My Attempt at Coconut Arroz con Leche

The recipe for rice pudding varies throughout the world, and in the East one of its common ingredients is coconut milk.   The only time I’d ever had it was when I went to International Market in Nashville with the Habitat Board last year, but today was the first time I attempted making it.  It’s not “authentic” by any means; I just felt like making arroz con leche out of some leftover white rice we had, and since we had no evaporated milk (I make my arroz con leche with milk, evaporated milk, and condensed milk), I replaced it with some Goya coconut milk I found in the pantry.  I followed my original recipe, the only alteration being the coconut milk, a dash of nutmeg, and the addition of the piece of lemon peel and cinnamon sticks since they didn’t get to cook with the rice.  It came out well.  The coconut gives it a different kind of sweetness, so I probably could have eased up on the sugar, and the nutmeg gives it that extra kick of spice.  I saw Alton Brown making an Indian-inspired rice pudding with coconut milk, and he added cardamon, currants, and pistachios to his.  I didn’t have cardamon, so I used nutmeg instead, and I can’t bring myself to use anything like raisins in rice pudding.  It’s often listed as optional in recipes but I NEVER had it with raisins as a kid so to me it seems blasphemous and inauthentic.   This simple substitution tasted great, but I’ll probably stick to making it the good old fashioned Cuban way. : )

The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry by Kathleen Flinn

When Kathleen Flinn was fired from her 9 to 5 job, she decided to do what she’s always wanted to do–attend the prestigious French cooking school, Le Cordon Bleu.  She packed up her corporate life and in a matter of days rented an apartment in Paris and began her journey not only through the culinary arts, but also herself.   Flinn, who took countless pages of meticulous notes while there, saturates the book in delicious details about the food and Paris in general, and also her experiences in class, her classmates, and her colorful–or not so colorful–chefs.   This book entertains, teaches, and inspires.   Flinn’s style is easy and personal while she shares her hardships, happiness, and hilarious mishaps.  Each chapter ends with a recipe, often something she learns in class or that is referenced to in the chapter, and another acquired piece of wisdom about life, either overtly or subtly.  This is a true story of having the courage to live the life you want, a story that appeals to me since I’m always thinking about how to live my life.  Books about renewal and self-discovery, like Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love, always get to me.  The Curious Case of Benjamin Button had a similar message:  it’s never to late to start over and live passionately, and Flinn’s novel inspires you to have that courage.

Holiday Days

I’ve been in my pajamas for the past two days, but I did have the decency to shower.   Christmas went well, but it was exhausting.  I ended up making a regular delicious flan instead of coconut flan, because trying two new desserts for a holiday is generally a bad idea since you can very well be left with two crappy ones.   I made the desserts the day before Christmas Eve after catching up with some of the amigas, and I spent Christmas Eve making presents for my family (I am proud to say 95% of my gifts this season were handmade–three leather journals, a sketchbook, a recipe book, and dulce de leche), but I did take time out to enjoy dinner and a few hours of Catchphrase with the fam.  Christmas day was no less hectic, spending the day with Ryan’s family, including his adorable but energetic nieces who took to climbing all over me.  I had one on my back and one in my arms at one point,  as I walked around looking for Ryan–in heels.   It was fun, but exhausting.   I was further forced to socialize that night at home when we had family friends over, which was also fun but I got sick that night because I ate too many leftovers (not eating hashbrown casserole for a while).  The next day I went to see The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, aka, the greatest film this year.  Seriously.  So after all that activity, I retreated to my pajamas.  I’ve read two books, The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry, and Watchmen the past couple days.  It’s been nice taking these lazy days since that’s really what vacation is about.  I won’t be able to do this when school starts again.  Well, without guilt at least.  Tomorrow is the Amigas’ New Year’s Eve’s Eve Party/Sleepover and I’m also going to the spa to get a facial since mom got me a giftcard for Christmas.  Hopefully, it’ll be relaxing and ease my reentry into the world after these delicious days away from it. :)

