Personal Kitchen Challenge

Angel Food Cupcakes – Personal Kitchen Challenge #19

The problem with making egg nog at Christmas is that you have a ton of leftover egg whites to deal with.  Last year I made fortune cookies with said egg whites – this year I really wanted to make angel food cake.  Only one issue:  I don’t have the correct pan with me here in Finland, and I really didn’t want to go out and buy one, since I have one in storage back home.

So I did some searching and found a recipe for Angel Food Cupcakes – perfect!  I followed this recipe from howsweeteats.com, topping them with fresh whipped cream and fresh berries.  Of course, the recipe called for cream of tartar, to help stabilize the egg whites.  That’s one of the things that kept me from making angel food cake last year – cream of tartar doesn’t seem to really exist in Finland.  So last summer I asked my mother-in-law to bring me some from the US, so I would be prepared if I needed it in the future.

I made the batter, filled the cupcake tins, and couldn’t help but but lick my finger.  I know I shouldn’t have, raw egg whites and everything, but it’s just a habit – you scrape the spoon with your finger, and when you’re done, you lick your finger before washing up.  Don’t tell me you don’t do it, too!  Anyway, I only did it once, because then I remembered I shouldn’t be doing it, and I scooped up a spoonful of batter and fed it to Stephen.  It tasted like marshmallows!!

For the topping, I used a pint of heavy cream, 3 tbsp of sugar, and 1+tsp vanilla extract, whipped it all up (it took forever!) and felt no guilt licking that bowl.  Fresh raspberries and blueberries made the cupcakes colorful and even tastier.  

Angel Food Cupcakes

Cupcake with raspberries

I’m intentionally challenging myself in the kitchen, working with new ingredients, attempting more challenging dishes, and doing it all while grocery shopping in a foreign language. Read more about my Personal Kitchen Challenge here.

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Slow Oven Steak – Personal Kitchen Challenge #18

Massive FAIL on this one.  After the great success of the sous vide salmon from the Modernist Cuisine, I decided to try their method of slow cooking a steak in the oven.  The instructions were to use a strip steak, about an inch thick, for about 5o minutes.  I got fillets, about an inch thick.

It took two hours.

I finally just made the sides and we ate that for dinner.  Half an hour later, we finally had some steak.

Let me just state that this was a fail on my part.  Well, sort of.  The key, I believe, is having an in-meat thermometer, so you don’t have to open the oven to check the internal temperature.  Every time I opened the oven to check the temperature, the heat escaped, so it took longer.  At least, I think that was the problem…

I’m intentionally challenging myself in the kitchen, working with new ingredients, attempting more challenging dishes, and doing it all while grocery shopping in a foreign language.  Read more about my Personal Kitchen Challenge here.

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Sous Vide Salmon – Personal Kitchen Challenge #17

The Modernist Cuisine at Home

The Modernist Cuisine at Home

For Valentine’s Day*, I bought Stephen The Modernist Cuisine at Home.  We’re both fascinated by the techniques used in Modernist Cuisine, and of course the photos are amazing.  The At Home version is about a fifth of the price as the full version, making it quite attractive…

Anyway, I told him to pick out a recipe for me to use for a kitchen challenge, and he picked out the Sous Vide Salmon (even after the whole “I don’t like salmon” from before – go figure!).

For sous vide, you cook the dish in a vacuum sealed bag in a bath of hot water until the internal temperature reaches the target.  You can buy sous vide machines, of course, but it’s a simple enough technique simply using your kitchen sink, which is what I did.

So the first thing you do is vacuum seal salmon and some olive oil into a freezer baggie.  Not having a vacuum sealer, I tried the method suggested in The Modernist Cuisine.  I never realized how easy it actually is to vacuum seal bags without a vacuum sealer.  It’s crazy easy, y’all!  You just submerge the baggie in water until just the zipper is on top, and close the zipper.  Presto – done!  I’ll be doing this all the time now!

Next you fill the kitchen sink with hot water (about 47°C, in this case).  The sink doesn’t really hold the temperature as well as a proper sous vide machine would, so I had to top it off with hot water a couple of times, but it worked well enough.  You submerge the baggies in the water bath for a set time (about 25 minutes, in my case) until the internal fish temperature reaches the right temp.

Modernist Cuisine

Submerge the baggies in the water bath – I clipped them to a baking rack , and set the thermometer in the middle.

