Monday, June 14, 2010

Root of All Evil

The following is a rant. If you do not enjoy rants, please leave now.

The other day I was looking for pectin (a thickener for jelly). I wandered up and down the baking isle, the jelly isle, and every other part of the grocery store. I was like the Jews looking for the promise land and it took me almost as long. I wouldn't have been so annoyed, if I hadn't run across so much crap. There were a lot of things that competed for, stupidest thing I've ever found in a grocery store. There was a TV/VCR combo. There were multiple DVDs and CDs from the 80s. However, there was only one thing that made me pull out my camera and stand in the middle of a crammed isle, trying to get the perfect shot of the absolute ridiculousness.

This my friends is why America is afraid to cook. I would like to know what marketing genius decided to convince America that they needed a specific type of pot and steam basket to cook asparagus. This piece of equipment frustrates me on so many levels. First off, it adds a useless piece of equipment to someone's already crowded kitchen. Secondly, it's a unitasker. It only performs one function, for one vegetable, prepared one way. Thirdly, it prepares asparagus in a way that makes it taste absolutely nasty. 

Asparagus can taste amazing. A little salt, pepper, and olive oil does wonders. You can sauté it until almost incinerated and it tastes awesome. In fact, it tastes best slightly charred. How many foods can you say that about? You can  roast it in a baking pan at 350, remove when slightly charred, squirt with a little lemon, and dust with parmesan cheese. This makes a decadent, but majorly easy side dish. 

Why? Why? would you decide to steam asparagus. Gross. However, if you would like your very own piece of ridiculousness, Crate and Barrel sells an asparagus steamer for $39.95. 

Friday, June 4, 2010

If I ever end up on death row....

Trip is over. Move is over. Everything is sorta, kinda getting back into place. Hopefully I’ll find a job. In the meantime comfort food sounds like a good idea. Granted, I’ve made slightly more interesting recipes since I’ve moved in. A quite respectable chicken satay was grilled by Ed, but all I did was follow this recipe and I forgot to take pictures. Clams were made, but yet again picture fail. So, ya'll are stuck with spaghetti and meatballs.

 There is absolutely nothing foodie or exotic about spaghetti and meatballs, nothing at all. Although, I have to say, it is one of my favorite foods. If I was going to die tomorrow, I'd probably ask for spaghetti and meatballs as my last meal. The secret is out, I'm officially a boring eater. 

My method for making meatballs is in no way precise, exacting, or revolutionary. The only thing I demand is that they are indeed homemade. I hate those homogeneous frozen blobs that everyone and their mother serves. I don't know what's in them and I don't want to. Something wrong has to be happening to make them so textureless and smooth. On the other hand, I enjoy knowing what's in my own meatballs and having complete customizable control. Although, I do tend to go a little overboard.

If someone asked what was in my meatballs, I might have to respond, "everything but the kitchen sink" and I wouldn't be kidding. Last night when I realized how long I had gone before posting, I made a conscious effort to record everything and I was amazed exactly how much crap I put into my  meatballs.

When I first starting making meatballs, I had no defined recipe. I just started searching the web trying to find the perfect recipe. If someone told me to do something, I did it. I'm impressionable like that. White bread soaked in milk, sure.  Enough worcestershire to drown a small pig, why not? Parsley, basil, oregano, parmesan cheese, salt, pepper, red pepper, mustard, ketchup absolutely. Enough garlic and onion to kill a vampire and make him cry, you betcha. I just can't help it, someone recommends it I'll do it. 

The best suggestion I ever found was to bake the meatballs, instead of bothering with pan frying. Now this idea is absolutely genius, which you'd agree with if you ever tried to evenly brown a batch of cantankerous, fat spitting, insanely dangerous  meatballs. Line a 9 by 13 pan with aluminium foil. Heat oven to 400. Bake for 20 minutes, turn halfway through. At the end just throw away the foil, cleanup is done. This is genius. 

This is not what I did. I'm currently having a love affair with my cast iron skillet. Thus, I made a splatter filled mess, but the crust formed on the meatballs, by the cast iron pan, made it totally worth it. Plus, I love knowing I can cook with and kill an intruder with just one piece of cooking equipment. 

The following is the most imprecise recipe you'll find on the internet. 