New Resolution

In an effort to get back in shape, I’ve been working out pretty hard the past few days, and I’ve had an epiphany that has given me all the motivation I need: The only thing that has been keeping me from the body I want is pure, unadulterated LAZINESS, and that is pathetic. So since I don’t want to be pathetic, I’ve decided to commit to this once and for all, working out (HARD) regularly and eating well to get the most awesome body I’ve ever had. I also found out that according to those height/weight/BMI charts I’m about 6 pounds overweight, so there’s more motivation right there. The problem: writing a blog based on food, mostly unhealthy food at that, while being careful about my diet might be a challenge. I’ll continue cooking of course, I just have to be careful not to go overboard on my own creations, like I did with the guava pastries I made a couple days ago (before my epiphany mind you). Christmas dinner is also coming up…I’m making a coconut flan and a pecan pie for the first time. There’s the real test of my self-discipline; I love holiday dinners. I can do it though. Si se puede, right Obama?

Guava Pastry

Winter Break Never Tasted So Good

I am on winter break and it is amazing.  It really didn’t sink in until a few hours after I got home Wednesday night…no homework, no readings, no impending exams or papers, nothing to worry about.  *Bliss*  I’ve already started my cooking escapades.  Yesterday, I decided to make arroz con leche (rice pudding) so I put some rice to soak.  Then Ryan decided to kidnap me for the day so I didn’t get back home until 10:00 at night.  Naturally I couldn’t just supress my cooking urge until the morning so at 11:00 pm I decided to make arroz con leche.  I didn’t want to make a huge quantity so I halfed the recipe that I usually do (will update under Recipes So Far tab).  I also didn’t have lemon rind so I just used a few drops of lemon juice we have in fridge; in the end there wasn’t a difference in taste.  The rice, because I left it in water while I was gone, soaked for about 8 hours, which made the rice very easy to cook and it came out very soft–perfect for the pudding.   The rice also cooked much faster than an hour, the commonly recommended time.   I think it is because my combination of milks makes the texture creamy in the first place so it doesn’t take long to thicken (only about 30 minutes).  The smaller quantity also helps.  My mom came into the kitchen at midnight all bleary eyed and confused because she was hearing voices from the kitchen (I was watching Tropic Thunder on my laptop while I cooked) and said, “You’re doing that now??”  The next day she called me from work and said my arroz con leche was “the bomb”.  :)  She’s so hip.

Today I wanted to make Torticas de Navidad, Cuban Christmas cookies, so I got all the ingredients for it and at around 9:30 pm (hm, late-night baking could become a problem…) I decided to bake them…but I forgot to buy butter.  I leafed through the cookbook and found a cookie that didn’t require butter, Torticas de Coco, or coconut cookies.  All it required was two eggwhites, shredded coconut, cornflakes, crushed walnuts, sugar, and vanilla extract.  I had the stuff already from the other cookie so I decide to try it.  First you have to beat the egg whites, then gradually add the sugar, continuing to beat.  Next you continue adding the rest of the ingredients.  Afterwards, you just spoon the mixture onto a greased baking sheet and pop in the oven for 15-20 minutes at 325 degrees.  Sounds simple right?  Well, egg whites are my baking nightmare.  For some reason they never seem to turn out right when I bake them.  When I try to make merenguitos, merengue cookies, they always turn out cooked and kind of chewy on the outside and with a hollow inside.  The same thing happened with these cookies.  It tastes good but it does have that hollow and chewiness; however, the cornflakes and walnuts add crunch while the merengue and coconut add chewiness, so it’s a cookie that manages to be both chewy and crunch at the same time.  It tastes pretty good–incredibly sweet–but I think they were supposed to turn out differently, perhaps more like a merengue cookie, airy and crisp.  Maybe it’s the size I made them, or I didn’t beat the egg whites right.  Curse you, egg whites.  You always seem to foil my plans.  We’ll see what the family thinks about the cookies tomorrow.  Either way, I need to try them again sometime.

Torticas de Coco