Tuesday, December 1, 2009

I Made It, I Ate It, It Sucked

Long time no eat?

No, I've been eating, I just haven't been trying out many new recipes, so about a week ago, I decided to make something that was in an issue of "Everyday Food." It was a butternut squash cannoli, and frankly, I'm not really sure what made me decide to try it out. It's not something I'd even think to order in a restaurant, and yet, here I was deciding to cook it myself. Perhaps it was just the seasonality of it that sounded appealing...

Anyway, I can't seem to find the recipe online, but it was basically mashed butternut squash with some herbs, stuffed into flat lasagna noodles, then covered in a ricotta cheese mixture. The final touch was some fried fresh sage leaves.

Alas, it sucked. It was dry, and screaming for some kind of greasier cheese, and the texture was just too much like baby food. And I think I have to face the fact that I don't really like squash. I'm not a big fan of sweetness in my dinners, and butternut squash is really too sweet for me.

So, most of it ended up in the compost bin. Which is fine, because Thanksgiving was just a few days later, and THAT was a success. But that's another post for another time!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Gumbo Blah Blah

I made gumbo a few weeks ago, for the first time. I followed the recipe my mother follows, which is basically the one in "The New Orleans Cookbook." The verdict: It was O.K.!

It's really not that hard a thing to make. There is a lot of chopping to do, but as long as you get all the ingredients prepped and ready beforehand, the rest is just stirring. (After browning the chicken parts first.) Of course, the hardest part is making the roux, which is just oil and flour, stirred until your arm falls off, or it is the correct shade of brown, whichever comes first. It took me about 20 minutes of stirring before it got to the color the recipe said (I can't recall right now, but I think it said "hazelnut" color), but I probably could have let it go a little longer; I was just scared of it burning. After that, you add the veggies, and let them cook, and then add the water and meat and simmer for at least 45 minutes. Then add some shrimps, and serve!

It wasn't as good as my mother's; I thought it was a tad bland, but for a first attempt, I think it was all right, and it was even better the next day, as leftovers. It's definitely something I will attempt again in the future, paying a little more attention to the whole roux process.

Oh, also, for anyone thinking of following the recipe in the book, do NOT add as much water as they say to. It will be waaaay too bland and thin if you do. I added a little more than half the recommend amount before stopping.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

I Could Show You a Picture, But It Might Make You Lose Your Appetite

My camera's on the fritz, so all the pictures I take are a sickly green, and oozing with psychedelic trails. But I figured it's about damn time I updated this blog, so here's a description of tonight's dinner. You'll just have to trust me that it looked appetizing.

I'm still doing the vegan-during-the-week thing, but I've been finding myself kind of losing steam come midweek. It might be a need for protein, it might just be mid-week exhaustion. Whatever the case, I decided to make Wednesday nights fish night, since I should eat more fish, and just haven't been eating it on the weekends.

So tonight I got a wild caught salmon fillet and prepared it by rubbing some olive oil, salt, and pepper on it, placing it in a small cast iron skillet skin side down, covering it, and cooking it on medium heat. This ensures a crispy skin, which is perhaps my favorite part of a good piece of salmon. I think it took about 10 minutes to cook through. I made a sauce of capers, parsley, lemon juice, garlic, and a bit of lemonaise to put on top.

On the side were a couple of small, boiled fingerling potatoes. They're bright yellow potatoes, and don't need any butter, just a little salt. (For reals.) And finally, I also made some roasted tomatoes, which were broiled in the toaster oven with a sprinkling of sugar and olive oil.

And then I ate it all, and it was AWESOME. The salmon was so much better than some of the sickly pink farmed salmon I've had. And the tomatoes were amazing. I'm not a big tomato fan. I don't really like them raw, unless they're really flavorful heirlooms, and tomato sauce doesn't really agree with me. So this is definitely a way I'll be eating more tomatoes in the future.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

No, I Haven't Starved To Death

But, I did take my vegan thing beyond the one week mentioned in the previous post. In fact, I'm going on week six. BUT! I'm only doing it during the week. Come the weekends, all bets are off. (Although, I usually end up eating vegan for most of the weekend as well.) I'm allowing myself these weekend breaks because this isn't really an ethical thing for me. (Although, the less I eat meat, the less I see a need to eat it.) I started it just because I wasn't feeling very well in general. I've had digestive issues for over ten years, and while I couldn't pinpoint the problem to one food in particular, I did always feel my worst after eating a particularly rich meal. And rich meals are usually filled with animal fats, in one form or another. Going just plain vegetarian would have resulted in me eating a lot more cheese, which would defeat the purpose. So vegan it was.

