Monday, July 11, 2011

Mandarin Mondays: 搅拌机

For our 4th anniversary, Nate wanted to get me something that I would use a lot. I told him that the thing I didn't have here yet that thought I would use the most would be a blender (jiǎo bàn jī, 搅拌机).Well he didn't want to pick out a blender for me by himself, so we went to Walmart together. I listened to the obligatory employees standing around the blender aisle trying to explain to me why such and such a blender was better other blenders. Well, I am sure I missed out on much of the sales pitch, but I did understand that the one, which had "three cups" (sān ge bēi, 三个杯), was supposed to be far superior to the jiǎo bàn jī with only one cup" (yī ge bēi, 个杯). And something about this one's knives (dāo,刀) were better than that one's. Mostly I heard a whole lot of "this" (zhè ge, 这个) and "that" (nà gè, 那个). And of course, they highly recommended the most expensive product.
Literally stir mix machine

We figured that buying the cheapest one was asking for it to break within a week, so we ended up deciding on the mid-price model that had the "three cups" (sān ge bēi, 三个杯) and three blades. Now, if you want to purchase any electronics, you have to do so right there in that department, so we checked out there. The man gave us a regular old receipt that looks very similar to the ones in America, except for all of the characters of course, and we went downstairs to do the rest of our shopping.

However, Nate had learned in class recently that these common receipts that they give you at Walmart (and many other stores and restaurants here (some shops don't give out receipts at all)) are called shōu jù (收据), and they are not real receipts, and you can't use them to return an item. The official receipts are called fā piào (发票).  I am not really quite sure why they give fake ones, except to save money. You see, in order to print out a fā piào, the shop must pay the government to rubber stamp it, so they avoid a small fee by handing out shōu jù to the masses. You can get a fā piào, but you have to take your shōu jù to a special customer service desk.
Top: shōu jù, Bottom: fā piào

We decided to try to get a fā piào for the first time, since we wanted to be sure to have the option of returning the blender if it didn't work or ceased to function very quickly (which is extremely common here). So we headed over to the service desk and waited for a while. Then someone cuts in front of us with their own shōu jù, and finally he gets his fā piào, and we get our fā piào.
Mulberry Smoothie
The blender (jiǎo bàn jī, 机) has been working quite well so far, and now we can make lots more lemonade and smoothies and even make our own powdered sugar. But we'll be sure to hang on to our fā piào for the full 90 warranty period, just in case. Oh, and Nate also got me beautiful lilies, not just a blender for our anniversary, and I love both gifts and my husband infinitely more.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

DIY Chocolate Chip Cheesecake Brownies

I was looking for a recipe to make for our 4th anniversary and found this one for chocolate chip cheesecake brownies. It looked great, but I didn't have sweetened condensed milk or a spring form pan, so I made a slightly different version.

Chocolate Chip Cheesecake Brownies

1 (19.8 oz) package fudge brownie mix prepared (or a half recipe of Better than Boxed Brownies)
2 cups of homemade yogurt "cream" cheese or 2 (8oz) packages cream cheese, softened
½ cup milk
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
½ cup chocolate chip
1 tsp flour

Bake brownies according to box directions or prepare homemade brownies in a 9 inch cake pan or a 9 inch spring form pan. Mix cream cheese, milk, sugar, eggs, and vanilla until creamy and smooth. I found that this tip for lightly coating chocolate chips with flour really does keep them from all sinking to the bottom. After coating chips in flour, fold gently into cream cheese mixture. Pour mixture on top of baked brownies and bake at 350F for 30–40 minutes until firm in the center. Chill for at least 2 hours or overnight, and serve.

DIY Better Than Boxed Brownies

I found this recipe for chocolate peanut butter brownies that is amazing, but some of the ingredients are a little expensive here, so I don't make it as is everyday. The version that I adapted tastes very similar to fudge brownie from a box, but better. These are also great with caramel chips baked in or chocolate chips sprinkled on top when mostly cooled.

Better than Boxed Brownies

1 cup oil (I use sunflower seed oil, but vegetable, canola, or coconut should all work also.)
½ cup plain yogurt
3 eggs
1½ cups sugar
2 cups flour
½ cup cocoa
1½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt

It makes a thick 9x13 pan; half of the recipe fills a 9x9 pan or 9 inch cake pan nicely.

