I have a motto, or two...

"If you don't get it right the first time, try again."- That's my motto. Well, not really, but it was yesterday when my first attempt to make cream puffs turned into a complete failure. Another possible motto can be: "If you add one extra egg, the result will be bad". That's what happened, I added one extra egg because the recipe said 6 eggs. Apparently one was for the egg wash, though I didn't realize this until I had to make the egg wash. Fail. 

So there came the second attempt and the pride of having persevered and succeeded, followed by the regret of having eaten too many of them knowing that they have a whole stick of butter and a lot of heavy cream. Oh well...

I used a different recipe the second time because I got mad at the Bon Appétit recipe for not specifying in the ingredients that one of the eggs was for the egg wash. So I used the recipe from Su, of the blog webos fritos, which was actually pretty similar to the Bon Appétit one but a little simpler. And you know my motto: "The simpler, the better".

A few tips from an expert, a.k.a. myself  (two attempts in one day make me quite an expert). Make this. It's totally worth it and super easy (if you read the instructions right). The texture and the flavor are delicious and as good as any professional cream puffs. If your family is not big enough to eat about 20 cream puffs in one or two days, you can always take them to work; you will make your coworkers very happy. If you don't like your coworkers and you don't want to make them happy, then you can just bake the puffs that you are going to eat and freeze the rest for next time. Awesome, right?

Cream puffs
Makes about 20, adapted from webos fritos

For this recipe you need patry bags and tips. If you don't have them, you can use a resealable or freezer plastic bag as a pastry bag, cutting one corner. The result will be less pretty, but it should work.

7 tbsp/ 100g unsalted butter
1/2 cup /125ml water
1/2 cup / 125ml milk
1 1/2 tsp / 5g granulated sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/4 cups /160g sifted all purpose flour
4 large eggs
1 cup / 250 ml heavy whipping cream
2 tbsp powder sugar plus more for dusting

Preheat the oven to 350°F / 180°C.
In a medium sauce pan put the butter, water, milk, salt and sugar and bring to a boil over medium heat. Remove from heat and add the flour at once. Stir vigorously until the flour is integrated. Return to heat and keep stirring until the dough becomes glossy, about 1 or 2 minutes.

Transfer dough to a bowl. Add one egg and stir until fully incorporated. Add 3 more eggs, one at a time, stirring until fully incorporated before adding the next one. The final dough should be thick, smooth and glossy.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Spoon the dough into a pastry bag with a wide plain tip. Pipe out 10 puffs onto the prepared baking sheet 1.5 inches apart from each other (*).  Bake in the center of the oven for 30 minutes. Cool over a wired rack. Pipe out the rest of the puffs and bake like the first batch. When the puffs are still warm, cut them open in the center using a serrated knife. 

Beat the cream with the powder sugar until stiff picks form. Use a pastry bag with an open star tip to fill the puffs with the cream. Using a fine mesh sieve, sprinkle with powdered sugar.

(*) You can freeze the puffs that you are not planning to bake. To do that, freeze the puffs on the baking sheet and once they are frozen transfer them to a plastic bag. When you are ready to bake them, place them on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake as directed ( do not defrost).


Arlington's Farmers Market

No recipe today, just some pictures of the Arlington's farmers market. Happy Sunday!


Homesick cake

Yesterday I made my mom's lemon cake. This cake used to be a regular in her pantry. She would make it and we would eat it for breakfast everyday. When we finished it, she made another one. If I was at home when she put it in the oven, I just couldn't wait for it to finish baking to have a piece. It smelled so delicious and it's so good when still warm.

Having my parents over for the weekend made me a little homesick. I thought that this cake would give our little apartment the smell of home, and that was just what I needed. However, when I was gathering the ingredients I realized that I didn't have lemon yogurt. I didn't even have plain yogurt. The only yogurt I had was a blueberry yogurt. I looked at it and then thought, why not? So I transformed my mother's lemon cake into a blueberry cake. It wasn't better, but it was very good too. Next time I will make it with less sugar, as blueberry yogurt is sweeter than lemon yogurt. Another possibility is to make it with plain yogurt and add some lemon juice and lemon zest to it.