You will need:
Medium sized bowl
Cutting board
Cookie Scoop (or you could make your life difficult and messy by rolling these by hand)
Frying pan or foil line 9 by 13 pan

1 pound of  ground meat (lamb, pork, beef, turkey, chicken really doesn't matter)
1 egg
1/2 red onion chopped
3 cloves of garlic minced
1 piece of white bread soaked in 1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup of breadcrumbs more if your mix is too wet
Squirt of mustard and ketchup
Glug of worcestershire
About a teaspoon of basil, oregano, parsley, salt, pepper, red pepper
1/2 cup of parmesan 
Enough olive oil to coat your pan 

1 big can of Italian style chopped tomatoes
1 small can of tomato paste
1/2 red onion chopped
2 cloves of garlic minced
Sugar, garlic powder, basil, oregano, red pepper, salt to taste

1.) Put all of the meatball ingredients in a bowl. Mix till just combined. Don't over mix or the cooking gods will come after you. 
2.) Take small ice cream scoop and drop meatballs into oil coated pan.
3.)Let sit for a good couple of minutes. You really want a tasty crust to form on the outside. Turn when crust forms (3 to 4 minutes).
4.) When second side almost forms a crust, dump in onions and garlic, let them get just fragrant.
5.) Dump in cans of tomatoes and season to taste. 
6.) Cover, turn down to simmer, let cook through (about 15 to 20 minutes).
7.) Gaze in wonder at your vast amount of counter space (more about this later).

Monday, May 17, 2010

Favorite Thing

Still in the moving/traveling craziness. Nothing disrupts my sense of peace like having my kitchen put in an uproar. Hence, I shall mention the kitchen ickiness no more, well at least not for today. Instead we'll focus on one of my favorite things.

Warning: The following is a truly gross description of a really yummy food. 

I have a soft spot for food with imperfections. I love pizza with bubbles and burnt bits. I'm partial to lumps in my cream of wheat. I like my sunny side up eggs to be slightly scorched,although I also like a runny yoke. Try making that happen without giving yourself an embolism!

One of my all time favorite food mishaps is skin on my pudding. Every food recipe calls for laying plastic wrap on top of the pudding, thus preventing a skin from forming. Blasphemy! The skin is the best part. I will maintain that this holds true in almost all applications. Pork cracklings, yes'um. Turkey skin, guard it zealously or there will be none left for you. Hot chocolate skin, yummy. I know half of you are nauseous right now, but the other half, you're nodding along. You are my peeps.

My favorite thing has a texture just like the skin that forms on top of chocolate pudding or hot chocolate. What is this favorite thing? Mochi, yep you read right mochi. Fun to say, even more fun to eat. 

Technically, mochi is a Japanese rice cake made of glutinous rice pounded into paste and molded into shape. To me, mochi is a form of Japenese ice cream covered in mochi dough. The ice cream is shaped into a ball and then covered in a type of rice paper dough (so going to try making this when I have a kitchen again). The rice paper dough perfectly mimics the skin like quality I love on top of my pudding. Plus, the skin allows you to eat the ice cream with your hands (don't think this is proper at all). Trust me it's awesome.

So far, I've only been able to locate mochi at Japanese restaurants and Whole Foods, but I'd be willing to bet my left arm that it's available in any Asian market. It's probably cheaper at an Asian market too. Whole Foods charges an exorbitant $8.99.

Small warning, do not allow any ice cream loving males near your ice cream, until you are absolutely sure you do not want anymore. Otherwise, you will be longingly blogging about the ice cream you wish you had more of.

*I would post about the raspberry sauce that accompanied this dessert, but it was a kitchen failure. Enough said. 

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Hindsight is 20/20

I’m highly susceptible to suggestion. All those doodads right near the register, I buy them. Ask me to try your restaurant’s newest cocktail, I’ll drink it.  Suggest a new hair color, all of the sudden I’m bald. I just can’t help it.

I blame it all on my dad. A man who has never met a suggestion, fad, infomercial, or doodad he didn’t like. Coincidentally his favorite saying is, “Hindsight is 20/20.”  Yes dad, yes it is.

When it comes to food, this works out really well, most of time… marinated octopus from Zavino, delicious, green pea ice cream from Thalia, orgasmic, purple haze goat cheese, ehh not so much.

Now, I love goat cheese. Give me a spoon, some goat cheese and I’m set. It is quite simply delicious. So, when I saw a posting from one of my favorite food bloggers, Vanilla Garlic, I was intrigued. (I have since realized this was a different cheese, urgh. I wasn't even following the right suggestion!) When I saw a sign in Whole Foods, advertising said cheese, I bought it.  When the sign suggested I  buy a pear with my goat cheese, well let’s just say I obeyed the subliminal messages.  I’m weak people, what can I say.