Mix all ingredients in a large mixing bowl until thoroughly combined. Bake at 350F for 20–25 minutes.

Friday, July 8, 2011

DIY Pasta

Drying Pasta on a hanger
Fresh homemade pasta tastes so much, well, fresher than dry store bought pasta. I often make it for special occasions or when we can't cheaply buy wheat pasta.

Basic Pasta Recipe

(about 2–3 adult servings of pasta, recipe can easily be multiplied by however many servings you need)

1 egg
1 cup flour (white, whole wheat, or a mixture)
2 or more Tbsp water

Measure flour into a bowl or on a clean counter, make a well in the center, add eggs, and mix until well incorporated. Add water a couple of tablespoons at a time and knead well until dough reaches a nice elastic consistency. You can add extra herbs or a little olive oil for a different flavor at this time. Let the dough rest at least a half an hour, and then roll and cut into desired shape.

Flat rectangles for lasagna are the easiest, and you don't even have to dry or boil them. Just layer, bake, or freeze for later. You can also cut smaller rectangles, fill, and roll into manicotti. Or you can cut squares or hearts for ravioli, fill, and use a little egg white or water to seal the edges. Or you can simply cut long strips for fettuccine, dry for at least 15 minutes so that the noodles don't stick together, and boil like regular pasta.

After cutting, you can either bake a pasta dish right away or freeze it for later. Pasta can also be dried and stored in an airtight container for later use. Homemade pasta does not keep well in the fridge (not even overnight), but does freeze beautifully, so you can make multiple batches at a time.

Family Friday: A Happy 4th Anniversary!

On 7-7-7 Nathan and Anna were married. Since then, counting any place we stayed at about a month or more, we have moved roughly 10 times (distances from 1 mile, to 1,000 miles, to 10,000 miles). We also have two amazing boys now. First, we reduced ourselves by half (2 = 1), and now we have doubled our number (2 + 2 = 4).

Yesterday, we celebrated our 4th wedding anniversary. We chose to stay home rather than dealing with the hassle of going out and walking or riding a bus quite a ways to someplace nicer than KFC. I made homemade lasagna and Chocolate Chip Brownie Cheesecake. I gave Nate a traditional 4th anniversary gift of fruit (chocolate covered strawberries). Nate gave me a modern gift of a blender and some beautiful lilies (much nicer than geraniums).

We had a quiet evening at home and watched our wedding videos. Aaron couldn't quite get over that the grandmas were singing before they were grandmas and grandpa was talking before he was a grandpa, but both boys love to watch our wedding with us.

We want to thank everyone who took part in our wedding and our lives. We continue to grow more in love and look forward to what He will do in our future.

DIY Pancake Syrup

This recipe is definitely not as healthy for you as real maple syrup, but is much cheaper. I think is tastes much more like real maple syrup than the maple flavored pancake syrup from the store. I think that this could even make a unique homemade food gift for a breakfast lover.

Simple Pancake Syrup

3 cups granulated sugar
1½ cups water
1 tsp maple extract of maple flavoring

Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan, and bring to a boil stirring frequently. Pour over pancakes, and enjoy immediately, or cool and store for later use.

Some people prefer a little vanilla extract, butter flavoring, and/or molasses added to the recipe to make a more complex flavor of syrup. If you don't like maple flavor in the first place, you can use another flavor instead: vanilla, almond, and raspberry all work well.

Someday I am going to try this tip about saving water from boiling potatoes to make the syrup thicker and richer. I hate throwing anything remotely useful away too, I think I inherited that from my dad.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

DIY Mayonnaise

Homemade mayonnaise is a little time consuming but tastes awesome. I hadn't made it for quite a while, but we ran out of store bought mayo, and it is over an hour each way by bus to get inexpensive Hellman's mayonnaise here. So I decided to try it again. This time, making my own mayonnaise would actually save me time. I also pasteurized the egg this time since I wanted to keep the mayonnaise for more than a couple of days in the fridge. I'll be honest, I don't usually pasteurize raw eggs in things we are going to eat right away (and I do like to eat cookie dough too). However, if you are in a high risk group (very young, very old, immunocompromised, etc.), want to save the mayonnaise a little longer, or the thought of eating raw eggs just freaks you out, go ahead and pasteurize the egg so that you don't have to worry about getting food poisoning from salmonella.