Now, I don't want to get gross on you, but I just have to say, for the most part, it has been miraculous in the poop department. (I'll just leave it at that.) And because of that, I feel generally better all around. And I've lost a couple pounds in the process, too.

But here's a few things I've learned in my adventures in veganism:

* There is no such thing as non-dairy cheese. There is stuff that looks like cheese, but there is nothing that isn't cheese that tastes like cheese. I think you can get away with some fake products, like fake ground beef, because most of the time ground beef just ends up tasting like the thing you're cooking it in, and the fake stuff matches the texture enough to be totally adequate. But fake cheese? No. The texture doesn't match, the flavor doesn't match, and it's just. Not. Cheese.

* Rice milk gives me heartburn. I have no idea why. It doesn't seem to make any real sense, but it does. But that's not a big loss, because the stuff sucks anyway. I recently tried almond milk, and it's a whole lot better than the rice milk, but I'm not sure it's all that different from the soy. Regardless, none of these fake milks is anything I would want to drink an entire glass of with a (vegan) chocolate chip cookie, so they're all relegated to my morning coffee and cereal, and they're fine that way.

* Uncle Eddie's Vegan Oatmeal Raisin Cookies are like crack.

* I'm still kind of lazy when it comes to cooking, but I've found a vegan diet lends itself much better to laziness. Aside from the chopping that needs to be done to the vegetables, there's a lot less cooking since I'm not frying up or baking any kind of meat.

* Pita, hummus, avocados, and sliced heirloom tomatoes is the perfect lunch.

So, I'm going to keep this up as long as I can. I'll probably fall off when I go on vacation next month, but for the most part, I think this is a pretty good way to eat, and live. I didn't eat red meat for over ten years starting in 1991, and while I don't think I'll be able to kiss bacon or steak good-bye for that long again, I do think I will go back to not eating just any kinds of meats, indiscriminately. If I eat steak, I want it to be grass-fed beef. And if I eat bacon, I want it to come from pigs that haven't had their pigtails clipped to painful nubs because they are packed in so tightly with other pigs that they gnaw each other's tails off. (Yeah, I'm reading "The Omnivore's Dilemma" right now. How'd you know?)

And when I DO eat a steak, you better not overcook it. You overcook it, it's no good; it defeats its own purpose.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

We Can Be Vegan (Just For One Day)

Or maybe a week...

I've been in a rut cooking wise. For the past couple of weeks I've been swamped with work and writing, and on days that I work at the office, I usually don't get home until about seven. At that point, I just want something fast and easy, and that usually ends up being a frozen dinner, or something with chicken. Or I get something on the way home, and that something is not always very healthy. So, I figured I could get out of the rut by creating a challenge for myself, and that challenge is to try going vegan for while. I have no idea how long I can keep it up, and I bet come the weekend I'll probably fall onto the meat wagon, as it were. But if I can keep it up for most of the week, that's probably not a bad thing....

Tonight I sauteed three kinds of mushrooms in olive oil and Madeira wine along with some spring onions, garlic, and shallots. I then added some cooked Israeli couscous (also called pearl couscous) and raw spinach and mixed that all together until the spinach was cooked through.

I love Israeli couscous, so much more than regular couscous. It's like eating tapioca pearls for dinner. (I think I like almost any food that comes in ball form. Except for eyeballs. And testicles.) The dish was good; very fresh tasting, and very filling. But it needed a lot of salt, even though I had seasoned it as it was cooking.