All hyped up on suggestive advertising, I gleefully took my fancey smancey goat cheese home. I cut it open. I sliced up the pear (because Whole Foods told me to). I took my first bite. ICK! EWW! Gross! What the hell man! I should love this stuff, but it tasted like air freshener.

After taking my first, fateful bite, I actually checked the package.  Figures, the stuff is scented with lavender. Which wouldn’t have been bad, if I had paired it with something that could combat or compliment the floral flavor, but I didn’t. I paired my floral flavored cheese with a delicate pear, which only served to accentuate the cheese’s Febreze like qualities.  This cheese needed to be paired with something that would kick its ass and tell it to sit the frick down. Instead, I paired it with a fruit that just rolled over and played dead.

Oh well, maybe next time. Maybe I’ll make it into a sauce for a nice filet mignon, anything, but pear.  Hindsight is 20/20 (god I hate that saying).

Sunday, May 9, 2010

My Kitchen's Smaller Than Yours

Ed and I watch house hunting shows, a lot.You could say we're obsessed. Probably because we are almost always six months from relocating, to yet another apartment. On these shows, the one phrase that makes my blood boil and puts my panties in a twist is..."the kitchen's too small." This is almost always uttered in response to a place with tons of cabinetry, multiple counters, and a huge range of built in appliances. These people are crazy! Not to mention, half of them don't even cook. Yes, the kitchen is too small to pull out that spread from Boston Market. Ugh! Lets just say I'm bitter. To illustrate my point, lets go to the photographic evidence.

This folks is my kitchen. Doesn't look to bad, does it? Nice bright colors. Homey looking cabinets. Well, let me illuminate you.

See those two objects that look like drawers? Well, one is just a fake. That's right folks, I have one drawer in my entire kitchen. See the cabinets. The ones on the bottom flood quite frequently. Flooding= No storage space. The ones above the stove have shelves that aren't permanently affixed. Learned that one the hard way. Frying pans, not so fun when they're falling from the sky. Just about the only real cabinet space is located right above the sink. Too bad, I can only reach 1 out of the 3 shelves.

But that's all just storage space. The actual work space looks okay, right?

Let us start with the sink (ignore the soap scum). The sink only fits one pot at a time, it's approximately half the size of a real sink and do you see that blue lid in the background? It's not there by chance, it's holding up my faucet.

Then there's the counter that is permanently taken up by my drying rack. This leaves about a 6 inch by one foot space. This is actually an improvement, it used to be completely taken up by the microwave. The microwave has since migrated to the top of the fridge. Nothing like hoisting boiling hot liquids above your head.

Speaking of hot, have I mentioned the oven? The oven that doesn't fit a standard sized cookie sheet. The oven that has burners so close together you burn things by proximity. True story, I once burned a sauce on a burner that wasn't even on, it was just close to the one that was.

Last, but not least, the fridge. Despite serving as the counter to my microwave, it lacks a certain amount of functionality. It unfortunately does not accommodate many regularly sized items e.g. a gallon of milk.

But I don't want to complain, too much. I had good times in this kitchen. Cinnamon rolls from scratch, check. Homemade Cheez-Its, check. Pop-Tarts made entirely by hand, check. Good times my friends, good times. Damn, now I'm actually getting sentimental about this crap kitchen. On to better and hopefully bigger kitchens!

1950's ish Chicken Fried Rice

You asked for pictures, so of course the next thing I made had to be one of the most visually unattractive things ever. (You're only getting one picture of this bad boy, multiple angles do not improve things.) Despite its humdrum appearance, this is one tasty dish, especially considering its relatively humble ingredients.

For those that haven't heard, I'm moving in three weeks. Pair that with a cross continent wedding and you have a kitchen dilemma. How to make food without buying more of it?

Answer, kick it 1950s style.

My mother has a collection of recipes that can only be described as Weight Watchers meets Betty Crocker (sorry mom). They all center around relatively lean meats, little to no fresh ingredients and most of the time some weird sauce. Prime example, Chicken Ala King. A totally strange concoction of jarred peppers, canned mushrooms, carnation milk sauce and chicken over white bread. (One day I'll get around to reworking this mess of a recipe.) Despite my snobby foodie disdain, once in a while I get a craving for my mom's food or I run out of fresh ingredients.

This was a case of both. My mom's chicken fried rice in no way resembles actual Chinese food. It's basically chicken and rice doused with some soy sauce. Despite this, it's actually craveable, probably because of the high salt content. However, it has always lacked that special something. A couple of months ago I figured out what that something was. Fish sauce! Did you not catch my excitement? I'll say it again, FISH SAUCE!!! Yes people, fish sauce is a wonderful thing. A thing I've largely ignored, thanks to two factors.

