Hazlenut Macarons with Chocolate Ganache + Mastrad Kit Review

First of all, happy new year to everyone! I appreciate all the support I received from all of you in 2013 and hope to give you an even better blogging experience in the coming year.

I’ve got to be honest about the past few weeks. I’ve missed some prime blog posting time by not blogging about Thanksgiving or Christmas. Thinking about all the pie and cookie opportunities I have passed up is saddening. But I hope that these little, heavenly, sweet and delicious New Year’s beauties might make up for some of it.

IMG_20131227_141830_812

Instead of doing Thanksgiving this year, I went to Paris to visit the boy and fell in love with all the food. One of my favorite parts of the trip was the macarons—light and yet moist, sweet and yet not overly so, these cookies are what is served in baker heaven. Because I loved them so much, my family gave me a macaron kit for Christmas. Secretly, I think they wanted in on some of the delicious fun, too! It turns out that the secret that makes these cookies so extravagantly delicious also makes them wicked difficult to make.

IMG_20131227_142514_824

I’m sure most of you already know that macarons are a hard cookie to master. I had heard this before, but it didn’t really hit home until I started to make them. The cookbook that came with the kit basically told you to mix the batter thoroughly, but not too thoroughly! Bake them until done, but not too done! Everyone’s oven is different and only experimentation will tell you how is best to cook your macarons! There is even an entire page dedicated to what you can do with your “imperfect” cookies.

Again, I had heard this, but I am the kind of person to think that because I am resourceful if not sort of experienced, things will turn out differently for me. I even decided to up the ante by adding ground hazlenuts to the cookies. This time, I proved myself right. With what may have been a severe dose of beginner’s luck, I ended up with a good number of cookies that are not cracked, are cooked well, and that taste delicious.

editIMG_20131227_142758_580

To make these guys, I followed the basic French Merengue recipe in the Mastrad French Macarons cookbook. I added 1 tablespoon of ground hazelnuts and filled the cookies with a simple chocolate ganache. Before baking and before the cookies set, I topped some of them with clear decorative sugar crystals.

I am not being paid to write a review of the Mastrad Macaron Kit, so I can say with a good conscience that it is flippin’ awesome. It comes with a silicon macaron baking sheet with little wells that help keep your cookies looking fly (and, well, circular), a reusable silicon pastry bag that is lovely to use, a pastry bag stand, and a variety of shaped piping tips. The kit also comes with the cookbook. Really, the only extra tools you will need are a flat metal baking sheet on which to put the silicon mat and the mixing bowls for your ingredients. I have only two small complaints: one is that the silicon baking mat is slightly too large for a standard baking sheet. The second is that I haven’t yet figured out how to fill the pastry bag without whatever I’m filling it with oozing out the bottom. There very well may be a way to stop this, but I haven’t yet figured it out. If anyone has tips, I would very much appreciate them.

Overall, I am extremely happy with the kit and I look forward to using it to continue perfecting my macaron skills. Given how happy my family and the boy were to sample my new skill, I think I will have some willing taste testers!

Butternut Squash Soup

There is something about winter that calls for soup. Specifically, the rich, thick, stick-to-your-bones, keep-you-warm kind of soup that makes you feel like you’re curled up in front of the fireplace, even though your NYC apartment certainly does not have the proper permits for one. I know it’s not really winter yet– we still have many colder months to go– but the briskness in the air is starting to signal that it’s a soup time of year.

My first journey into soup territory was only six weeks ago. Those of you who follow me on Instagram may have seen the tomatillo soup I made in late September. Surprise! I had never even tried to make a soup before that. Since then, I’ve made a delicious and hearty stew, a quick and yet tasty French onion soup, and the star of tonight’s meal: butternut squash soup.

20131110 Butternut Squash Soup

Thanks to my parents’ decision to clean out their kitchen storage spaces, I am the proud new owner of a very nice immersion blender. I am so thankful, because without this little (well, big) gadget, I would never have been able to make this incredible meal. While it’s a bit time-consuming to roast everything, there are ways to cut the time down. If you hate wielding a knife against a large, difficult piece of squash just as much as I do, feel free to buy the pre-cut cubes of squash. It’ll save you a lot of time and will still taste incredible. 

This soup is hearty enough that it stands confidently on its own, and versatile enough that it would be wonderful paired with another dish. The sweetness of the squash roasted with brown sugar pairs well with the spiciness of the cumin, giving the soup a surprising depth. It’s rich, it’s deceptively filling, and it definitely creates that warm feeling inside you, like curling up in a blanket on a cold night. 

And now, without any further ado, please let me introduce you to this soup. I’m sure you two are going to be great friends.

