will always have fresh ginger when you need it!

The girls like their squash fritters with ketchup (big surprise) but Justin and I like to dip the hot crispy fritters in the ginger soy sauce.  Delicious!

This next dinner is a recipe I found in Real Simple years ago.  It's become a favorite that we make often.
Squash pasta
1 box whole wheat spaghetti or angle hair pasta
2  Tbsp butter melted or browned on the stove
2-3 cups squash cubed
1 head of garlic peeled, cloves separated
8 ounces of bacon cooked crispy
1 cup toasted walnuts, pine nuts or hazlenuts
1 cup grated Parmesan, Asiago, or Romano cheese
2 green onions or leeks chopped
Salt, pepper, nutmeg

Roast the cubed squash and garlic cloves in a 375 degree oven drizzled with a little olive oil, salt and pepper.  Roast for 20 minutes then check the tenderness of the squash and garlic.  If the squash softens before the garlic, remove the squash and continue roasting the garlic for a few minutes until roasted.

Boil the pasta as directed for al dente noodles, drain, rinse and toss with the melted or browned butter.  Place the pasta in a large bowl and top with roasted squash, garlic, crumbled bacon, toasted nuts, grated cheese and chopped onion.  Sprinkle the top with a dash of salt, pepper and a generous dash of nutmeg.

A simple and delicious combination of Fall flavors.

The last recipe is one I tried from Smitten Kitchen.  Her recipes are always delicious.  I adjusted this one a bit for what I had on hand and the entire family really loved it.  It would be the perfect hearty meal for an evening after a cold trip to the pumpkin patch or family trip to the park to gather leaves that have fallen from the trees.

Bacon and white bean pot pie
Your favorite 9 inch pie crust
2 leaks chopped
2 carrots chopped
1 large white onion diced finely
6 cloves of garlic
8 ounces of bacon cooked crispy
2 cups of canned white beans rinsed (or one large can which ever you prefer)
3 Tbsp flour
3 Tbsp olive oil
3 cups cups chicken broth
salt, pepper, red pepper flakes

I decided to make this a large 9 inch pot pie instead of small individual sized portions.  It saved a lot of time. I also used my favorite pie crust recipe and it was flaky and delicious for the pot pie.  Just remember to omit any sugar your pie crust recipe calls for when making a savory pie.  I didn't have Swiss chard so I used leeks and carrots.  My kids wouldn't eat chard or spinach so I'm glad ours didn't contain any obvious green stuff!

In a large skillet I cooked the bacon and then removed it.  I sauteed the onions and carrots in some of the leftover bacon fat until softened.  Next I added the garlic and leeks, salt, pepper and a dash of red pepper flakes and sauteed until softened.  All the vegetables were then moved to a bowl.  In the skillet (with all the browned bacon and onion bits coating the bottom) I added the olive oil and heated it on medium heat for 2 minutes.  Adding the flour makes it sizzle a bit.  Use a whisk and combine the flour and oil, stirring until it's a golden color.  Slowly add the first cup of broth whisking as you go to combine the liquid with the flour mixture.  Constantly whisking and adding it slowly will prevent any lumps.  Then add the next two cups of broth and bring it to a boil, whisking periodically.  Soon a gravy will form before your eyes. Taste it and add salt and pepper until seasoned to your liking.  Turn off the burner when you have the gravy consistency you like.

Oil the edges of a 9 inch deep pie plate.  Pour the vegetables in the bottom and add the white beans.  Stir to combine.  Pour the gravy over the vegetables and beans.  Cut small vents in the middle of your pie crust and then gently cover the top of the pie plate with the crust.  Fold and pinch the edges. Beat an egg with 1 Tbsp water and brush on the top of the crust.  Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes or until golden and bubbling out the top.

This pot pie is hearty and flavorful.  It's a delicious meal on a chilly Fall day. Not that's its chilly here in Addis Ababa right now.  I'm just pretending!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

lots of stuff

Phew! This past weekend was really busy.  It was a three day weekend for the entire family and I really enjoyed having Justin home on Friday. Those freebie holidays are so great aren't they? Market Day was canceled since the embassy was closed so this was my second week in a row not baking.  It gave me an opportunity to make the most delicious pumpkin cinnamon rolls.  You have to try them!

On Saturday, we ran around the NGO Bazaar picking up souvenirs for Justin's best friend who is coming to town next month.  I loved choosing some special items for his wife!  I hope she likes them.