I think what I like about doing the vegan thing for a little while is that it really helps to narrow down choices when it comes to grocery shopping. An overabundance of choices usually just makes me freeze up and get the same old crap I always do, but knowing I can't get anything that has any kind of animal or dairy product in it means my choices are slashed, a lot, and I have to get a little more creative with things. And, in most cases, it's just automatically healthier, too.

The only thing I'm kind of having an issue with is drinking soy milk instead of regular milk. I don't have a problem with the taste. I mean, it's not like I don't know I'm drinking soy milk; it has an obviously different taste, but it's a taste I don't mind. But when I drink milk, it is non-fat milk, and so far I've only been able to find "lite" soy milk, which still has a lot of fat in it. And I don't like the fact that I am now consuming MORE fat by drinking soy milk. I'm sure there's fat free soy milk out there, but I imagine the taste is probably a lot worse than even the lite soy. I also looked into rice and almond milk, but both brands that they had at my store were full of fat. I'll probably have to make a trip to AssWhole Foods to find a larger variety. But if I can't find one that's lower in fat, and also tastes OK, I may have to go back to milk, at least for my cereal in the mornings...

Monday, April 6, 2009

Salty Salted Salt

Here's something I don't understand about myself: I love salty foods. Chips; anchovies; olives; sardines; Dutch licorice called "DoubleZout" that tastes like salted tar, (no one outside of my family who I've given it to has been able to finish a piece without spitting it out). But I'm not someone who pours a ton of salt on everything I eat. So, I like foods that are salty, but do not make all of my foods salty.

What's that about?

I bring it up because for dinner tonight I had a Caesar salad with an entire can of anchovies AND some boiled shrimps. Really, I could eat anchovies straight out of the can, but that's unseemly, so the salad is just a vehicle for those anchovies to reach my mouth. The dressing was Girard's, which is one of the better bottled Caesar dressings I've had.

Bottom line, a Caesar salad without anchovies is just a damn salad with some Caesar dressing. And if you don't want those anchovies, just give them to me.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Lemon Merengue Meringue

I made my dad a lemon meringue pie for his birthday as it's his fave pie, and he already had a birthday cake a few days before.

One of the reasons I don't cook dinner every night or bake more often is because my kitchen is tiny, and the amount of counter space I have is a joke. At left is what my kitchen ends up looking like about five minutes after I start to cook anything.

The recipe I used for the pie is the lemon meringue pie recipe listed on the back of a box of Kingsford Cornstarch, although the box I have is a few years old. (Do they still even sell it in boxes? Their Web site doesn't seem to offer it. Which sucks. Why does everything have to come in plastic these days? Isn't a cardboard box cheaper to manufacture?...ANYWAY.) I didn't have a pie tin, though, so I just bought some frozen pie shells that come in pie tins in order to kill two birds with one stone. Also, because of the lack of counter space thing I mentioned, rolling out a pie crust is a real pain in the ass. Well, even more of a pain in the ass than it normally would be.

I think it came out quite good. A lemon meringue pie can be ruined by too much sugar, and I thought this one had a good level of tartness to sweetness, especially since I increased the amount of lemon zest the recipe called for (used about two lemons' worth instead of one). In all, it's a pretty easy pie to make, as long as you aren't a Luddite using a hand whisk instead of an electric mixer. It also helps to have an electric mixer like mine, which goes from a speed setting of "Holy Crap!" to "OMFG! That's Dangerous!"

Monday, March 2, 2009

I Eat a Lot of Chicken

Which isn't exactly a surprise. It's just that a lot of the meals I've featured here have included chicken. And there's probably gonna be a lot more of that as I have done my traditional forsaking of the red flesh for Lent. (Not that I'm Catholic. But I feel like it's a good thing to lay off the meat for a while, and Lent seems as good a time as any to do it.)

So, yes, tonight I had chicken again, specifically this chicken and artichokes with angel hair recipe from Everyday Food. The pasta isn't a total necessity for this recipe, as it's really used as more of a side than part of the main dish, so potatoes or rice would also be good. If I ever make it again, I might add a little lemon juice, just to give it a little extra tartness, but in all it was very good.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Poke a Nom, Nom, Nom

This weekend I made a Poke Cake, and forgot to take a picture before it was eaten by a friend and family and me. (Mostly me.) So the picture at the left is NOT of my cake, but it gives you an idea of what it looked like. In case you don't know, the basic idea of Poke Cake is a regular cake with holes poked in it, into which you pour Jell-o. And then you chill it until the Jell-o is set.