Breakfast cake

3 eggs
3/4 cup / 170g sugar
1/3 cup / 80g vegetable oil
4oz (a normal small container) of blueberry yogurt (or lemon yogurt for lemon cake)
1 1/3 cups / 170g all purpose flour
1 pinch salt
4 tsp / 16g baking powder

Preheat the oven to 350°F / 180°C.
In a big bowl whisk the eggs and the sugar until fluffy. Add the oil and the yogurt and stir until incorporated. 

In another bowl shift the flour. Add the salt and baking powder and whisk. Slowly add the dry mixture to the wet mixture, mixing until just incorporated.

Bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Leave it in the oven with the door open for 5 minutes. Let it cool over a wired rack. Serve warm or cold.


Eat your veggies!

Last weekend my family visited from Spain. My parents and their best friends, M&MT, came from Madrid to see us and the American capital. It was a great weekend of walking around DC, speaking Spanish, seeing museums, eating at great restaurants and enjoying the company. The weather could not have been better.

Yesterday, back to normal life, I realized that I had been eating out all weekend and that veggies had not been part of the menu. I'm a fruit and vegetable addict, and I was already feeling the withdrawal. Luckily, my mom bought me some veggies and some chicken at Eastern Market on Sunday, so making a healthy dinner was easy peasy.

This recipe doesn't have to be strictly followed. You can adapt it to your needs and taste as much as you want. You can substitute any of the veggies for others like butternut squash, yellow squash, green or red peppers. You can also change the quantities and you can't really go wrong with it. For the chicken, same thing. I made it with boneless skinless chicken thighs, but you can make it with bone-in thighs, breasts, drumsticks or whatever your favorite part of the chicken is. 

Pan seared chicken with ratatouille
Serves 4

For the ratatouille:
1/3 cup olive oil
1 onion, coarsely chopped
1 yellow bell pepper, diced
2 small zucchinis, diced
1 small eggplant, peeled, diced
1 14oz can of diced tomatoes, drained.
2 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp herbes de provence

For the chicken:
4 tbsp olive oil
8 chicken thighs (I used boneless skinless)

Heat 1/4 cup of olive oil in a heavy deep skillet. Add the onion and cook over medium heat, stirring often, for 2 minutes. Stir in the pepper and let it cook for 5 minutes. Add the zucchini and the eggplant and cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes. Stir in the diced tomatoes and the sugar.  Season to taste with salt and pepper and add the spices. Cook, stirring often, until desired doneness, for about 20 to 30 minutes. Meanwhile make the chicken.

Preheat the oven to 450°F/ 230°C. Season the chicken with salt and pepper on both sides. Heat 4 tablespoons of olive oil in a frying pan and sear the chicken over medium-high heat, 2 minutes on each side. Transfer the chicken to a roasting pan. Roast in the oven for 15 minutes or until desired doneness.

Serve the chicken over a bed of ratatouille.


The sushi burger

Make some room in your calendars because this burger is not an elective. I would say that it's a mandatory recipe for anyone who enjoys cooking. Although I didn't make up this recipe, I decided to call it sushi burger. Oh yeah! Japanese-American fusion. Call me Ferran Adria. Actually, don't.

Why did I call it sushi burger? Well, I didn't burn my brain for this one, it's pretty obvious. Because it's a tuna burger and it has wasabi, ginger, cucumber, avocado and sesame seeds (on the bread). The only missing ingredient is rice (not that rice is important in sushi at all...) Anyway, it's my burger and I decide how to call it. Well, it isn't my burger, but I decided to rename it anyway.

I'm super proud of the sushi burger. I had been thinking for weeks trying to find a recipe to use a huge tuna steak that had been sitting in the freezer for a while. Finally, I was able to sleep well. I had also been wanting to make these burger buns from smitten kitchen, so this was just the perfect occasion. Yay happiness!