Butternut Squash Soup 

2 lb butternut squash, in about 1-inch cubes
32 oz low-sodium chicken broth
3 large carrots, cut small enough for your blender to handle*
2 medium onions
Olive oil
A pinch of red pepper flakes
3 tbsp dark brown sugar
2 tbsp ground ginger
1 tbsp ground cumin**
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tbsp cream per bowl (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Lay the butternut squash and carrot pieces on a baking sheet and coat with about 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil. Mix well so that all chunks are thoroughly coated with oil– this will prevent them from sticking and give them a nice color in the oven– then sprinkle with brown sugar and ground ginger. Roast for 20-25 minutes or until a fork can be easily inserted into squash and carrots, stirring the mixture at around 15 minutes. 

While the squash and carrots are roasting, chop the onions. In a heavy-bottom pot, heat about a tablespoon.5 of olive oil with the hot pepper flakes over medium-high heat. Add the onions when the oil is fragrant and shimmering. Season with a bit of salt and pepper. Allow them to cook, stirring to avoid burning, to desired softness or until the squash and carrots are soft enough, then lower or turn off the heat on the pot.

When the squash and carrots are ready, add them to the pot with the onions. Even if the squash was thoroughly coated with oil, there may still be parts of it stuck to the baking sheet. While the baking sheet is still hot, add a bit of chicken broth to it and scrape the burned bits and leftover caramelized brown sugar from the pan, then carefully pour the liquid and chunks into the pot. Add the cinnamon and cumin to the pot and mix well. 

With the immersion blender I found it easiest to add all the liquid to the pot and completely submerge the head of the blender while letting it do its thing. If you are using another type of blender, it may be best to add the liquid in stages. It’s your call. Blend carrots and squash to a pleasant consistency– mine was smoothish but a bit chunky. 

Once blended, heat soup thoroughly. Serve immediately, stirring in 1-2 tablespoons of cream per bowl if desired. Finish with freshly ground pepper. 

*I cut the carrots in half lengthwise and again into three short sections, cross-wise, so that they would roast in about the same time as the squash pieces. My immersion blender didn’t end up liking this, though if you’re using a slightly larger blender it may not matter. If your blender is also a bit finnicky, roast the carrots at this size and then cut them into smaller pieces before adding to the pot. 

**We only have cumin seeds– not ground cumin– in our apartment, so the cumin I used was freshly ground. Pre-ground cumin may not have the same level of flavor, so you might need to adjust the amount of cumin to taste. 

The Darkest Day

I’ve found that the best way to calm an overactive mind is distraction. So, without further ado, I present to you:

10 Steps to get over heartbreak: an interactive list. 

1. Listen to some crappy heartsick music:

2. Spend a lot of time with your lovely friends.

3. Cry… a lot.

CRY THIS MUCH
(also, as a side note, this is a photo from Iguazu!)

4. Listen to some awesome heartsick music and watch a silly music video:

5. RetailTherapy.

6. Read some inspirational words, and believe them.

7. Be active.

8. Cook some awesome meals.

Sausage-stuffed potatoes from Smitten Kitchen (click for recipe)

9. Take some deep breaths.

Or, alternatively, get out there with a camera.

10. Let go.


I haven’t felt this alive

So it turns out that being at school makes me a blogging bum. I can load up on excuses, I can apologize and beg for your readership again, or I can just get right back to it.

Before I jump into things fully, I have to mention that the title of this blog post comes from a song by Kishi Bashi, an incredible musician who I discovered at a concert a few weeks ago. The title is a line from his song Manchester, which is one of my favorites:

This song speaks strongly to what I want to write about. I just found this invigorating post on how awesome it is to be in my 20-somethings and it’s inspired me to get back on the horse and write. I’ve been sick for almost the past week and I’ve felt just like a gigantic lump on the face of the earth. I’ve been snotty and I’ve been exhausted, but now I’m invigorated to actually go out and do something with myself.

When I got back to the US my fencing coach told me, “Pay attention to how you feel right now. Right now, just back from being abroad, you feel alive. I can tell. In a few months, you’ll be back asleep like the rest of your teammates.”

And as much as I hate to say it, it’s true. When I was in Buenos Aires I treated every day like a gem. My experience there was timed; I only had a certain number of days, and I planned to make the most of them. I carried that attitude back with me to school and for the first couple of months I approached life with the same vigor.

Now though, I realize that I’ve lost a lot of what made me feel alive. I don’t feel special anymore. I feel like I’m slogging through whatever life I’ve set out for myself and I certainly don’t feel like every day is a new adventure.

This blog post– the one about how awesome it is to be in my 20-somethings– made me feel a bit of that spark again. It’s springtime. I’m performing a solo tomorrow night, I’m going to be in an art show this weekend, and I’m in the process of starting up a storefront where all of you lovely people can buy prints of my photos. I get to define who I am, what I do, and who I want to be. I get to make myself and my life and my choices freaking awesome. So I’m getting back to it.