I made the angel food from scratch, my first attempt at one. The recipe I was going to use called for cake flour, but since I was making this at 10 P.M. on a Friday night I didn't really feel like trudging to the store to buy some, so I found a recipe that used regular flour and confectioners sugar instead. Here's something I learned: trying to get powdered sugar out of a box is a pain in the ass, and inevitably results in a kitchen that looks like it's being used to cut cocaine and baby laxative together. Pour it in a container first and then scoop it out.

I used a carton of egg whites because really, what was I going to do with 12 egg yolks? Make a custard to pour over my fat-free cake?...Actually, that sounds pretty good. I love the rituals involved in making an angel food cake. The frantic whipping of the whites, and how you need to invert the cake in the pan for an hour before serving it. But let's be frank. Angel food cake is kind of dry. So Jell-o is the perfect addition, resulting in an extremely moist cake that is still fat free. Win!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Relish It

Don't let the Valentines fool you, this was not my sad Valentine's Day dinner. I had this tonight. It was inspired by a recipe for chicken with tomato relish from Everyday Foods magazine. Very lightly inspired, I should say. First, I used fresh tomatoes instead of the canned the recipe called for because I hate the way canned tomatoes taste when they aren't being used in a cooked sauce. I used everything else in the relish recipe--lemon juice, parsley, capers, olive oil--but it probably would have been better if I let it sit overnight, to turn into more of an actual relish. As it was, it was really just a tomato salad. Which is fine.

As for the chicken portion, I wanted the chicken to be crispy since it was being paired with something kind of mushy, so instead of just pan searing, I decided to coat the chicken in flour, egg white, and Panko, and lightly fry it. ("Lightly frying" sounds like an oxymoron, but I really didn't use that much oil). Pounding out the breasts yielded two pretty big pieces, resulting in the virtual feast you see pictured. I also skipped the spinach portion of the recipe because I thought I didn't have any spinach. (Turns out I did. Derrrrr.)

I forgot to put a lot of salt and pepper in the flour coating, so the chicken was badly in need of some seasoning once on the plate, but other than that, it was really good! I mean, come on. It's basically fried chicken. You can't go wrong!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

I Had Michael Lee Aday For Dinner

The last time I made meatloaf, it was a recipe using ground turkey and tomato soup. Problem with that was it turned the loaf into a permanently pink color, so there was no way by looking at it to really tell when it was done. I cooked it as long as the recipe called for, but turns out that wasn't long enough and I ended up getting sick from eating the undercooked turkey. (That's the only time I've gotten sick from undercooked meat. I'm pretty sure it was because of the ground nature of the turkey. I don't live in fear of undercooked pork chops or chicken breasts that are slightly pink. Just saying.)

So, when I decided to make this meatloaf recipe from Every Day Foods I bought a quick read thermometer since it states in the recipe what temperature the meatloaf should be when it's done. I followed the recipe pretty much, just adding a little Worchestire sauce and some garlic to the meatloaf, and cutting the (store-bought) barbecue sauce with some ketchup. For the sides I didn't have buttermilk so just made standard mashed potatoes (butter, salt, some half-and-half) and I blanched the green beans instead of steaming, just because it was easier (fewer pots).

Getting that meat thermometer was a good idea because cooking the meatloaf for 30 minutes was not long enough in my oven, and it took about 45 minutes before the thermometer even got near the 160 mark. (Yeah, I probably need a new oven, but the thought of trying to finagle an oven in and out of my kitchen just gives me a headache.) As for the meatloaf itself: not the best I've ever had, but not bad either. I'm sure meatloaf that uses a fattier meat instead of lean sirloin tastes better; fattier is always better! But I liked having the slight crunchiness of the vegetables in there, and since there was only a quarter cup of panko crumbs used, it was pretty moist. And I'm sure it'll make good meatloaf sandwiches this weekend!