To be honest, it took a long time to make this. The night before I took the tuna out of the freezer and put it in the fridge. In the morning I made the dough for the buns, which is a light brioche dough. There is nothing like working with a buttery dough because it smells awesome and it doesn't stick when you knead it. I put the dough in the fridge and I left for work (yes, I work, sometimes). In the evening I got home and I shaped the dough into balls. I went to the store and bought the ingredients I needed. I came back and preheated the oven. Then I chopped the tuna, the scallions and grated the ginger to make the burgers. I put the bread in the oven. I made the wasabi mayo and I cut the cucumber and the avocado. I took the bread out of the oven. I cooked the burgers. During the whole process I took multiple photos (except when making the burgers. Sorry, I forgot). Then we put everything together and we ate 2 burgers each.

Friends, when I had the first bite, I realized that all the work had been totally worth it. Trust me, this is not a regular burger. It's a burger made with quality tuna, sushi-inspired ingredients and a home made brioche roll. Plus you are not going to find this at any American or Japanese restaurant.

What if I don't have so much time?- you ask.- Then buy burger buns at the store.

What if I don't have tuna in my freezer?- Then you must be weird. Just kidding, just go buy some tuna.

What if I still don't have enough time?- Then buy a plane ticket to DC and I'll make them for you!

What if I don't have the money for the ticket? -Then go to McDonald's and stop asking so many questions.

Sushi burger
Makes 4. Adapted from Merrill of Food52.

1lb / 500 g good quality tuna
4 scallions, chopped
1tbsp grated ginger
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cucumber
1/2 avocado
1 box alfalfa sprouts
1/2 cup/ 100ml mayonnaise
1 tbsp wasabi
1tbsp chopped pickled ginger
4 burger buns (see recipe below) 

Finely chop the tuna, almost like if was ground meat. Put it in a big bowl. Add the chopped scallions and grated ginger. Season with salt and pepper. Add the egg and mix everything. Shape the mixture into 4 hamburgers and put them on a tray. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, mix the mayonnaise, the wasabi and the chopped picked ginger. Refrigerate.

Take the burgers out. Heat a nonstick pan with 3 tablespoons of oil. Fry the burgers, 2 minutes on each side, os less if you like rare tuna (I do).

Peel and slice the avocado. Peel the cucumber and slice it into wide ribbons using a peeler. Serve the burgers in the buns with the wasabi mayo, some slices of cucumber, some slices of avocado and some alfalfa sprouts.

Brioche burger buns
Makes 8. Adapted from smitten kitchen.

1 cup / 230ml  warm water
3tbsp / 45ml warm milk
2 tsp / 6g active dry yeast 
2 1/2 tbsp / 33 g sugar
2 2/3 tbsp / 35g unsalted butter, softened
3cups / 420g bread flour
1/3 cup/ 50 g all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp / 8 g salt
2 eggs (one for the dough and the other one for brushing egg wash)

In a glass measuring cup combine the water, milk, sugar and yeast. Stir well and let is stand for 5 minutes. Meanwhile beat 1 egg.

In a big bowl combine the flours and salt. Add the butter and mix with your hands, to achieve a crumbled texture. Add the liquid mixture and the egg to the flour mixture and mix with a spatula or a dough scraper. When the flour and liquid are incorporated, cover the bowl with plastic and let it stand for 5 minutes. Scrape the dough onto a floured surface and knead for 8 minutes. Grease a big bowl with butter and put the dough inside. Cover with plastic and refrigerate for 8 hours or overnight. You can also leave it a room temperature for 1 to 2 hours, until doubled in size.

Arrange 2 baking sheets floured with parchment paper. Scrape the dough onto a working surface and divide in 8 equal parts using a sharp knife or a scraper. Flatten each piece and shape it into a ball. Place the balls on the baking sheets, 2 inches apart from each other. Cover loosely with buttered plastic wrap and let them proof for 1 hour.

Put a deep baking pan with water in the lower part of the oven. Preheat the oven to 400°F / 200°C. Beat an egg and brush the buns with it. Sprinkle some sesame seeds over the buns. Bake one tray for 15 minutes in the center of the oven. If they get too dark, cover with foil and lower the temperature a little. Keep baking till the end. Let the buns cool on a wired rack. Bake the second tray. 