Dinner at the Chinese restaurant in our neighborhood proved to be a nice change to sending Justin to get carry out.  Ashlynn's now at the age we pack the folding booster seat and let her sit on her own.  She shoveled the sweet and sour chicken and pork dumplings like they were going out of style!  The girls qualified for ice cream cone dessert.  Ice cream in a cone is a million times tastier if you are a kid, am I right?
Eneye babysat on Saturday evening for us, but she arrived early enough that both Justin and I could take Addie and Bella to the movies to see Hotel Transylvania while Ashlynn took a nap at home.  I had not been to a movie with my kids since The Princess and the Frog in Manila with Addie when she was three.  The best part was the girls reaction when they found out I could come too!  It melted my heart they were so happy I could join what normally is a Daddy daughter date.  We all sat with our 3D glasses on and munched on popcorn.  I thought their heads would pop when I pulled out mini peanut M&M bags for each of them.  Mom's purse is a magical place.

Justin and I attended a grown-up Halloween party that night.  I say grown-up, but I mean twenty something party organized by the great, single, kid-less, young-ins. Don't get me wrong, the party was jumping up on a huge third floor terrace with a fire pit, fireworks and a DJ. Also, Justin and I are thrilled to still be considered cool enough to get invited to the parties thrown by this crowd.  But somehow, I have a hard time considering a 7 o'clock party with a fold up table covered in alcohol, two bowls of chips and salsa and delivery cheese pizza-a grown up party.  I brought a pie (it felt right for my costume) for the birthday boy (turning 24 or something as ridiculously young).  I literally ate three pieces of cheese pizza, a slice of pecan pie and a handful of candy corn for dinner.  It didn't bode well for my ability to consume alcohol that night.

Anyhow, I've learned my lesson and I won't be attending a party without eating dinner at home first.

We had to dig around in our closets to come up with costumes for the evening (costumes were mandatory-which is totally fun).  Justin amazingly had all the gear to be a Somali war lord and I had enough vintage garb to pull off a pretty decent Betty Draper from Mad Men.  The pack of cigarettes and white gloves I raided from my daughters dress-up box really tied the look together (HA! the gloves not the cigarettes).

I had a vintage hand bag and the dress was tea-length. That's a scarf around my shoulders with a broach.  I back combed my hair so it stood nice and tall on top but it's been years since mousse or hair spray has been apart of my beauty routine(I don't even own a working blow dryer) so my hair-do didn't stay up right.  Can I also tell you that Justin had to show me how to hold a cigarette properly.  I had no idea which way was the right direction.  Did you know that orange section at one end is a filter?  I had no idea! Justin laughed and was sort of appalled that I didn't have an ounce of cigarette knowledge in me.  I tried to think of a smoker I grew up around and could not think of one person that I knew that smoked.  Of course there was an uncle here or there and my best friend's grandma, but never anyone I spent a significant amount of time with.

My Betty Draper costume was lacking without a vodka gimlet in my other hand.   The red party cups with rum punch at the Halloween party were definitely not Betty's style (she's definitely super snobby like that).  It's been awhile since I was at a party with red party cups (not counting the parties where those cups hold juice for my children).  I'm afraid I'm getting old. But honestly, I sucked down that rum punch from the plastic red party cup, completely getting out of character for the majority of the party. All in all, the Halloween party was fun! Justin and I enjoyed the night out.

Sunday we hosted a wonderful brunch for two couples who are new to Addis.  The great part was neither couple had children so they brought mimosa makings with them and lingered drinking and talking with us well into the afternoon.  It was lovely!  Mimosas are delicious!  I made those bacon and apple crepes I talked about awhile ago along with my usual quiche, scones and salad.  Oh and I saved a pan of pumpkin cinnamon rolls to bake that morning.  Those things are addictive.  I love brunch and it's so fun to meet new people.

What have you been up to?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

chocolate ganache

In spirit of Fancy Nancy (whom my girls adore); ganache is a fancy word for a mixture of chocolate and cream.  You can use it as icing or filling or even as a sauce.  I like to use it as a decorative garnish.  It's rich, smooth and delicious.  Super easy to work with too!

My simple ganache recipe worked perfectly for the lattice style piping I did on an ice cream cake this week.