Some Men Like Cheese...

I always wondered why listening to "Camina Burana" made me hungry....

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Big Ass Salad

Tonight I made one of my favorite no-cook meals: a big ass salad. The core ingredients are mixed greens, of course, as well as tomatoes (heirloom if they're available), a hard-boiled egg, kalamatta olives, and canned tuna. That last bit is a crucial ingredient, because it has to be tuna in olive oil, preferably imported. I think regular tuna packed in water is pretty gross unless it's mixed with a ton of mayo, and I've tried some American brands packed in olive oil, and none have tasted as good as Genova Tonno. I could eat it straight out of the can.

But in this case I add it to the salad, along with any leftover vegetables I might have in the fridge, which today was some broccoli (which I blanched in the water the egg was boiling in) and half an avocado. For a dressing, I just make a vinaigrette in the salad bowl by whisking Dijon mustard, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and a little sugar together. If it's too tart, I add a little water to mellow it out, thus lowering the amount of oil you need. Salt isn't needed for this dressing because of all the salt in the tuna and olives, and also because Dijon can be pretty salty in and of itself.

It was soooo good. A lot better than the picture makes it look. (My camera began to screw up after that picture, so I couldn't take another, more appetizing shot. Alas.) A perfect dinner for nights you just can't be bothered to cook.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

A Nice Spot Of...

Today, Michele and I went to tea at relatively new spot called Crown & Crumpet. It's located in Ghiradelli Square, but don't let that scare you off. Once you step inside you'll totally forget you're in a touristy part of town.

I LOVED it. I'm not afraid of the color pink, which is a plus because the place is quite girly. Really. Just take a look at their photo gallery. We had the tea for two, which came with two pots of tea (I had one called the Paris blend, which was vanilla flavored and absolutely the best pot of tea I have ever had) as well as tea sandwiches (two egg salad, two cucumber, one smoked salmon, one pesto chicken salad, one blue cheese and pear, and one roast beef), three scones (probably some of the best scones I've ever had; not those huge, dry, suck-the-moisture-out-of-your-mouth things that pass for scones around here), two toasted crumpets (I love a good crumpet), and assorted sweets, including tiny madelines, cupcakes, and tarts. All for 42 bucks. Total. Not bad for such a feast! The only complaint I would have is there wasn't enough of the spreads--the clotted cream, butter, jam, and lemon curd--to satisfy this whore-for-cream. (That sounded a lot dirtier than I mean it to.)

The couple who run it are super friendly and not at all stuffy. You can tell they have a good sense of humor about the place, but still take their tea very seriously. I chatted a bit with Amy, (she owns and runs the place with her husband Christopher), who is from San Francisco, and she had some great stories about the guy my high school was named after (J. Eugene McAteer) as she used to live next door to him and his family. Four years at that high school and I never really had any idea who the dude was, until now.

I'll definitely be back, perhaps to try some of the later dinner-like fare, which includes sausage rolls. Mmmmmm.....sausage rolls. Next time you've got a hankering for tea and tiny sandwiches, definitely give this spot a try!

Friday, February 6, 2009

Dip In the Choke In the Dip

An artichoke, just a plain artichoke, doesn't seem like a hearty dinner, but this artichoke was HUGE. Seriously. Like a baby's head. I was afraid that if I didn't eat it, it would clone me as I slept. So, that was dinner tonight.

I steamed it, and it took about 20 minutes. Of course the success of an artichoke depends on the success of the dippin' sauce. For this I used Ojai Cook's Lemonaise, Dijon mustard, lots of fresh lemon juice, and my secret ingredient, boiled garlic. I put two cloves of garlic in the pot of water the artichoke is steaming in, and when they get soft I take them out, remove the peels, and smash them into the sauce. They're garlicky, but a lot mellower than raw garlic.