Typical Spanish meal, part II

Hi friends. Today I bring to you the second course of a very typical Spanish meal. If you missed the first one, it's here

So the second course, as I already advanced, is tortilla de patata (Spanish potato omelet). If you are a Spanish reader, you might not like this post so much, because you probably already know how to make tortilla and you might even think that your recipe is better, or that I am doing something wrong. Please let me know. I will be really happy to read your comments or recipes. However, if you are not a Spanish reader, this is a very valuable piece of information I am giving you, a very good recipe for tortilla de patata.

This dish is so versatile! You can have it for lunch or dinner, with a lettuce and tomato salad. You can have it for breakfast (it's eggs, right?). You can put it inside a good piece of bread and call it a tortilla sandwich (this is my mom's favorite way). Guys, this is the queen of Spanish cuisine. You will find it at university cafeterias, side-of-the-road bars, family-dinner tables and three-star restaurants. It's easy, it's cheap, it's made of ingredients that everyone has at home, and it's delicious.

Now you go to the recipe and read the ingredients, and then you say: Cheap? Two cups of olive oil is cheap? Well, it's true that unless you live in Spain or other Mediterranean country, olive oil is kind of a liquid gold. Trust me, I know, I live in America. I remember one summer I went to Pennsylvania to learn English, about ten years ago and stayed with a host family for a month. One night I wanted to cook for them and tortilla was the only thing I knew how to make. I still remember the face of my host mother when she saw me pouring their entire bottle of olive oil into a pan to fry the potatoes.

But hey, here is the thing, olive oil is reusable! Just let it cool down, filter it using a colander and store it in a glass or metal jar for next time. And if you still refuse to use olive oil, just use vegetable oil and well, it will still be good, but not as good and not as Spanish.

Tortilla de patata (potato omelet)

3 big potatoes or 4 small potatoes
1/2 big onion or 1/2 small onion
2 cups olive oil
5 eggs

Peel the potatoes, cut them in half, slice them as thin as you can and put them in a big bowl. Cut the onion in half and slice it thin. Add the onion to the bowl. Season with salt and toss to coat.

Heat the oil in a heavy deep skillet for about 3 minutes on high heat. Lower the heat to medium and add the potatoes and onions. Cook, stirring often until the potatoes are soft, about 10 minutes.

Arrange a fine colander over a big bowl. Using a slotted spoon transfer the potatoes and onions to the colander. Let them drain for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile beat the eggs in another bowl. In a nonstick frying pan heat 3 tablespoons of the oil from frying the potatoes. Add the potatoes to the eggs, stir the mixture a little bit and rapidly pour it into the preheated pan. Use a wooden spoon to even out the potatoes on the surface. Lower the heat to medium and let it cook for about 5 minutes, until the edges of the tortilla seem cooked.

Now comes the hard part. Cover the pan with a plate that is a little bigger than the pan. Hold the plate with the palm of your hand while holding the pan handle with the other hand. Lift the pan in the air and flip it over, holding the plate so the omelet rests on it. Carefully slide the omelet into the pan again, uncooked side down. Shake the skillet to straighten the tortilla and push the edges in with a spatula. Put it back on the stove and let it cook over medium heat for 2 minutes, or less if you like the eggs a little undercooked (like I do). Slide it onto a serving plate.


A typical Spanish meal, part I

Today I have the first of a series of two very Spanish dishes that together will make a delicious very Spanish meal. They are for sure two of my favorite dishes since I was little, as my mom makes both of them often and really delicious. They are lentils soup with chorizo (lentejas con chorizo) and Spanish potato omelet (tortilla de patata).

Let's start with the lentil soup, as it's always a first course. I LOVE lentils. I make lentils so often that Scott calls me Grandma Lentils. I even made my own curried lentils recipe, but that's not the one I bring today. Today's recipe is the very typical Spanish lentil soup, with chorizo and Spanish smoked paprika, a.k.a. pimentón. 