After cooking the salmon in the water, I tossed it in a hot pan with butter and spices for half a minute on each side to sear the outside a bit.

Modernist Cuisine

Sous Vide Salmon with a lemon spinach pasta side.

We both really enjoyed the final product.  It was more flavorful than the simple salmon from my previous cooking challenge.  And it’s really quite hard to screw up, because the timing doesn’t have to be quite as exact.

I didn’t want to risk copying the recipe for those of you who don’t want to fork out the money for this awesome book.  However, I found it on their website!  Here’s the link – go try it yourself!

I can’t wait to try making sous vide steak!

*Yes, Valentine’s Day.  I made this months ago, and am just getting around to posting it.  I’ve actually made it several more times since then, and we love it!  Now I preheat the sink by filling it with hot water, then get the water temp to about 50°C.  It will cool a little, but not enough that I need to top off the hot water.  Works great!)

I’m intentionally challenging myself in the kitchen, working with new ingredients, attempting more challenging dishes, and doing it all while grocery shopping in a foreign language.  Read more about my Personal Kitchen Challenge here.

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Fortune Cookies – Personal Kitchen Challenge #16

After making the eggnog over Christmas*, I had a ton of egg whites left over.  I looked into recipes to use up those egg whites – Angel Food Cake, of course, but why not try making Fortune Cookies?

Homemade fortune cookies

Homemade fortune cookies

The recipe was basic enough – egg whites, sugar, flour, salt, cream.  I had a brief scare at the grocery store when I realized I hadn’t written down the Finnish word for Almond Extract.  However, pulling on my past experience with making macaroons and buying almond meal, I simply found the almond meal again in the store, figured out the word for almond on the packaging, then looked for that word in the extract area.  See, I’m smart!  😉

I followed this recipe from Martha Stewart, but also took a little something from this youtube video by yoyomax12.  The video host recommends doing 2 cookies at a time, because they cool fast enough that folding them will become difficult.  She also suggested using a mug to shape the cookies, and placing them in a muffin tin to cool completely.  Genius.

First off, the batter, while freaking delicious (I considered eating the whole bowl of batter without cooking it, and I would have accepted any ill effects because it was that good) was thicker than I expected.  The cookies in the first  batch came out way too big.  Not the size of my palm, like it should have been, but bigger than my whole hand.

I adjusted.  I had to spread out the batter with my fingertips to get them thin enough on the baking sheet, which means lots of finger licking!  🙂  And lots of hand washing.  😦  My hands are already so dry, I actually have to put vasoline on them, so more handwashing is not recommended…

Anyway, after the first couple of batches, I got the hang of it, and got into a routine.  Timer buzzes, remove baking sheet, put second baking sheet in oven, reset timer, peel cookies off cookie sheet, flip (I figured this helped cool them enough to touch), insert fortune and shape cookies, refill cookie sheet.  The cookies take 6 minutes to bake – the first 3 minutes was the routine above, then I would sit down and surf the internet for the remaining time.

I was getting good enough that I decided to try 3 cookies at a time.  It worked!  I had gotten good enough to fold three at a time!  But I wasn’t going to try 4.  Besides, the cookie sheets were starting to get all burny (very technical term) after cycling in the oven so often with baking spray and crumbs.  So I made one more BIG one for a friend celebrating a birthday, and then made cupcakes with the rest of the batter (which turned out pretty well, actually).  Plus, I was out of fortunes…

I took the fortune cookies to a party, and one of the Americans saw them, pointed, and said, “Are these imported?”  Nope, I made them.  Yay me!

*Please don’t think I’ve had frozen egg whites in the freezer for seven months.  I actually made these fortune cookies many months ago…I just haven’t posted it until now!

I’m intentionally challenging myself in the kitchen, working with new ingredients, attempting more challenging dishes, and doing it all while grocery shopping in a foreign language.  Read more about my Personal Kitchen Challenge here.

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Pretzels – Personal Kitchen Challenge #15

Continuing on my yeast/dough work, I decided to make some pretzels for a party we recently went to.  I used this recipe from Fifteen Spatulas.  They were great.

(Yeah, that’s about all I have to say about them.  Easy to make, everyone loved them, someone even contacted me later for the recipe.  I’d say it’s a keeper!)

