Back at School

I’m back and not quite sure how to feel about it. The stress has already begun. One source of stress is applying for a study abroad grant. If I can get the full amount I ask for, maybe, just maybe, I’ll be in Madrid this summer, which would be AMAZING, but I’m trying not to get my hopes too high. It all depends on the money. So, I have to work. This past week I had motivation issues (already, which doesn’t bode well…), so I’m trying to get on the ball again.
Cooking has not happened yet, nor has crafting, but I’ve been thinking about it. For my business class we eventually have to come up with our own business plan, so I’m trying to figure out if I can feasibly use one of these. I feel like we have to come up with some big-time venture so I’m not sure a bakery would be appropriate. I would like to cook again. My friend Nakita gave me a set of 100 recipe cards of cupcake recipes, which could provide calories and calories of fun. That’s why I’m having my mom bring me the extra cupcake sheet tomorrow. :) Well, must get back to work. There is a dream trip to be earned.

"You're a strange little Cuban…" – Mexican Wedding Cookies

Mexican Wedding Cookies

I thought I wasn’t going to cook yesterday.  I figured that the rum cake and dulce de leche were enough.  I was wrong.  Oh so wrong.  It all started with Mom reorganizing and decluttering the kitchen with ruthlessness, a New Years purge of the pantry, fridge, and cookbook collection.  While she was doing this, she was cooking rice and black beans, not together though, like I prefer.  So when it was done I served myself a bowl of beans…”You’re not going to have rice?” Mom asked.  “Er…I guess I’ll have a little,” I said reluctantly as I proceeded to plop a spoonful of rice into my beans.  “This is more beans with rice than rice with beans,” I joked.  Mom just sighed and said, “You’re a strange little Cuban…”  I shrugged and ate my beans with rice.  Mom told me that she wanted to get rid of some of the cookbooks she had and to go through them in case I wanted any.   I salvaged a couple books on Latin food and one of Rachel Ray for my boyfriend, since she’s his other love.  I also rediscovered a Southwestern cookbook I used to make guacamole a year or two ago, and in it I found a recipe for Mexican Wedding Cookies, and they looked too good to NOT bake right away.  We needed more sugar so I went to Food Lion to grab some really quick, then came back home and began the cookies.

They’re pretty simple to make:  you just cream the 2 sticks of butter, 1 cup of POWDERED sugar and 1 tsp of vanilla together, fold in 1 1/2 cups of flour sifted with 1/2 tsp of salt, mix in a little less than a cup of nuts (pecans or walnuts), and put it in the fridge for about an hour.  After you take them out, you roll it into 1-2 inch balls and place on a baking sheet.  Then you put them in a preheated oven (375 degrees) for 10 minutes.  My oven is pretty strong so I probably could have knocked it down to 350; the cookies were a little too brown.  I freaked out a bit because when I put them in, they were sweating a lot of butter and creating their own personal pools, but eventually they spread and it was fine.  Like I said, though, the edges and bottom of some of them got a little too burnt.  I also realize I used sticks of margarine, not real butter.  I’m sure if you used real butter, a high quality one at that, the cookies would taste even better.  Using pure vanilla extract and roasted nuts would also help.  When you take them out of the oven, you have to let them cool for a few minutes, then roll them in powdered sugar.  It’s not really rolling since their cookie-shaped, but you get the idea.  Once you do that, let them cool for 30 minutes then cover them in powdered sugar again.

They’re pretty good cookies, like a very soft, buttery shortbread cookie.  My mom and dad adored them.  These cookies are apparently also known as Russian Tea Cakes, Italian Butternut, Southern Pecan Balls, Snowdrops, and Viennese Sugar Balls.  I guess something with so many names from around the world has to be good.

Didn't Disfigure My Face! Yay! – Dulce de Leche in a Can

I usually make dulce de leche with whole milk, sugar, and vanilla in a saucepan over the stovetop, but I had heard of that mythical method of putting a can of condensed milk in boiling water…with the danger of the can exploding and flinging hot, skin-melting sugar all over the kitchen/you.   I did the research and found that you can actually do this and not have to extract aluminum shards out of your face.  All you have to do is get a can of sweetened condensed milk, peel off the label, and poke two holes in the top on opposite sides.  Then you put it in a saucepan with water about an inch from the top and simmer for a few hours, 3 for a runny dulce the leche and 4 for a more solid dulce de leche.  You do have to keep checking on it and adding water when the level drops.   The can makes a rattling noise in the pot while it simmers, which was ominous to me since I was still paranoid about it exploding.  Those that find it annoying, however, can put a rag at the bottom of the pot, according to this site, which details many different ways to make dulce de leche.  I’ve read on other sites that you don’t have to poke the holes in the can if you keep it completely submerged, but it’s a little too harrowing for me.  Anyway, once the hours have passed, you remove the can from the water with tongs and let it cool.  Once it cools, open it with a can opener, pour into a container, and stir to incorporate the chunks at the bottom.

The verdict:  Pretty easy and carefree if you’re not paranoid like me.  It tastes fine, but I think the recipe I use is much tastier–and safer.  In the future, I’ll stick to that recipe.

Dulce de leche

Cake de Ron

Cake de Ron

Made from sugarcane, Cuba’s major cash crop, rum is the most popular alcoholic drink among Cubans and appears in many dishes.  I was browsing the recipes on 3 Guys from Miami and found a recipe for rum cake.  Since I was bored out of my mind and craving something sweet, I decided to give it a try.   I also knew that we had a cache of rum in our house that could be put to a more creative use, so why not?  The recipe on the site also called for banana liquer, but I didn’t have any and not being a huge fan of bananas anyway, I left it out.   The cake is pretty time-consuming, but worth it.  I suppose it’s not more time consuming than any other cake made from scratch, but I’m used to the simplicity of cake mixes.   Since the directions are pretty long I’ll save it for the Recipes So Far tab.  After the cake bakes, you poke holes in it and drench it in a sugar and rum syrup which is supposed to moisten the cake.  The amount the directions called for didn’t soak the cake, so I thought at first it needed more.  After mom tried it though, she said it was surprisingly so light and thought the amount was fine.  I suppose it depends on how heavy and rum-y I want to make the cake.  Next time I might try just a tad bit more syrup, and see what happens.  Baking it in a bundt pan and sprinkling powdered sugar makes the cake so beautiful I almost didn’t want to cut into it.  The guys from Miami bake it in mini individual bundt pans, which would be so cute for a small get-together.  Overall, this cake was a success.  It smells so amazing and the rum is subtle but present.  I’ll definitely bake it again.