Sara's ganache
2/3 cup semi sweet chocolate chips
2 Tbsp heavy cream
1/8 tsp vanilla extract
pinch of salt

I don't own a double boiler and I don't really see the need when two sauce pans, one at tiny bit larger than the other, works just fine. Fill the larger sauce pan with about 3 inches of water and place it on a medium-high burner.  In the slightly smaller sauce pan place the chocolate chips and cream.  Fit the smaller pan on top of the larger pan with water.  Using a whisk combine the chocolate and the cream.  As the water below boils, the chocolate and cream will start to combine.  Turn the temperature down to med-low and continue to whisk until smooth and melted.  Add the vanilla and salt. Whisk to combine.  Remove the ganache from the pan below and let it slowly cool, whisking periodically.  It will thicken quite a bit as it cools.  When it's cool enough to touch and work with, spoon it in your piping bag or drizzle with a knife over your treats.

I used a small piping tip and plastic bag for my lattice on top of the ice cream cake.  It worked really well and even when frozen, maintains that smooth melted texture in your mouth.  I was really thrilled to have a bit of vanilla ice cream left over and some ganache.  Spooning the ganache over the ice cream is like homemade hot fudge that cools and hardens.  Yum!

If you are searching for something to drizzle ganache over, try pretzels to start with.  Or you can dip the pretzel in the ganache and let it cool on parchment paper to harden.  Homemade chocolate covered pretzels!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Born Free Ethiopia

I packed up the kids and the truck again on Wednesday for a road trip picnic with a bunch of other moms.  This time a visit to Born  Free Ethiopia was the plan.  Born Free is located about 30 km outside of the city (passed the Bethel Women's Center were we went to on Monday).  It took about an hour and a half to drive , mostly due to the traffic in Addis before you can reach the open road.

Born Free is a non-profit animal sanctuary that rehabilitates orphaned animals and provides lifetime care for older or dangerous animals that cannot be released back into the wild.

Once again a big caravan left the city, which meant there were an impressive amount of mothers and their children (ranging from newborn to five years old) that met up for a hike through the sanctuary and picnic lunch.

I strapped Ashlynn to my back and lathered the girls in sunscreen. Our new spf beach hats are the best $40 I've spent on Amazon of late.  The older two girls walked and hiked through the sanctuary from one fenced animal area to another without a single complaint.  It was a miracle and I am very proud of them.  We saw huge tortoises, baby cheetahs, lions, baboons, and monkeys.  Bella exclaimed that the turtles were "awesome" and was very nervous that the lions would "roar".  Addie trekked along with her little friend Avery.  The sun was out and it was a pretty serious work out with Ashlynn on my back.
Everyone was rewarded at the end of the tour with a huge tree shaded picnic area and our individual coolers full of lunch.  Everyone ate and the kids played.  It was a gorgeous sunny day and once again it felt wonderful to breath in the fresh air and get out of the city.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

road trip picinic

Expat Moms all over the city are scrambling to find things to do with their children this week during fall break.  The international schools are closed and everyone is frantically texting one another to piece together activities during the day so both Mama and kids don't go crazy.   I can't tell you how awesome it is to be connected to a great group of ladies who are currently staying at home with their children.  Many of them are doing so because they have recently brought a newborn back to Addis Ababa after being medically evacuated for the delivery.  There are tons of little ones at post now and I am loving all the Mom company that comes with that.

Five big SUV vehicles with diplomat plates left our neighborhood yesterday morning in a huge caravan to drive out of the city to Bethel Women's Center for a big picnic/BBQ.  The minute we hit the open road I sighed with relief.  Being in the city is so wearing and seeing the gorgeous rolling hills and eucalyptus forests as you get out of the city is so refreshing.

Bethel Women's Center is about 45 minutes outside of Addis Ababa.  It's a large enclosed forest area set up for group picnics.  Women in need of shelter live on the compound and create pottery, woven textiles and grow potted plants for sale to visitors.  You can bring food to grill on the large outdoor grills that the women will set up for you.  There is also a coffee ceremony that produces delicious tiny cups of Ethiopian coffee that are piled high with sugar.  Delicious!  There were twelve Moms or Nannies with children in our group yesterday.  It made for a fun afternoon and lots of play time for the kids.

All the moms packed something for the kids to eat.  Cheese burgers were grilled, precious bags of chips were opened and shared, vegetables were forced into the mouths of the children; the usual.  Everyone sat and ate, the kids ran and played and we all enjoyed the sun filtering through the eucalyptus trees.  It was a beautiful day to get out of the city.

The best part of the day was when the women brought out the small pottery wheel so the kids could have a turn at spinning pottery.  Both Adelaide and Arabella didn't want to quit when their turn had ended.
I think I see some pottery classes in our future.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

pumpkin birthday cake

I've come to the conclusion that I enjoyed the preparations for the Halloween party just as much as the party itself (dare I say a tad more even). Don't get me wrong.  The party was a blast, but I always feel a bit stressed.  Preparing everything this past week was just plain fun!  Bella was a real help with the sugar cookies, rolling out and cutting her own dough with cookies cutters.  Addie helped me bag the caramel corn for party favors and we all worked really hard on the decorations.  I love to bake and cook and having Ashlynn's birthday party as a reason to do these things made it even more fun.