One, my delinquent roommate. Despite living with me for 5 whole years and being Vietnamese, my roommate never introduced me to fish sauce. Now, if I knew about fish sauce, I would be shouting its wonders to the rooftops. Since I am me, I'm already telling you about fish sauce. But my roommate, who shall remain nameless (but not blameless), kept this secret to herself for 5 whole years. All the while, cooking up such boring things as BBQ wings. Unforgivable!

The other factor in my untimely discovery of fish sauce, the Travel Channel. The bastards had the nerve to show me how fish sauce is made. Now don't get me wrong. It's delicious and I put it on everything. I'm convinced it might even make my flip flops taste better. But trust me, you do not want to know how it's made. You just don't. It's like sausage, ignorance is delicious. Suffice it to say, fish sauce kicks this pantry recipe up a notch. Giving it that je ne sais quois, I was looking for.

1950's ish Chicken Fried Rice

You will need:
Largish frying Pan
Cup of uncooked rice
Chicken breast
Large Onion chopped
Some eggs
Fish Sauce
Soy Sauce

*Ingredient amounts are vague on purpose.

1.) Cook up rice, however you know how. I use my handy dandy rice cooker and if you don't have one (Do you enjoy making your life harder?) just follow these instructions.

2.) Sauté chicken in oil. I generally put in a whole chicken breast and break it up as it browns. When your chicken is about half way cooked, thrown in the onion. You want the onion to get nice and caramelized and the chicken to get a nice crust. This dish has relatively few ingredients, so you have to milk the hell out of them to get some flavor.

3.) Once the chicken and the onion are cooked move them over or take them out of the pan. Then throw in your eggs and scramble them.

4.) Once the egg is finished cooking up, add in the rice, chicken, and onion. Dribble with a little soy sauce and a little fish oil. A little goes a long way, so add sparingly.Don't just souse everything. You're adding flavor, not putting out a fire.

5.) Season with a little salt (remember soy sauce and fish sauce are already salty) and freshly ground pepper. Sometimes I even throw in a little granulated or fresh garlic.

*As mentioned, this is a, "Holy hell, I have nothing in the pantry!" recipe. However, you could make this more tasty by adding any combination of the following:
  • Any veggies you have lying around, I'm partial to asparagus.
  • Fresh scallions
  • Fresh minced garlic and/or ginger
  • Bok choy or green cabbage
  • Cooking the rice in chicken broth
  • A different protein, this would be divine with shrimp.
  • Bean sprouts

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Pie in the Sky

I love my man, I really do, but….. he has this one really annoying quality. Whenever I want to make anything from scratch, his simple and utterly annoying comment is, “Why would you do that for? So and so makes it better.” People the frustration I feel when I hear this phrase, well let’s just say it makes me want to spit nails. How out of all the men on god’s green earth did I wind up with this man? It really makes me doubt the whole divine plan nonsense.

I have received this response whenever I’ve brought up making donuts, chips, bagels, pretzels, etc. It really makes me want to move to the Midwest, where so and so might make it better, but so and so lives a 100 miles away. Needless to say, this attitude has really thrown a wrench into my pizza making dreams.

And boy do I have dreams. I have dreams of slightly burnt charred crust, chunky sauce, complex topping pairings . Alas, these dreams were not to be. That was until my fairy godmother, known by some as Ed’s mom, bought me a pizza stone.  Now you may be able to put off pizza making if you don’t own a pizza stone. Heck pizza is cheap and unfortunately for me, I live within 20 minutes of the little known pizza capital called NYC. But now that I own a pizza stone, my pizza destiny was sealed.  I had to make pizza or I would never find peace. And make pizza I did.

First up the sauce. Now don’t get me wrong most sauce is just fine, but honestly most sauce is just that thing you put on a pizza so it has some color. Smooth marinara sauce completely puzzles me. When did we as a society decide that everything must be pureed into an unrecognizable form? Tomato sauce is made out of tomatoes, therefore I would like to see some damn tomatoes. Is that really too much to ask?  I just want a little texture in my food. That’s all. ( A topic for another time. Orange juice without any pulp, what the hell people.)

