Monthly Archives: December 2011

Free For All Friday: New Year’s Resolution

The year is just about over, which means my pescetarian run comes to an end.

I’m kind of sad to see it go. I had a good year sans meat and to be honest, I’ll probably stick to my no-meat ways for the most part (oh, but I am SO having a bite of steak tomorrow night at my NYE dinner. But just a bite, promise!)

No need to give you an update on my meatless year. It was pretty uneventful and sometimes painful, but overall enjoyable. If people didn’t give me such crap for not eating meat, I’d become a lifer. (peer pressure always prevails, doesn’t it?)

My next resolution is more fun for 2012 (<—that’s a scary number to type). I’m vowing to learn new things and give just one thing up:

  • Bye-bye dairy (except for maybe some Parmesan or Pecorino on some pasta!)
  • Learn to make pasta from scratch  Completed Feb. 2011
  • Make risotto Completed March 2011
  • Braise meat
  • Perfect Cake Balls/Pops for Stacy‘s wedding.
  • Make these once and for all!

found via Google Images

That’s all I’ve got! What are everyone else’s resolutions? lose weight? become more fit? yadda yadda yadda?

Is anyone resolving to stop the end of the world come December 21? Maybe John Cusack wants to take another stab?

Thankful Thursday: Mandolines

Not to be confused with a musical lute instrument, or a song by Bruce Hornsby that involves rain, mandolines are a kitchen essential.

image found via Google Images

I’ve longed for one of these beauts for a while. My mom came home with one one day and I was excited to use it for this scalloped-potato dish, since previous attempts at slicing potatoes evenly had been less than successful.

My bff Pam‘s mom uses her to turn veggies into homemade chips. You can use also them to slice various veggies (carrots, zucchini, onion) and make fun shapes, like crinkle cut! It can julienne veggies into strips, etc. Basically what I’m saying is, they’re amazing. And your kitchen should have one.

Thanks, mandolines for providing us with amusing shapes and slices. Food wouldn’t be as fun without you.

*And because mentioning Bruce Hornsby and his depressing song isn’t enough, here’s a video of him singing Mandolin Rain in the same month and year that I was born.

Wordless Wednesday: Beefy

I can eat this in 4 days and counting...

Tasty Tip Tuesday: Hard-Boiled Eggs

There’s not much more disgusting than a grey ring inside of a hard-boiled egg. (Please, no hateful comments. Exaggeration is my thang.)

It’s completely unappetizing and even has a different taste from an egg that hasn’t been plagued by the grey ring.

ew, see the grey ring?

But not to worry, egg over-cookers! My tasty tip will give you perfectly cooked eggs every time.

First, “hard-boiled” is a misnomer. You shouldn’t be boiling the eggs. The whites cook faster than the yolk, so when you boil eggs, you have to cook them longer than necessary to cook the inside, resulting in an overcooked egg (hence, grey ring.)

Instead, you should cook eggs slowly and evenly. I put my eggs in the pot, cover with an inch of water and let the water come to a boil. I let the water boil for one minute (set a timer) then cover the pot, turn the heat off and let them sit in the water for 13 minutes. This results in beautiful eggs.

Hard Boiled To Perfection

Some things to note:

  • After the eggs have been sitting in the hot water for 13 minutes, I carefully dump out the water then fill it up with ice water. You can also have an ice bath ready for the eggs in another bowl. This stops the cooking process immediately. If you don’t do this, you could have over-cooked eggs.
  • I peel my eggs right away when they’re warm because they’re easier to peel that way. I highly recommend it.

Meatless Monday: Potato Arugula Salad

I’ve posted this recipe waaay back here, but I feel like it doesn’t get any love since my readership was zero back then. I’m recycling this recipe for two reasons:

  1. It’s good and should not be overlooked.
  2. It’s the day after Christmas and I deserve a pass, right?

I made this recipe recently and turned it into a meat version for my SO and dad. I kept it original for the non-meat eater (me) and it’s so good and filling. Not to mention super easy. Have fun with it, too. If you read the original blog post about it, you’ll see that I, along with someone else, changed the recipe to turn it into a main course instead of side.

I really want you to read the original blog post to get the recipe for this, but a quick overview:

  • I roasted baby potatoes at 400 degrees on parchment paper until they were nice and crispy, about an hour. I seasoned them well with just salt, pepper and EVOO.
  • I tossed some baby arugula with some crumbled blue cheese and sliced sweet onions.
  • I made a dijon vinaigrette and tossed the salad with it once I added the roasted potatoes.
  • For a meat variation, I rubbed some chicken breasts with some spices (I think I used cayenne, oregano, cumin and some chili powder and salt, pepper.)

Top it with Chicken for meat eaters

That’s all there really is to it. It’s simple and delicious, which is totally my bag, baby. I highly recommend arugula, but I mixed my most recent variation of this with some spring mix for the picky eaters in my family. Have fun with it and enjoy!