Featured: Inspire, Create

I’m procrastinating, as usual, and wanted to pop in to call your attention to this lovely new art blog my good friend Clara just started. She’s a wonderful painter and photographer and you should all check out her work!

Below is something she painted for me for my 21st birthday (click it to go to the page on her website):

Isn’t it wonderful? She has more art up on her site and has been uploading something new daily. Go show her some love!

Some Things

1. I have not updated in a bajillion years. Sorry about that. My parents (and brother!!) came and I spent all my time with them instead of blogging… whoops.

2. I’ve had a LOT of fun adventures since I last posted! They include, but are not limited to, a trip to Mendoza, Thanksgiving in Uruguay, and family shenanigans.

3. Unfortunately, I don’t have time to write a real post right now because I am finishing (starting) my last paper for tomorrow.

4. I’m leaving for Salta on Sunday!! So I probably won’t post then, either.

5. Hopefully, I’ll write up something short tomorrow for you all. I miss you, readers. And I have so many great photos to share, eeek!!

6. Here is a picture from this weekend in Punta del Diablo to tide you over:

 

Until soon, love,

Chicca

Hell Week plus Iguazu Part I

I know, I am finally posting about Iguazu! Aren’t you all excited?? If you want to skip the rant, just scroll down to the small break and start reading there.

This week is going to be a total sh*t-fest in terms of the things I have to do, so I’m getting a blog entry done before I throw myself into a series of sleepless nights and delirium.

What do I have to do, you ask? What could possibly make me dread this week more than any yet in Buenos Aires?

Well, for one thing, my parents get here on Tuesday! Which is not a reason to dread this week but is a reason why I won’t want to be working, which is bad because my largest paper of the semester is due for my hardest class on Thursday. I’ve been working on this paper for over a week and a half now, but almost none of the work I’ve done can be used because I have had three topics rejected before finally finding one that I could fudge into existence. Even so, it will be a challenge to write 10 pages 1.5-spaced on this topic– comparing Obama’s 2010 executive order clarifying parts of the separation between church and state and Chavez’s request to reexamine a Venezuelan agreement with the Catholic Church. It will be even more difficult to pull together a 15 minute presentation on the topic, after which my 6 professors and class of peers will pick apart my arguments. Whoo!

Still, it sounds pretty doable. Or it would be if I didn’t also have a presentation for my Spanish class on Wednesday and yet another trip to migraciones for Thursday before class when this monster paper is due. Yes, that’s right– a third trip to try to get my residency. After they messed up the first time (by spelling my name wrong) they told me to come back in 15 days… and after I went back last Thursday, day 13, they told me that it still wasn’t ready and that I would have to come back in another 7 days. Meanwhile, the paper they gave me saying they messed up expired yesterday, so I just think I’m illegally in the country until I get this sorted out? And I can’t even wait until Friday to deal with this mess because the fam and I are leaving for Mendoza on Friday morning! Which will be fun, if I can survive the week.

But okay, I’m ending my rant. Mostly because my friend Jeff just showed me this video from The Daily Show and I can’t stop laughing.

 

Anyway, I believe I owe you all an Iguazu story time? Let’s do this in chewable chunks– I’ll start with the bus ride there. How does that sound?

All in all, the bus ride to Iguazu is around 20 hours. There are three levels of buses you can take on long trips– the basic difference is the level of comfort– and we opted spending the extra pesos for a bus with cama con servicio, or bed and food service. Because the trip is so long you need to sleep for part of it, so having a bed was a good choice!

My deathly, terrible parcial (midterm) ended at 19.00 on Thursday and our bus left a couple of hours after that, but I was so dead from my exam that I didn’t take any pictures of the first leg of the trip. We were only awake for a few hours and they were essentially filled with dinner, a B-rated movie, and general post-stress shenanigans. We fell asleep early and slept well.

Most people forgot to close their window shades before going to sleep, so my friend Maya and I ended up waking up at 6.00 AM with the sunrise. I was so glad we did, because we woke up to the most spectacular views. Seriously. We were driving through oneof the flattest, greenest, most beautiful areas I have ever seen. It was absolutely nothing like the city. I suppose by the time we went to sleep the night before we had left the city outskirts, but because it was dark I hadn’t realized it. Waking up to these vistas was definitely something else.

Here is an example of what I experienced. Imagine spending a few months surrounded by this:

and  this:

(sorry for how crooked this is, I just held my camera above the crowd and shot)

and waking up to something like this:

Shooting out the window was a bit difficult from a moving bus with the low light at dawn, but as the sun came up the lighting improved and the scenery was so exquisite that I just kept shooting. There are a bunch of blurry photos, and a bunch of shots ruined by roadside trees, but how could you not want to try to capture something so beautiful?

