Fortune Favors The Bold

Well hello there. Long time no write, I know. I figure this blog is pretty much forgotten about. That’s fine, I have a reason to pick it up again.

I quit my job yesterday.

I took a bold step to really dive headfirst into my culinary career, rather than having to take baby steps due to the time constraints my job put on me. After a long day of fighting traffic for 45 minutes each way and working for 10 hours you can imagine I wasn’t much in the mood to write anything much past a Facebook status, let alone do any cooking. I eventually felt myself losing the skills I worked so hard to teach myself and perfect. I turned into a cubicle rat, inside an air-conditioned sealed building doing a job I hate that had absolutely nothing to do with food. Save for the occasional potluck, but I rarely even had time or energy to give that 100% either. All of a sudden I found myself barrelling toward my 35th birthday and having the joy slowly sucked out of my life.

I’m not the only person affected, my wonderful and arguably saintly boyfriend John has endured my nights of coming home late pissed off or on the verge of tears, either feeling too hopeless to move or blowing up into a mercurial rage over absolutely nothing. Instead of filing a restraining order, he would have dinner ready when I came home, then quietly listen and hold me. What the hell did a basketcase like me do to deserve someone like him?

Something had to change, so I made a decision. I couldn’t live like this anymore. We couldn’t live like this anymore. If I am going to be a chef I am not getting any younger – time is running out. So I handed in my resignation letter and gave the obligatory two weeks notice. No, I don’t plan on sitting around the house eating nachos and watching reruns of Judge Judy.

But I’ll be damned if I sit in another fucking cubicle.

My next job is going to be in a kitchen. Sure, the pay isn’t nearly what I’m making now. I’m aware and prepared. Sure I’ll have my nights of sore feet, sore muscles, burns, cuts, and nervous breakdowns….but all of that will be for what I LOVE. Not just for what pays for my minor Amazon addiction. I think that’s the key right there; Find something you love, and you won’t mind the sacrifices.

But with this major life event I now have lots of free time, which means my life is now a blank canvas. This is the part I’m most excited about, not having anything holding me back from making my life what I want it to be. Today, tomorrow, and the next day are MINE and mine alone to do whatever I want, and my time now belongs to ME (well, at least as of June 12th). I’m excited, I’m terrified, I’m relieved.

But most of all?

I’m finally FREE.

 

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Cooking Bug Bites

In my endeavor to push forward with getting back in shape, I’ve obviously been trying to cook healthier. The chili from the previous entry does help, most definitely, which is why I do refer to it as my “secret weapon”. But as it will do, my Cooking Bug started gnawing at my brain today, telling me I really wanted something more than a reheated bowl of turkey chili for dinner. It wanted me to use my pan. My whisk. It urged me to pull out my trusty chef’s knife and chop something. It even beckoned me to my wok.

And of course, I had to submit.

I looked around my kitchen and found the mound of fresh green beans I had picked up from the West Side Market this past weekend along with an unopened bag of bean sprouts, some red peppers, red onions, and a couple chicken breasts. I got to work.

I knew I had to reign in my normal uninhibited use of butter, cream, bacon fat, oil, and other such decadent ingredients that had both satisfied mine and my friends’ palates and expanded my waistline over the winter. Ooofa. Besides, it’s almost 80 degrees outside. This called for something on the lighter side (but certainly not without flavor).

I made a seared and braised chicken with soy-glazed green beans and a chilled bean sprout and cucumber salad.

I rubbed one side of the chicken with salt, pepper, tumeric, and ground ginger. I then heated about a tablespoon of bacon fat into a large skillet (I have a jar of it I keep in the fridge – and moderation of its use is key, obviously). I waited until it was smoking hot and coating the pan then added the chicken, seasoned-side down. I let it sear off as I mixed a half cup of chicken stock, juice of a 1/2 a lime, a half cup of soy sauce, two chopped garlic cloves and about a tablespoon of grated ginger into a bowl. Once the chicken was ready to be turned I poured the mixture in and turned the stove down to a simmer and let it work.

While the chicken was braising, I hulled the green beans while roasting a red pepper directly on the burner, turning to blacken evenly. I then whisked 1/2 cup soy sauce, about 3 tablespoons of honey, grated ginger root, garlic, and chili pepper into a bowl. I heated up my wok, and when it was hot I tossed in the green beans to give a little char. The pepper was ready and roasted, so I scraped the blackened bits off, julienned it and tossed it into the wok along with the soy sauce mixture. I sauteed them for about 5 minutes then turned the flame off to let the glaze thicken.

On to the bean sprouts. I tossed them with juice from the other 1/2 of the lime,  julienned cucumber, cilantro, a Frenched red onion, and a dressing I made out of garlic, cilantro, cucumber, and just a 1/2 cup of heavy cream. Then I stuck it into the fridge to chill until it was time to plate.

This came out really well, the chicken was tender and flavorful and with all the fibrous veggies on the plate it was really filling.

And best of all, the Cooking Bug has been satiated. Now, to figure out how to get rid of that pesky Sweet Tooth Bug…

 

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My Secret Weapon

Today I’m writing a post dealing with my personal past. Usually I don’t like to go there in this blog, I save stuff like that for my other, more private blog that few know about and even fewer can see. But the other day someone I know who reads this blog asked me about something and suggested I should put it on here, since it does ultimately have to do with food.

Okay, so here you have it. My story.