Free For All Friday: Guest Blog: Christmas Tamales

I asked my SO’s sister, Brynn, to write today’s blog post. She and her fiance’s mom and sister whipped up a couple (um…A LOT) of tamales last weekend for a traditional Mexican Christmas. I was jealous of the ordeal and never made it over to help out with the assembling, but I did manage to snatch up some of the tasty tamales.

This whole process is amazing and hopefully one day I’ll learn to make them myself. Here’s Brynn’s account of the tamale-making (she’s got way cool pictures). Enjoy and have a GREAT Christmas Eve:

This Christmas was the first time in five years that I was finally able to learn the art of tamale making from Kevin’s mother, who is now my future mother-in-law. As this is the last Christmas before I will marry into this family, I was basically obligated to learn how to make this traditional Christmas meal in order to ensure a healthy and happy marriage. And because Melissa requested that I be a mole (not to be confused with molé), I forced myself to focus and take notes.

When I arrived, Kevin’s mom, Michelle, had already begun preparing the hojas (corn husks) by soaking them in water and letting them air dry in a colander. While they were drying, Michelle and her friend Pat prepared the meat fillings.

Pat began to heat her chicken in molé sauce, while Michelle prepared the molé that she would use to flavor her shredded beef. They explained that there is no standard sauce for the meat, but each family has their own preference. For example, Michelle’s began with a two large cans of Las Palmas Red Chili Sauce, to which she added cayenne pepper, granulated garlic powder, salt and other spices. After the sauce was warmed and the seasonings incorporated, about five pounds of pre-cooked shredded beef were stirred in.

Traditionally, tamales can be filled with just about anything, ranging from meat like chicken, beef, or pork, to vegetarian options like potatoes, green chili and cheese, or even strawberries and sugar.

According to Kevin’s dad, one of his co-workers brought him sugar-filled, Jello-flavored tamales. Apparently, the guy was super proud of himself for mixing the green powder in with the masa.  What creativity, what genius! (Personally, I would stay away from this variety).

After the fillings were ready (pots of chicken and beef, cubes of pepper jack cheese, strips of green chilis, and a huge bowl of black olives), it was time to spread the “masa on the hojas”.  The masa is corn flour dough that surrounds the fillings and creates the little pouch of goodness. Basically, it is corn flour, salt and water, whipped until fluffy and spreadable. More traditionally, the masa also includes lard, or manteca. This gives the dough more flavor (as fat usually does….that sneaky little ingredient), but also makes it a lot more, well, fatty. Duh. The masa can be prepared at home, but when roughly 45 pounds of this dough is needed, you will be pleased to know that many Mexican markets and restaurants sell this dough for anywhere from 80 cents to $1.20 per pound. 

We took the hojas, found the “smooth side”, took a glob of the masa, and spread it on the wider half of the husk. The goal is to get a nice even coat, about a quarter to half of a centimeter thick. I think I pretty much nailed this part.

In an assembly-like fashion, the husks were filled with a spoonful of meat (plus an olive for a bite of saltiness!), a chili and slice of cheese, or chicken and cheese. Pat even added a spoonful of creamed corn to her chili and cheese tamales. Then the tamales were folded, and because the husks were of various sizes, sometimes a second husk was added for extra protection.

The final step was wrapping the tamales in food paper. Michelle explained that while this was not necessary, it prevented the tamales from dripping on each other while cooking.

The most mysterious part of the process to me was always how the tamales were cooked. Baked? Broiled? Fried? Seriously, I had no idea. Turns out these little puppies are steamed. Yes, steamed.

Ten to 15 tamales are layered in a large pot and steamed for about two hours. However, depending on the quantity of tamales being made, the majority are stored in bags and frozen raw. (Add another 30 minutes to an hour for steaming frozen tamales).

Overall, we made 20 dozen tamales.

That’s 240 tamales, people! And I was probably responsible for consuming at least ten in the course of just two days. And it would probably have been a lot more if it weren’t for the shreds of dignity and self-control that I was holding onto.

If you want to learn how to make tamales, my best advice would be to get engaged to a Mexican. Kidding! But honestly, you will only really learn by watching and helping a more experienced tamale-maker. Keep your eyes and ears open for any friends that make tamales and offer them a hand!  If they make anywhere near as many as Kev’s family, they will probably appreciate the help. :)

Clockwise from front left: Pat, Dana, Brynn, Michelle

Psst: Check out Brynn’s blog here, which is chock full of humor, math, travel and food; and thank you to the math master for guest blogging for me!

Thankful Thursday: My Hungry Family

If there’s anyone I love to cook for the most, it’s my family. They shower me with praise and love when I really nail a dish (and when I royally screw up, they let me know, too. You know, ’cause they’re family).