Pretzels

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Flourless Chocolate Cake – Personal Kitchen Challenge #14

I’ve gotten kind of sidetracked on my personal kitchen challenges.  I had originally intended to try more “gourmet” type meals, dishes that required a certain expertise or finesse.  But I quickly (and out of necessity) started doing a lot of dishes that included things I couldn’t get here in Finland, like dishes that included Bisquick or limeade concentrate.  So for Valentine’s Day, I went back to what I thought was a more “gourmet” dish.  I decided to make a flourless chocolate cake using a recipe from the TV show Top Chef.

The recipe included 3 ingredients:  eggs, sugar, chocolate.  Despite the fact that I ended up using three mixing bowls, 3 prep bowls, a pot, and four different stirring utensils, this was actually quite easy to make.  Not only that, but it tasted delicious.  It’s a recipe I will definitely be using again. I only wish I had some ramekins to use for baking – I was relegated to using disposable oven-proof bowls, so the results weren’t quite as pretty as I had hoped.  Still, we ate every delicious bite.

Flourless Chocolate Cake

Note to self:  pick up ramekins next time I go to Ikea…

I’m intentionally challenging myself in the kitchen, working with new ingredients, attempting more challenging dishes, and doing it all while grocery shopping in a foreign language.  Read more about my Personal Kitchen Challenge here.

 

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King Cake – Personal Kitchen Challenge #13

It was recently Mardi Gras season, and you know what that means?  King Cake!  In the past, I’ve made “fake” king cake (canned cinnamon rolls formed into a ring), complete with baby, but I’ve always really wanted to make a real King Cake for the season.  Oh, but that required yeast!  And kneading!  So much to get wrong!  However, at this point, I’ve had plenty of yeast and kneading experience, so I was willing to give it a go.  And a gathering of friends just before Fat Tuesday was the perfect opportunity to do so.

First problem, of course, is deciding on which recipe to use.  There are a million versions of King Cake – cream cheese filled, jam filled, raisin filled…oy.  I decided on this recipe, because it seemed somewhat simple.  Except…raisins – Yuck!  I left those out! (Cue my husband’s outrage…)

Second problem – Did you know you can’t find half-and-half in Finland?  The first time I went to the store, I forgot to look up the translation.  I had to go back to the store the next day, checked the Finnish Food Glossary and got the translation:  kermamaito.  But I couldn’t find it at the store.  So I went online and asked around.  And apparently, half-and-half doesn’t exist in Finland.  So I made my own…after deciding which of the four substitute amounts I found online to use.

(Seriously, how the hell would I ever make it here if this was pre-internet?)

So I put it all together, let it rise, and threw it in the oven.  The recipe said for 30 minutes – I wanted to pull it out at 10 because it looked brown enough to me.  I let it go, but I did pull it out 5 minutes early.

Of course, I had to color my own sugar – not my first attempt at that, it was easy enough.  And since I didn’t have a baby (left those in storage), I used a Worther’s Originals toffee.  Hey, beggars, choosers.

The final product:

King Cake 1

King Cake 2

I made King Cake from scratch!

I’m intentionally challenging myself in the kitchen, working with new ingredients, attempting more challenging dishes, and doing it all while grocery shopping in a foreign language.  Read more about my Personal Kitchen Challenge here.

 

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Salmon – Personal Kitchen Challenge #12

I heard once that your taste in food changes every seven years.  If you used to love licorice, you may now hate it.  If you hate asparagus, maybe one day you’ll love it.  That’s why it’s important to keep trying things, even if you’ve already tried them before.

I used to hate salmon.  I used to hate all fish, actually, except shrimp.  Then I started eating sushi.  And I liked fish as long as it was raw (but I didn’t like raw shrimp).  In fact, raw salmon was my favorite.  But the minute you cooked it, I wanted no part of it.  Then I liked whitefish, like tilapia.  Then I liked lightly smoked salmon.  Then I liked barely cooked salmon.  And even though now, I still say I don’t like salmon, the truth is…I don’t hate it.  I don’t love it, but I can eat it.

So it stands to reason that I’ve never cooked salmon before, right?

The Pioneer Woman shared a recipe of a friend of hers, a simple salmon prepared in the oven.  You put it in a cold oven, turn the oven on, cook it for 25 minutes, and that’s it.  No “bake for 20-30 minutes until done.”  I hate recipes like that.  How am I supposed to know if it’s done?

Back to the salmon.