Basic Mayonaise

1 egg yolk
1 cup of oil (vegetable, canola, sunflower, and oil all work well, avoid strongly flavored oil like the weird fish flavored vegetable oil here)

Separate the egg yolk and whisk in a mixing bowl. Begin to add oil literally drop by drop at first whisking to incorporate each drop really well. Don't rush this step. This is not difficult but does require a little patience. If you add too much oil in the beginning the fat emulsion will not hold and your mayonnaise will separate back into egg and oil. After you have incorporated about a third of the oil, you can begin to add the oil a little quicker, until all of the oil is incorporated. If you get tired of whisking by hand, call for someone with endless energy to help. Or you can make this recipe with a hand mixer, stand mixer, or blender to speed up the process slightly and save your arm a little workout.

At this time you can mix in a few tablespoon of whey from draining yogurt (thereby making yogurt "cream" cheese) to better preserve the mayonnaise. Or you can your own healthy lowfat mayo by mixing half mayonnaise and half yogurt. This reduces the fat content with something that is actually good for you and helps preserve the mayo at the same time.

If you want a more flavorful mayonnaise, you can add a teaspoon or two of lemon juice, vineger, or mustard to the egg yolk at the beginning. Some people like a pinch of salt and/or pepper too.

DIY Convenience Foods

Whole Strawberry Sauce
Many store bought convenience foods can easily be made at home. Making them yourself means you know exactly what is in it, and it is usually much cheaper. I still buy some convenience foods, but what I do buy, and what I consider a convenience food has changed considerably over the years. And sometimes it is really more convenient for me to be able to make something myself when we run out, than to have to make a special trip to a store.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

DIY Pasteurize Eggs

If you are making a recipe that uses raw eggs, you may in some circumstances wish to pasteurize them.

This can easily be done in a double boiler (or something you rig up to act as a double boiler). Simply place an egg in water in the top of the double boiler or inner bowl, and heat until the water temperature is between 135–140°F for 3–5 minutes. You may have to remove the double boiler from the heat source, and perhaps even remove the top pan or inner bowl, so the temperature doesn't rise too far above 140°F, which would cook the egg.

*Some sources seem to say that this method only pasteurizes the outside of the egg and not the inside, while others seem to say this method safely pasteurizes the whole egg. Use your best judgment. From my personal experience our mayonnaise lasted much longer in the refrigerator when made with eggs prepared in this manner, and since this method gets the eggs hot enough you have to be careful not to actually cook them, it would seem safe to be. However, if you are truly in a high risk group  you may just want to buy professionally pasteurized eggs.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Vanilla Frozen Yogurt: Making Frozen Yogurt Without an Ice Cream Machine

I made this classic frozen yogurt to accompany our All American Apple Pie for the 4th of July. The taste is refreshingly pure, and it is simple to make with only three ingredients. If you just want plain frozen yogurt, simply omit the vanilla (even simpler).

Vanilla Frozen Yogurt

3 cups yogurt* (homemade yogurt works great)
¾ cup sugar**
1 tsp vanilla

Mix ingredients, and freeze in ice cream freezer if you have one. If you don't have an ice cream freezer, simply mix all ingredients in a freezer safe bowl and place in your regular freezer. After about 30–60 minutes, check on the yogurt, and stir vigorously with a spatula or hand mixer to break up the ice crystals. Repeat this process every 30–45 minutes until the yogurt is frozen well. In general, the more you break up the ice crystals, the longer it will take for the frozen yogurt to finish, but the smoother the end result will be. There is a lot more information on making ice cream and frozen yogurt on David Lebovitz's site.

* Whole milk, strained, or Greek yogurt will yield creamier, richer results than low fat versions
** Reducing the amount of sugar or changing the type of sweetener can dramatically effect the consistency of frozen yogurt or ice cream.


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