And now that the holidays are present (ha! see what I did there?), my whole family is together again (my sister calls Colorado her home and my brother stays hot over in Arizona.) Here’s a dorky Christmas picture from last year:

I’m the raven-haired beauty in the middle. Aren’t we so festive?? (Totally missed out on the red memo)

I cook for my family every night and I’ve even turned my picky brother onto some amazing things. Here he is scarfing down this shrimp recipe:

om nom nom

And me and my sis swap recipes left and right. Stacy even sends me pictures her of her delectable dinners almost every night via text. And I got her a subscription to Food Network magazine last year for Christmas and she’s been in love ever since.

One of Stacy's dinner texts

My mom and dad reap most of my cooking benefits. Dearest Dad really appreciates having a home-cooked meal every night and he’s even lost some serious lbs since I’ve been cooking for him (I’m still waiting for a personalized letter and compensation from his MD.) I really love cooking for him.

I’ve gotten to teach Mom a few tricks in the kitchen and we even make meals together about once a week.

And, of course, I love watching my SO [Max] scarf down my various creations. He always tells me how lucky he is to have a gourmet cook as a girlfriend, and each time I keep quiet cause he hasn’t eaten at George’s before. I dread the day he finds out that there’s people out there better in the kitchen than me—they’re called chefs!

I got Max to eat sashimi! Cross that off the bucket list...

Anyway, thank you, family, for scarfing down my food and giving me praise (even if it is sometimes false). I will cook for you always.

Wordless Wednesday: Olive You

Good Faith Olives (click to be informed)

 

Photo credit: Maxwell Hewitt

Tasty Tip Tuesday: Un-Stick Your Pasta

You know when you boil a big pot of pasta, drain it, throw it back in the pan and then the pasta all kinda clumps together?

Well I’ve got the solution to your sticky problem.

First, make sure you boil your pasta in plenty of water. More boiling room=less clumping together. So get your biggest pot full of water (like two-inches-from-the-top-full) and cook your pasta in that (carefully seasoned with salt, of course).

Then, when your pasta is cooked to your liking, take a glass liquid measuring cup and scoop out about one or two cups of the boiled pasta water.

Scoop and Save

Set that aside and then pour a little over the pasta to separate. Works like a charm thanks to the starchy water!

You can also reserve the water and then pour all of it over the clumped pasta in a strainer right before serving if you’re using the whole pot of pasta at once.

Unsticking Magic

Meatless Monday: Cheddar and Beer Fondue

There’s something about fondue that’s irresistible. I feel like it always sounds good, even though I know I’ll feel awful after eating it. I’m cheese’s biggest fan and my boyfriend is beer’s. So when we marry the two, it’s a blessed occasion.

I made fondue with my SO’s cousin, Ryan, and his wonderfully fantastic girlfriend Kate. Ryan had never experienced the spiritual awakening known as fondue, so it was fun to cook it for him.

I’ve been using this recipe since my college days (you know, those days that are sooo far gone) and it’s always been a hit. The most memorable time was when I made it for the Oscars. We chowed down on the cheesy goodness while we filled out our ballots and screamed in excitement or horror when winners were announced.

Fondue is super easy to make and filling. It’s great for parties and entertaining and good when you need to use up produce that’s about to go bad in the fridge.

You can get creative with fondue and use whatever dipping foods you want, but here’s what we used:

1 head of cauliflower, steamed

3 florets of broccoli, steamed

baby potatoes, cut in half and steamed

2 Granny Smith apples, cubed

1 fresh baguette, cubed

1 bag of Lil Smokies, heated

1 bellpepper, cut into chunks

2 stalks of celery, sliced into inch-pieces

Tips and Variations: Use cherry tomatoes,steamed baby carrots, gherkin pickles, tortilla chips, pita bread, soft pretzels, tofu, tortellini, pears, etc. Get creative and dip away.

White Cheddar Beer Fondue

  • 1 cup of lager beer (I won’t tell if you go cheap. They use PBR at Melting Pot in La Jolla!)
  • 2 cups of white cheddar (or sharp cheddar), shredded
  • 1/2 cup swiss or gruyere, shredded
  • 1 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. spicy brown mustard
  • 2 dashes Tabasco (or your favorite hot sauce)
  • 3 dashes Worcestershire sauce

Melt it Down

  1. Toss the cheese with the flour to fully coat.
  2. Pour the beer into a small, deep pot and warm over medium heat until bubbly.
  3. Handful by handful, drop in the cheese and stir with a wooden spoon until completely melted.
  4. Turn the heat to low.
  5. Once all the cheese has been incorporated, add the mustard, hot sauce and Worcestershire. Stir to completely mix in.
  6. Transfer the cheese to a fondue pot (or just keep it in the pot and put it on a hot plate) and dip away!

Ready for dipping

Fondue is super easy. Promise. And it’s also easy to mess around with the cheeses and combos. You can try using a white wine with a swiss and gruyere mixture for a classic fondue. Skip the white cheddar and go for the orange stuff. Make things spicy by adding some pepper jack.

P.S. I tried to take a macro shot of the cheesy goodness on some bread, but my point and shoot doesn’t work so well in low light, as evidenced by this here photo:

Anyone willing to buy me a new camera for Christmas??

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