After a while of looking at the scenery, we all went back to sleep and woke up for breakfast at 8.00 am with a lot more bus ride before us. During the ride watched some truly horrendous movies and got pretty stir-crazy. For the last few hours of the ride we were the only ones on the bus, minus an old lady that sat way up front, which meant that we could wander freely without worrying about bothering all the other passengers. We finally made it to the bus terminal in Iguazu sometime in the afternoon. Our hostel was only a few blocks away, so we lugged our bags over there and got settled before tackling what was left of the day.

Isn't it adorable??

After lunch at a nearby parilla called Lo de Juan, we ventured to the Punto de Tres Hitos, where Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay all meet. The photos for that will come next time. Until that, stay tuned! And wish me luck for this coming week!

Busy (non-posting) bee

I know, I know. I know. I have been neglecting you all lately and for that I am very sorry. I know I owe you a post on Iguazu, at the very least, but it is going to have to wait at least another couple of days. Last week instead of posting I decided to continue on my explorer streak and this week that same streak is kicking me in the butt with all the work I didn’t do. For example, still have 1.5 essays to write for tomorrow. Whoops.

So… sorry guys. I know I’ve been absent. I will be better about it… soon. Y’all just gotta hang tight for another little bit.  😦

In the meantime, here is another picture of Iguazu, this time the BIG fall called La Garganta del Diablo, or the Devil’s Throat. Cool, huh?

(ALSO HELL YEAH I MANUALLY FOCUSED THIS SHOT BOO-YAHHH.)

I promise soon I will be back with a vengeance!!

Cataratas de Iguazú: Sneak Peak!

In case I didn’t mention it enough, this weekend I went to Iguazú with four other friends and had a WONDERFUL time. Seriously. This was my first big trip outside of Buenos Aires and I legitimately could not be any happier with how it went.

The post about my adventures is going to be pretty picture heavy, and I’ve decided to separate it into a few parts– it would be mega long otherwise and would be as much of a pain to read in one chunk as it would be to write in one chunk. That said, I need some time to actually sit down and write it up, but today is devoted to class and replacing my much-loved sneakers.

So instead, here’s a preview before I jump into the thick of it all:

Isn’t it gorgeous?? GET EXCITED. 

Holy Guacamole!

I don’t think I’ve written about it before, but my host mom Silvia loves guacamole. Seriously. She thinks it is dance-and- song worthy and has actually both sung and danced about it. During one of the first weeks of me being here, during a dinner when my family was both tired as anything and hitting the wine pretty hard, guacamole came up somehow in conversation and Silvia got up from the table. At first she just started shaking her hips and we were all pretty confused about what was going on, but soon after started  to sing-song chant “guacamole guacamole guacamole!” and dancing around the kitchen!

I sort of forgot about her obsession until we made Mexican food– when I told her the next day what we ended up making, her eyes lit up as soon as the first syllable of “guacamole” left my mouth. So today my first order of business was going down to the corner verdulería to buy the necessary vegetables so I could whip up a batch for the family. I ended up using 3 avocados– or paltas, as they’re called here, NOT aguacates like in Mexico– which yielded a fair amount of guacamole.

Silvia came home soon after I was done making it and was super excited when I told her what I’d made for her! She said she doesn’t normally eat lunch at midday, but we sat down and finished off a significant amount of it plus some tuna salad I put my extra avocado and a tomato into. It was a wonderful way to share lunch with her, and a great excuse to give her a break from working on things for her art exposition, which opens in only a month!

Much more delicious-looking than Paint art, no?

Guacamole is also spectacularly easy to make. Seriously. If you like it and haven’t tried it before, well… you should. And I’m posting my process below (plus some handy spanish vocab) so you have no excuse not to!

GUACAMOLE

For this batch, I used:

3 avocados (paltas)

1 medium tomato (tomate)

1 small onion (cebolla)

1 clove of garlie (ajo)

lemon and salt to taste, but you’re gonna want a good amount of lemon.

Cut the avocados in half and scoop out the meat with a spoon, removing the pit. My friend Rachel, the Guacamole Queen, likes to mash up her avocados first but I decided to chop them because I thought it was prettier. Throw them in a bowl, then chop the tomato and the onion and throw those in, as well. Crush the garlic with the flat of the knife and then mince it as finely as possible– it could probably use more garlic, in reality, so feel free to add some more. Then salt it and lemon it– I ended up using a white vinegar-lemon combo just because we ran out of lemon, but lemon by itself is definitely better.

Mix it all up (sort of gently so the avocado doesn’t turn into a squishy mess) and ta-da! Your very own guacamole! Whoo!

I also made a bit of a variation with my extra avocado, a tomato, an onion, and a can of tuna that also came out pretty well, but a shot of lemon would have made it even better.Corn chips don’t really exist in this country– the closest we could find last weekend was Doritos– so today we ate them with crackers. Though I’m sure I don’t have to tell you how to eat guacamole! Happy eating!