I have the most fun creating amazing birthday cakes for my family.  This year I made Polar Bear cake (vanilla cake with lemon coconut filling and fluffy coconut frosting).  Justin made the suggestion that I tint the frosting orange for our Halloween theme and then I took it one step further and made the stem and vines out of sugar.  Green dyed flaked coconut acted as the grass.

To make this pumpkin cake you could bake any type of cake you want.  Simply add red and yellow dye to the frosting until the desired orange color is achieved.  The candy stem and vines look more complicated but it was actually fairy simple.

Candy stem and vines
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup light corn syrup
1/3 cup water
pinch cream of tartar
Green food coloring

Line a baking sheet with tin foil and spray generously with cooking spray. Roll 2-4 pencils tightly in tin foil twisting the ends so the foil stays.  Grease the foiled pencils and set in the baking sheet.

In a sauce pan combine sugar, corn syrup, water and a pinch of cream of tartar.  Heat on medium with a candy thermometer attached to the sauce pan.  Let it come to a boil and cook without stirring until the syrup reaches a hard crack temperature on the thermometer. Add food coloring and stir.  Pour the hot candy onto one side of the greased baking sheet.

Wait for the candy to cool for about 1-3 minutes.  Test the heat with your finger.  At the moment you can comfortably pull up the edge of the candy without it being too hot, is the right time to start working with it.  You want the candy to be quite hot so it's soft and bendable.  Peel up the edge of the hot candy and using a pair of kitchen scissors, start a cut into the candy about the width you would want your vines to be(leaving it still attached to the large pool of cooling candy).  Grab your foiled and greased pencil and start to slowly pull the cut end up and around your pencil twirling and wrapping the strip around.  Continue to do this until you have enough vines.  Set aside the vines on the pencils to cool.  I left the vines around the pencils for a few minutes until the candy is cool enough.  Be extra careful when pulling the pencil out.  Any bumps in the foil or the jagged twisted end of foil on the pencil could snag the candy and break the vine.

For the pumpkin stem take the edge of the candy and cut a much thicker strip of candy completely off.  Think about how tall you would want your stem to be.  Carefully roll the strip of candy into a tube and let it cool and harden on a wire rack.  You will likely have plenty of candy still to work with.  Try to move quickly so you can make more than one stem and extra vines with varying thickness and lengths.  You never know when your toddler will find the hidden location of your candy stems and decide to break a few.

If you are left with a large slab of hard candy that didn't get used you can break it into large shards and decorate cupcakes with it or using a mallet crunch the candy into homemade sprinkles for cooking decorating, as I did. I found putting the shards in a plastic bag before I started beating it with the mallet helped.

For the "grass" simply dye one tablespoon of water with green food coloring and stir in a handful of sweetened flaked coconut.  Once they are evenly coated and green, spread the coconut on a paper towel to dry overnight.

Before decorating your cake with the stem and vines wipe any excess oil from the baking sheet off.  After your frost your cake with orange frosting arrange the candy pieces and sprinkle the cake plate with the green coconut around the cake.

Ashlynn's Halloween Birthday Party

We celebrated Ashlynn's first birthday with a Halloween bash Saturday. Complete with a spooky playlist, cookie decorating and tasty food.  I was really happy with how it all turned out and it seemed as though our friends and their children all enjoyed themselves.
The birthday girl loved the frosting on her birthday cake.  She toddled around in her owl costume and after it got too hot, her birthday dress.  Then after her dress was covered in food a plain old onesie.  Ashlynn mostly had no idea all the fuss that day was about her, but we had fun celebrating our little girl.
Baked macaroni and cheese (which is a recipe that still needs some work and needs quality cheeses-alas I'm stuck with the cheese available in Addis Ababa)
Squash and bacon pasta with walnuts and garlic
Romesco spread
Spinach dip
Salami, tomato, olive and provolone melts
Green salad with citrus honey mustard dressing
Strawberry lemonade

Ghost meringues
Pumpkin sugar cookies with butter cream frosting
Caramel corn
Polar bear cake
We opened up Ashlynn's birthday presents later that afternoon.  Eneye made Ashlynn a traditional Ethiopian embroidered dress.  Tutu, Eneye's daughter was pretty thrilled with spending the day with Ashlynn.