Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Getting the Most out of Your Tiny Tico Kitchen: Baking

I have always been a big baker.  I even considered going to culinary school for a brief, confused teenage moment.  Obviously I didn't, and the only things I know about baking is what I've done on my own and what Alton Brown has taught me on the Food Network.  With that slight knowledge, I think I have made some pretty tasty creations.  I'm big into cookies, cakes, pies and vegan baking.  I have been adding to my baking arsenal since I was in high school.  My first big purchase came as a sophomore in college, my fabulous kitchen aid stand mixer!  I continued adding in spring form pans, mini cupcake pans, doughnut pans, pastry gun, cookie spritzer gun, flan molds, you name it, I probably had it.  Alas, it was all left in the states when I moved to Costa Rica.

One of the most frustrating things living here is having to start all over again.  In the states I already had furniture and sheets.  I had my baking utilities.  I had great pans and sharp knives.  I had wine glasses and a can opener.  I had a KitchenAid brand stand mixer AND blender.  Overall, I had a very nicely stocked kitchen.  Some things I managed to bring down (silverware, garlic press, my good Wusthof knife) but my main treasures were just too big and heavy to make it down (blender, stand mixer).  We are slowly starting to build our collection here, but Oscar sometimes doesn't understand why I need (want) certain things.  We went to buy groceries yesterday and I had a huge list of baking items I needed (flour, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, vanilla, spices, etc) and he just didn't get why I needed so much.  "Because we don't have any of this yet!  I can't bake without flour!"

I really wanted to make some pumpkin cookies, but we were unable to find pumpkin in the two stores we went to.  So today I settled with baking "spicy" chocolate chip cookies.  I found the recipe online, hoping for something miraculous.  But really it's just a chocolate chip cookie recipe with some spices in it.  The end result is yummy but not as "autumn-y" as I really wanted.  I nearly tripled the spices they wanted, and the flavor is still quite muted in the cookie.  But this post is not so much about my so-so cookies, but more about the process of making them.

We have no large mixing bowls.  The largest bowl we have, we use to store onions.  So I dumped out the onions and used that bowl to mix.  We do have a whisk, which happens to be extremely flimsy, and I brought a rubber spatula from the states with me.  We have one measuring cup, but we use it to hold the bag of natilla in the fridge.  No measuring spoons.

I began by "creaming" the butter and sugar.  I had to first soften (half melt) the butter in the toaster oven to get it to a texture where I could whisk it properly.  I then added the sugar (I didn't have brown sugar, but that's another story) and vanilla and managed to whip it up alright.  For measuring I used a glass that looks like about a cup, and the smallest spoon I could find which might equal to about one teaspoon.  I found out that the eggs should be washed before cracking because some of them still have feathers, dirt or chicken poop on them, and none of those things are called for in my recipe.  Then came mixing the dry ingredients into the wet ones.  The large onion bowl was already in use by the wet ingredients, so what I had to do was use two small glass bowls to mix the dry ingredients.  I split the ingredients about in half for each bowl and mixed them up.  Finally, the whisk just sucked too bad mixing the dry and wet ingredients together, so I used my smack-ula (rubber spatula) instead.

My measuring cup and teaspoon

In baking the cookies, I opted for the toaster oven instead of regular oven.  My regular oven has 4 degree settings, two of which are the same degree so there's really only three.  They are 284°, 410°, and 572°(all Fahrenheit).  These cookies called to be cooked at 375° degrees and I didn't think 284° or 410° were quite close enough to cut it.  The toaster oven actually has more degree settings than the oven.  The downside to the toaster oven is it's SMALL.  I have two glass pans that can fit inside, one is an 8x8 and the other an 8in round.  This means I can cook 4 cookies at a time.  With a cook time around 15 minutes, it took me over 2 hours to just cook the damn things!  Was it worth it?  I guess so.  I have nothing else to do during the day.  And the cookies turned out alright.  And Oscar will really like them.  So I guess it was vale la pena.

Only four cookies in the toaster oven at a time.

The finished "spicy" chocolate chip cookies.

Grumble grumble.  I know that for centuries people cooked and baked without ovens or kitchenaids.  But goddamit I grew up using those and I love them!  Making these cookies in the rustic style wasn't bad at all and they turned out tasty.  The worst part was cooking them 4 by 4.  I mean that really sucked.  In the end, here's my top 10 things that I wish my tiny tico kitchen had.

10. Warm water from the tap
9. A gas stove
8. No ants
7. Good cookie sheets
6. More kitchen gadgets
5. Bigger freezer
4. More cabinets
3. A kitchen aid
2. A working oven with a wide range of degree settings
and the number one thing I wish my tiny tico kitchen had.....

Here's all the "counter space" I have in the kitchen.  It's messy because I hadn't cleaned up after the cookies yet.  But you can see that the only counter space we really have is the stove top.  I'm not really into "bigger is better", but damn would I love a spacey kitchen!

Oscar says ticos hardly ever bake and that's why it's so hard to find ingredients, big kitchens or working ovens.  But I wonder if the lack of supplies and space causes the ticos to not want to bake.  Which came first...?