Since I’ve never cooked salmon before, I’ve also never bought salmon before.  And here I am, in a foreign country, with no clue what the packaging says.  I can pick salmon out of a lineup, but I’m not sure what it is I’m buying.  I’ve bought what I think was smoked salmon, several times, but I’m never sure what kind of smoked salmon.  You know my motto in the grocery store:  “What’s the worst that can happen?”

So I decided this time to go to the fish counter and actually get fresh salmon.  Less chance of getting the wrong thing, right?  But there are several kinds there, and I’m not sure what’s what.  The lady behind the counter speaks a little English, but not enough to communicate.  I ask her for salmon.  She points to two different fillets, one a deeper pink than the other.  I ask what the difference is.  She really can’t tell me, at least in English.  So I just point to the one that’s the size I want and go with it.

What’s the worst that can happen?

It was super easy to make, and it tasted fine.  I’ll make it again, although next time I’ll probably add some lemon and garlic on top.  I might also try to determine what kind of salmon I should get at the store before I go.  That’s always helpful…

Of course, Stephen let me know that he doesn’t like salmon.  But he ate it.

Salmon

Salmon

*Update – I made it again with some lemon pepper and lemon slivers on top, and I do think it was just a bit more flavorful.  Regardless, definitely a keeper recipe!

I’m intentionally challenging myself in the kitchen, working with new ingredients, attempting more challenging dishes, and doing it all while grocery shopping in a foreign language.  Read more about my Personal Kitchen Challenge here.

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Homemade eggnog – a forgotten Personal Kitchen Challenge!

Homemade Eggnog

Homemade Eggnog

Oh my gosh, you guys, I completely forgot I did this challenge!  At Christmas, I had a real hankering for eggnog.  For whatever reason, I thought we couldn’t get it here…I didn’t even bother to look.  Instead, I decided to make my own!

Most recipes for eggnog call for raw eggs, which I don’t really have a problem with.  However, I was planning on serving it to others, and the last thing I wanted to do was chance getting other people sick from raw eggs!  So I followed this recipe from Epicurean Mom, which calls for the eggs to be par-cooked.

You guys, this eggnog was so freaking good!  I just wanted to drink all of it myself and not share.  But I was good, and filled a 2 liter Coke bottle (cleaned, I swear) to take to Christmas dinner with friends, and kept the rest for us.  Everyone loved it!

As it turns out,  they do apparently sell eggnog here in Finland, as someone said they saw it at the grocery store.  But I don’t care – I’ll be making another batch (or two!) of homemade eggnog this year.

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French Fries in the oven – PKC #11

Crispy french fries, minus the frying part.  The ultimate dream.  Well, okay, maybe not ultimate, but still, it would be nice, wouldn’t it?  Oven fries often turn out either thick and dry, or thin and soggy.  I have yet to find a middle ground.

So when I saw a pin on Pinterest promising crispy, “awesome oven fries,” I put it on my Kitchen Challenge list.

And guess what?  They weren’t awesome.  They tasted fine, and some of them crisped up nicely, but a lot were still soggy.  I’m not sure how, exactly, to get a happy medium.

crispy?  well, some are...

crispy? well, some are…

The original pin I used actually linked to Martha Stewart’s recipe for Italian fries, but I went with a basic salted fry.  One could say I didn’t follow the recipe directions, but I followed the prep directions, just not the flavoring directions.  I seriously doubt a lack of oregano and thyme caused the problem of soggy fries.

So, I decided to try again, doing a search online and using this recipe.  The results were a little better, but I still had some sogginess.  And I’ll tell you why.  It’s two-fold, really, although the second issue ties into the first.

  1. I think the true secret to crispy oven fries is that no one fry can touch any other fries.  Fries must be single layer, not touching each other.
  2. Fries must be turned.  And once turned, must remain in the single layer, not touching each other.

I succeeded in lining the fries up single file, not touching.  I resigned myself to having to bake the fries in two batches…as if that’s not a hassle.

The real problem came when it was time to turn them.  Individually.  And not have them touch.

I turned the Stephen and said, “This is summed up nicely by a certain meme going around:”

Meme

Seriously, who the hell has the time and patience to turn 100 french fries over individually and ensure they don’t touch?

Crispy oven fries will be forever out of my reach, as long as that’s the secret.

I’m intentionally challenging myself in the kitchen, working with new ingredients, attempting more challenging dishes, and doing it all while grocery shopping in a foreign language.  Read more about my Personal Kitchen Challenge here.

Categories: Personal Kitchen Challenge | Tags: , | 6 Comments

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