The recipe is my mom's, although I adapted it a little bit. I added more carrots, as I really like the sweetness that they give to this stew. I didn't add pork belly fat although my mom usually does and it's really delicious, so feel free to add it if you want some extra calories and flavor. They are also great with some other veggies, like celery, green peppers, leeks or grated potato. The greatness of this dish is that it is super easy and adaptable. All you have to do is combine the ingredients in the beginning and let it cook. Yay for easy recipes!

Lentil soup with chorizo
Adapted from my mom

1/2 onion, chopped
4 carrots, sliced
1 bay leaf
1 garlic clove
1/2 Spanish chorizo* cut in 1 inch thick slices
10oz / 300g brown lentils, rinsed
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp flour
1/2 tsp smoked paprika

In a big pot put the lentils, onion, carrots, bay leaf, garlic and chorizo. Add 1 quart / 1 liter of water and bring to a boil. Cover and lower the heat. Let it simmer for 1 to 2 hours (this depends on the type of lentil and the water), until the lentils are cooked and soft. Add more water, if needed, to desired consistency. Season with salt and pepper.

In a small pan heat the oil. Lower the heat and add the flour, stirring well for about 2 minutes, until slightly toasted. Stir in the paprika and rapidly remove from heat, so the paprika doesn't burn. Pour this mixture into the lentils pot and stir.  Serve warm and enjoy.

* Spanish chorizo, like Palacios, can be found in some American grocery stores and online in Amazon and La Tienda.

And in the next post, a delicious tortilla de patata!


Your first bread

¡Chan-ta-ta-chan! ¡Finally, I bring bread!
Some of you who know about my bread-making addiction asked me to post a bread recipe on the blog. The reason why I haven't done it yet is because I wanted to find a recipe that was basic and easy but good at the same time. When I started to make bread I usually chose easy recipes with very bad results. Then I started to make harder longer recipes. I read blogs, forums and webs exclusively about bread. I bought books and read them from start to end. I made my first sourdough starter, and then the second and the third. I experimented with different types of flour, different kneading techniques, different fermentation times. Bread making is a whole world, but lets start from the beginning.

Bread is basically made of flour, water, salt and yeast. These 4 elements, time, and temperature cause a series of chemical processes that transform this mixture into bread.

The flour used in bread is usually flour with high protein content, called strong flour or bread flour. When mixed with water, the gluten proteins arrange themselves in a chain structure. These structures are what give bread the elasticity of its crumb. The gluten chains are achieved either by  leaving the dough alone for several hours or by kneading it, which accelerates the process. Some additives, like salt, make this structure stronger. For other types of bread, bread flour is usually mixed with other types of flour (whole wheat, rye, barley, corn..) in different proportions.

Yeasts are unicellular microorganisms that belong to the the fungi family. They feed from sugars and transform them into alcohol and carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide makes the dough grow and have wholes in its crumb. Once the bread reaches a certain temperature in the oven, the yeasts die and the alcohol evaporates. That's why it's important to let the bread grow before baking. Yeast can be bought in two formats: fresh yeast and dry yeast. Fresh yeast needs to be stored in the refrigerator and only lasts about two weeks. Dry yeast has a much longer life and doesn't need refrigeration. Yeast can also be homemade. In that case it's known as sourdough starter or natural yeast. To make it, whole grain flour and water are mixed in a jar. The flour has natural yeasts from the environment, and doing this, their reproduction is encouraged. After 4 or 5 days feeding the mixture with more flour and water every 24 hours, an active culture of yeast is obtained. The starter is ready to make bread when it doubles  in volume some hours after the feeding. 

Uff, as you can see I can start to talk about bread and never stop. And so far I only talked about the basic ingredients. Let me tell you a little about the bread-making process and then I'll give you the recipe.

Making bread consists basically in the following steps: mixing, autolysis, kneading, first rising, shaping, proofing, scoring and baking.