It was delish, with a few drawbacks: the soft leaves in the middle of the 'choke were really spikey, so it took a lot of care getting the good bits out of those, and it probably could have used about five more minutes of cooking because the heart was a tad bit tough. But in all it was tasty, and surprisingly satisfying.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Burger Me

Well, tonight no cooking will be happening. I had a vet appointment after work, and when my parents offered to get me a burger for dinner, I said "OTAY!" I didn't want to deal with cooking AND forcing pills down my cats throat. So let's talk about burgers instead.

I don't think I've ever cooked a beef burger at home. I may have slapped one on a grill at a barbecue at some point in my life, but that hardly counts. The closest I've come at home is some pre-formed turkey burgers, and it's been years since I made one of those.

Of course this is probably a good thing since limiting one's burger intake is a wise decision. I usually have a burger once a month, twice at the most. My current place of choice is Burger Joint because they are right down the street from where I get my hair done every month, and there's nothing like having a burger after you've spent three hours sitting on your ass waiting for the hair dye to set in. That works up your appetite, yo. Burger Joint's burgers are your standard thin patty, grilled, and they also use Niman Ranch natural beef, which is a good thing.

Ideally, I prefer places that grind their beef on the premises, just because I also like to limit my feces intake every month as well, but that can be hard to find. One good place that does this is the Boulevard Cafe in Daly City. All their burgers are great and perfectly seasoned.

Tonight's burger was from the Holy Grill, which is my parents' burger place of choice. They use Meyer Ranch natural angus beef, and it's a tasty burger, that's for sure. My one problem with them is the buns they use. They're too sweet, too soft, and way too crumbly. I prefer your basic old fashioned sesame seed bun, preferably one that has been toasted on the grill.

Finally, speaking of holiness, my holy grail of burgers has got to be the one pictured above. One of these days I will drive my ass up to Sacramento and have a burger at the Squeeze Inn, because a burger with that much crispy cheese can not--nay, SHOULD NOT--be ignored.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Is It Stir-Fry If You Don't Use a Wok?

First real food post! Woo!

Tonight I went with something relatively simple, although it's not as simple as one would think.

The basic recipe was this chicken and broccoli stir-fry on Cooks.com. I halved most of it since I was just using half a chicken breast, and omitted the ginger because I'm not a fan. Now, I say stir fries aren't as simple as they would seem because it's not just a matter of dumping everything into a wok and cooking. It's all about the timing. You have to brown the meat first, but not too much or it will turn tough when you put it back in the pan; and you have to make sure the toughest vegetables are sauteed the longest, so they have to go in the pan first; and you want most of the cooking done before you put the sauce in, lest the sauce all evaporate. So, yeah. Not that simple.

This one turned out pretty dern good as the chicken was cooked perfectly; really tender. I probably would have preferred the broccoli was a little crisper than it ended up being, but it wasn't too bad. I had it over brown rice, which was actually left over from some Chinese take-out I had this weekend. I reheated it by placing the rice in tinfoil inside a steamer, a trick I learned from my grandmother.

In all, a successful meal. Now I have to start thinking about what to make tomorrow. Horrors!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Because If Every Aspect Of My Life Isn't On the Internet, Then Do I Really Exist?

I thought I'd start a blog about the various meals I attempt to make, just because. Last year I resolved to start to cook more home meals after discovering it wasn't a hard thing to do as long as I went to the grocery store with a menu and recipes in mind. Some things I've made have been awesome. Some, not so much. Perhaps people can learn from my successes, and teach me how to improve on my blunders!

Since I decided to do this after my dinner tonight, I don't have a picture of the finished product, but it was broiled salmon (farm raised, unfortunately) over red quinoa (which is a really delightful alternative to rice or cousocous), and sauteed spinach. The salmon was a little bland, so I made a sauce of capers, dijon mustard, lemon, and a bit of mayo to put on top. It was all quite tasty, but the only thing I can't seem to get right when making salmon is getting the skin crispy (I love the skin) but not having it just end up stuck to the bottom of the pan. I used a cast iron skillet, sprayed it with some Pam AND rubbed olive oil on the skin of the salmon. It still stuck. It was edible--believe me, I ate that sucker--just not very presentable. What's the secret? (Besides a nonstick pan, which I feel doesn't yield as crispy a skin, and isn't good to stick in a broiler.)