Friday, May 6, 2011

Cinco de Mayo

Happy belated Cinco de Mayo!

This year's celebration was filled with the laughter of great friends, amazing food and a margarita (or two).

It is so fun to have an excuse to celebrate any and every holiday and use the occasion to indulge in some of the best things that life has to offer! As I think about all the traditions that make Cinco de Mayo fun, I can't help but think about my grandparents, particularly my grandfather. While he enjoyed every holiday with family and friends, he didn't really need a reason to indulge. He started every day with a shot of whiskey, made frequent trips to the mexican bakery, sat on his porch daily with a beer in hand and music playing in the background, and never turned down good, homemade food.

While I would certainty love to relive any of those moments with him, I can do my very best to relive his memory through all my favorite indulgences.

Nothing quite brings back the memory of my grandfather like some mexican sweet bread (pan dulce)! I am sure there are many great bakeries that in the area that do bake this quite well, but I wanted to take on the challenge of making some myself.  For me, bread either goes very bad, very quickly or turns out to be the most delicious thing ever. In my opinion, the greatest gratification in cooking is taking a perfectly browned, risen loaf of bread out of the oven.  So I was prepared for this recipe to fail and even started to google some bakeries nearby that I could visit to satisfy my craving.  The recipe I used was from Allrecipes.com. They have many recipes for pan dulce, but I picked this one solely on the fact that I had all the ingredients already.

Starting with the staple ingredients (milk, flour, sugar, eggs, butter, yeast)

Combining the wet ingredients with the yeast (this is normally the step where my bread goes bad).
Adding flour until you get a nice ball of dough that separates from the slide of the mixing bowl.  (this recipe calls for 6 cups of flour and I only needed 5)
Let rise.
One hour later....
Separate into small balls and let rise again for an hour.
Flatten into ovals and place on greased baking pan.
...and what makes this bread so special.....the sugar topping!!!
You have to literally spread the sugar topping on top of the dough. The recipe tells you to just add the crumbled topping to the dough, but in order to get that nice design, you need to smooth the sugar topping on. I found that the back of a spoon worked well.
The sugar topping is also the chance to make this bread look fancy! You can add any food color and make a fancy design in the sugar topping. I opted to stay on the safe side and leave it as is. I did add some almond extract to the sugar topping which is not in the recipe, but I think almond extract makes everything better and it certainly added a little something special to this bread!

The recipe calls for 15-20 minutes of baking but I left mine in for about 25 minutes. The topping got slightly golden and the bread was browned on the edges. The smell in the apartment was DELICIOUS! I couldn't contain myself.
I helped myself to one right away! It was exactly as I remembered. I was right back at my grandmother's kitchen table.

Although, I do have to say eating this right out of the oven made it exponentially better!
They didn't quite look like those served in the bakery, so I do have some room for improvement, but I am excited to make these again and share them with my family.

I can say I indulged in a few too many of these but it was in the spirit and celebration of my grandfather, who was never hesitant to indulge in something sweet and delicious.

Here is a little video that shows just how excited my grandfather would be to celebrate any occasion!


Sunday, May 1, 2011

To the market!

Wow, how is it May already? I feel like it was just yesterday that I was posting about all the exciting things I wanted to do in April. Sadly, that was my only post in April and even sadder, I didn't do any of those fun things! After returning from San Antonio in early April, I came down with a terrible flu-like bug that took me out for weeks! I haven't been that sick in awhile. Well....I should say, I haven't felt that sick in weeks. Between an ugly case of bronchitis in January and severe allergies in Feb. and March, I feel as though I have been sick for all of 2011! So I spent most of April indoors trying to recover.

This was the first whole weekend that I felt totally normal. The kleenex use has decreased significantly and I have all my taste buds back! 

So I took advantage of feeling better and the gorgeous sunny day to check out Eastern Market. I am ashamed to say, but in the 2 years that I have lived in the DC area, I have never been to Eastern Market. I have been to restaurants and shops in the area, but have never walked the streets of the market on a weekend. Eastern Market is Washington's DC's oldest operating fresh food public market. It has been around in some form for over 136 yrs! It is located in the beautiful Capitol Hill neighborhood and is easily accessible from the metro.  


Instantly I was in love. All the fresh fruits, vegetables, flowers and delicious aromas were enough to capture my attention for a couple of hours. 

First I made a quick round through all the fruit and veggie stands and inside the North Hall. North Hall houses more of the established vendors that include a butcher, fish market, bakery and additional produce stands. It was so full of people, you couldn't even move. So I immediately went back outside and did a second round by the outdoor vendors and took the time to take in the sights and smells of all the wonderful produce. Look at these great colors: 



It was tough to resist buying everything, so since many of the vendors only accept cash I made a trip to the ATM and only took out $20 and vowed to not spend more than that. (I also vowed to be back again next weekend!)

The one thing I was most interested in was buying herbs so I can start a herb garden on our apartment balcony. There was a lot to chose from, but I decided to start with a beautiful rosemary plant and basil. Two of my favorite herbs! (Only $6 for three large plants)

In addition to my herb purchase, I bought a couple ears of corn and potatoes for dinner tonight and treated myself to a delicious, fresh squeezed strawberry lemonade. It was delicious! There were lots of fresh fruit options to mix-in with your lemonade. What a great idea! 

I resisted all the food stands that included many different options from organic soups, fresh doughnuts, and BBQ. There was also tons of beautiful art that got me thinking about all the fun gifts I could get that would differ from my normal gift card or bottle of wine. 

And of course, it doesn't hurt to have your walk through the market serenaded by beautiful saxophone music...

Of course, many of the other markets in the DC area offer the same things that Eastern Market does, but it was a great experience for me to do some outdoor shopping on a beautiful day. 

You can see all my Eastern Market pictures at my new photography website here

I look forward to writing about more of my market finds and keeping you posted on how my herb garden does! 

Happy Market Shopping and Happy May Day!