Next the toppings. Whenever  I order pizza out, I almost always order it plain. Not because I dislike toppings, but because toppings usually contribute to a soggy crust and are normally subpar. Especially pepperoni. First, they slice the pepperoni so thin you can barely taste it. The only thing it contributes to the pizza is grease. Then all the grease soaks into the crust and the cheese. Making everything, including the pepperoni, a soggy mess. Is it really too much to ask for crispy well cooked toppings that don’t contribute to my pizza’s moisture content?  I don’t think so.

And finally the crust. I’m a firm believer (and if you’re not that’s fine, I just might not like you anymore) in a thin crispy crust. Pizza is awesome, but it really shouldn’t contribute my full day’s worth of carbohydrates. Not to mention that it just tastes and looks better thin and crispy. If I wanted to eat a loaf of bread, I would eat a fricking loaf of bread. Luckily for me, when you make your own pizza you can make your crust so thin it might just break the laws of physics. If you’re into that sort of thing.

What follows is a pizza that made Ed admit ever so slightly that, I might just might have some pizza making skills or in his words, “well it doesn’t suck.”  Folks, I’m counting it as a victory.

You will need:
A sense of adventure
Big bowl
Rolling pin
Cookie sheet, pizza stone, or any flat surface that can go in the oven

Lukewarm water
A little sugar
Olive oil

Big can of whole tomatoes (I like the basil/Italian flavored ones)
Little can of tomato paste
Minced garlic (3 to 4 cloves)
Olive oil
Assorted seasonings I throw in a little red pepper flake, powdered garlic, a little sugar, little basil and whatever the hell else I find lurking in my spice rack.

Toppings: (Anything you like that’s the fricking point, but for this pizza see below.)
Fresh basil
Shredded mozzarella
A stick of pepperoni sliced thickly
Red onion sliced thinly


1.) For the crust I followed Smitten Kitchen’s instructions. She is a food blogging goddess and has tons of yummy pizza ideas. Plus she makes even the most daunting task (making a whole wedding cake from scratch, ahhh!!!) seem easy peasy.

The only change I made was to proof my yeast, before adding it to my flour. I have this crazy need to make sure my yeast is working and not dead as a doornail. I’ve had way to many dead yeast disasters. To proof yeast, empty the amount you’re using into a lukewarm glass of water, then add a little bit of sugar. Cover and let sit for 10 minutes in a warmish place. When you come back the yeast should be all happy and foamy if not throw it out and get some new yeast. Unhappy yeast won’t rise Jesus Christ himself, much less your measly pizza crust.

I also rolled my pizza dough out with a roller. Yes, I know this isn’t the proper way to do it. Quite frankly, despite having worked in a pizza joint, I suck at stretching out dough and to quote Cartman, “ Whatever, I’ll do what  I want!”

2.) For the sauce sauté up some garlic in olive oil. Just when it starts to get fragrant toss in the can of tomatoes and tomato paste. Break up the tomatoes with your spatula or go really ghetto on their tomato ass and cut them with kitchen shears. Laugh all you want, but this method works great and it results in much less spattering.
Finally, add any of the seasonings I listed or any that you like. There is no hard and fast rule to making sauce. Well, besides this one. TASTE THE DAMN SAUCE, frequently! Add something, taste. Add more, taste. Add a little more, taste. You can only fuck up sauce by not trying what you’re making. Plus, if you’re trying to be a proper lady, all of the kitchen tastings will make you look very lady like in front of your guests. My Nana taught me this and my Nana is never wrong.

For example:
Guest: “Why aren’t you eating, this is all so good?”
Me: “Oh I’m not that hungry, I’m just naturally a light eater.”
Guest: “Oh I wish I could be like that.”
Me: “If only they knew about that gallon of sauce I tasted.”

3.) Toppings can really be whatever you like, but I chose to thickly slice up some pepperoni and sauté it with some thinly sliced red onion (Btw, if you do this step first you can then make your sauce in the same pan, thus eliminating one pan and nicely flavoring your sauce). I then layered my crust with the basil, sauce, (it’s important to put your basil under the sauce or use it as a fresh garnish at the end, otherwise your basil will burn. I learned that one the hard way.)pepperoni, onions and cheese.

4.) Cooking method. Preheat your oven to the hottest possible setting. You could not possibly make it too hot. Slide pizza onto any flat, preheated, oven safe cooking surface. I’ve been known to use anything from the underside of a cookie sheet to the inside of a 9 by 13 brownie pan.  Cook to desired doneness.

5.) Oh and one more thing, don’t open the wine until after you cooked the pizza. Playing fast and loose with the booze, while operating an extremely hot oven, is not smart. I also learned this the hard way.