In the mixing phase all the ingredients are mixed together. Autolysis  consists on leaving the mixture stand for 15-20 minutes after mixing so the flour fully hydrates and the gluten structure starts to appear. To talk about kneading I would need a whole new post, but in general it consists of stretching and folding the dough to encourage the formation of the gluten chains. The first rising can last between an hour and some days, depending on several factors, such as the temperature and the baker's preferences. Once the dough has fermented, it would have doubled its size. Then it's time to shape it. There are so many different ways to shape bread: baguette, boule, crown, ciabatta, loaf, buns... Once shaped, the bread is left alone to proof during 1 or 2 hours or until it doubles its size again. Scoring is done right before baking and it consists of making some cuts on the bread's surface to guide the expansion of the bread in the oven and stopping it from breaking in other parts of the crust. Finally, the bread is baked in a very hot oven with steam.

So that was just a very short introduction to the world of bread. Next time I talk about bread I will tell you more things and I will post some links to sites where people know a lot more than I do, in case you are interested. But let's do this little by little. Otherwise it would be overwhelming.

Today's recipe is for beginners. The only difficult thing about it is that the dough is pretty wet, which is the secret for the bread to be lighter and have bigger wholes (hey, I'm telling you secrets already). Wet doughs are much harder to handle but the results are always better. The original recipe, like most bread recipes, is made with bread flour. I wanted to try to make it with regular all purpose flour, just to see who it turned out, and it actually worked pretty well.

Simple Baguette
Adapted from Artisan Breads Everyday, by Peter Reinhart

2 1/4 cups / 280 g bread flour or all purpose flour
1 cup / 225 g water
1/2 tsp / 2 g active dry yeast
3/4 tsp / 5 g salt

Put the water and the yeast in a big bowl and stir well. Add the flour and the salt and mix well using a scraper, a wooden spoon or your hands, until the flour has fully incorporated. Cover with plastic wrap and let it stand for 10 minutes.

Dust a clean surface with flour. Scrape the dough onto the surface. Now it's time to knead. This is the hardest part because this dough is very sticky. This video and this video show the french kneading technique, very useful for wet doughs. Knead during 8 to 10 minutes, until the dough is less sticky and very smooth. Shape the dough into a ball. Grease a medium bowl with oil, put the dough inside and cover it with plastic wrap. Let it rise for 1 to 1:30 hours, or until it has doubled its size. 

Scrape the dough on a lightly floured surface using a scraper or a spatula. Carefully with your fingers, extend the dough to form a rectangle. Fold the third of the rectangle that is furthest from you onto the center and seal with your fingers. Turn the dough 180 degrees. Fold the other third, that is now furthest from you, over the center and seal with your fingers. Fold the furthest half of the dough over the closest half and seal with your hands. Put the dough so the seam side is down and using your hands roll it back and forth to stretch it to the sides, starting in the center and slowly moving your hands to the sides. This is much easier to understand if you watch this video and this video.

Put the bread over a baking sheet lined with floured parchment paper. Cover with a kitchen towel and let it stand for 1 hour. After 30 minutes, preheat the oven to 475°F/ 250°C and put a metal baking pan in the bottom of the oven. After the loaf has doubled its volume, score it making diagonal cuts using a very sharp knife or a razor blade. This video has a great explanation about how to do it.

Pour a cup of water over the preheated baking pan and put the baking sheet with the bread in the center of the oven. After 15 minutes, remove the water pan and lower the temperature to 400°F / 200°C. If the bread is baking unevenly, rotate it 180 degrees. Bake for 15 more minutes or until golden brown.

Let it cool on a wire rack.

Tips and variations:

1. If you have a baking stone, put it in the center of the oven before the preheating step. When transferring the dough to the oven, do it sliding the parchment paper onto the stone so the bread doesn't loose its shape.

2. This bread is exquisite when it's still warm and some hours after baking, but it's not so great the day after. Because it has commercial yeast and no preservatives it doesn't last long.

3. Do not try to shorten the rising times. Patience is the most important thing when making bread. In general, making bread requires little active time but long waiting times and it's extremely important to wait. The pimple that my baguette had was due to not letting it proof enough.

4. You can use fresh yeast instead of dry yeast using twice the weight as when using dry yeast. In this case, you would need 4-5 grams. Add the fresh yeast to the water crumbling it with your fingers. The rest of the process remains the same.