About five years ago, I looked like this:

That’s me. And the only reason I have that is because someone snapped it and posted it on a public site without my permission. Back then I avoided the business end of a camera like the plague and have very few photos of myself for that period of time. In hindsight I’m glad this person took them, though, because I wouldn’t have a visual gauge of how far I’ve actually come.

Back then, I was with a guy I thought was great. Other women thought he was great, too. One night, we were at a party at his friend’s house, and one of the aforementioned other women was there. He politely introduced me AS his girlfriend, and it was crystal clear to everyone in a 5 foot radius what my station in his life was. The girl, who was also heavy but not nearly as heavy as I was, waited about 20 minutes then tried to KISS HIM RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME. Basically giving me the message that it didn’t matter that *I* was his girlfriend because I was fat (well, fat-TER than her, anyway).

Right then and there, this fire ignited inside my chest. It was a rage like I’d never felt. I decided, as I let that incident process through my brain over a borrowed cigarette that I was not going to let bitches like her feel like they could intimidate me ever again. This was it. So started my rage-fueled journey. I was determined to look better than her.

And boy, I succeeded.

Now I was too embarrassed to have people seeing me work out at this point. So I started dancing in my house when I knew I was going to be home alone. I started off dancing for 1 hour twice a week, and sticking to an eating plan (my friend made me a paper Weight Watcher’s calculator and showed me how it worked, since I really wasn’t about going to meetings with strangers and crap). I took this tool and ran with it, with my rage still burning. And it was working.

The first 50lbs came off in roughly 3 months. Eventually my addiction to the results took over where my rage had been and I started adding on to my workout routine – now up to dancing 3 nights a week for an hour and a half. The second 50? Well, that took about 5 months to come off. After that I plugged away at the last 50 until I got about here:

In the time between the second 50lbs and this picture, a lot had happened. The boyfriend didn’t work out (he in fact didn’t *like* me being smaller, so I said sayanara). I did the single thing for a bit, learned how to drive this crazy new thing that was my body, and eventually upgraded in the boyfriend department. The rest is history.

Since this last picture was taken, I did let about 30lbs creep back on although I do have much better hair now. But I’m back in the saddle once again. As Margaret Thatcher once said, You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it.

And in this entire battle, I have had a secret weapon that kept me on track with healthy eating.

This is my turkey veggie chili, of which I would always make a HUGE vat at the beginning of each week, and then take it to work with me for my lunch, and sometimes I’d even have it for dinner. It reheats beautifully, it’s hearty, flavorful, satisfying, and there’s nothing but healthy meat and vegetables in it.No carby bread, no high fructose corn syrup bullshit, no sugar, and the only sodium in it is from whatever salt I put in (if at all sometimes). Each batch varies with my trips to the West Side Market and what I have on hand. But it’s like an old warhorse when it comes to my way of eating healthy.

Here’s the recipe for the one I just made about an hour ago.

First, you’ll need a large stockpot and a spatula with a decently long handle.

2lbs of ground chicken breast

1lb of ground chicken thigh

3lbs of ground turkey breast

1 Anahiem pepper

2 sweet red peppers

2 bulbs of garlic, peeled and chopped

2 red onions, diced

1 zucchini

1 head of broccoli

1/2 bundle of cilantro

Juice of 2 limes

1 ear of corn

4 ripe vine tomatoes

1 oz cumin

1 oz chili powder

1/2 oz. dried chili pepper flakes

1 oz coriander

2 tablespoons of paprika

1 tablespoon of cinnamon

1/2 oz Kosher salt

1oz black pepper

2 tablespoons of olive oil OR use nonstick spray

What you want to do first is either spray the pot with a nonstick spray or coat the bottom with the olive oil. Turn the stove on a medium flame and wait until it’s HOT. Put the chicken and turkey meats into the pot, toss in the garlic and onion and stir it up with the spatula. You may have to stir it occasionally to prevent burning and to cook the meat evenly.

While that’s cooking, turn on another burner to high heat and put the red pepper right on the burner – no pan, just pepper – and let it blacken on each side, turning as needed. Do the same with the other red pepper and the Anaheim. When all peppers are blackened, cut the stems off, deseed them, scrape the blackened outside off with your knife and chop into smallish pieces. Set aside until the meat in the pot is cooked through, then toss it into the pot.

Take the tomatoes, cut off the stems and dice them up, throw them into the pan and mix them into the meat. These will cook down, releasing a liquid that will braise the meat. Add in ALL THE SEASONINGS!! Cumin, coriander, chili powder, chili flakes, ect. ALL except the fresh cilantro, which will be added at the tail end. Chop up the rest of your veggies, toss them into the pot and mix them in. When the broccoli looks like it’s almost done, shut off the burner. Take your fresh cilantro and mince it as fine as you can, put it in the pot, and mix it in.

You can either divide it among tupperware containers as needed to take with you to work, or just keep the whole thing in the pot in the fridge. As I said, it reheats really well either way, and it’s a really filling, hearty dish that won’t leave you hungry.

Current Mood: Retrospective

Current Music: “Brute” – KMFDM

 

 

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Chopped Night #2 – My First Race with The Clock

Since we had so much fun last time, we decided to do this again. Only THIS time, I gave myself 30 minutes for each round. John and I went to the grocery store and disbursed separately – he to pick out the Mystery Basket ingredients, and me to procure flexible kitchen staples like herbs, dairy, and other such things.

We got back to the house, and while I arranged the kitchen, preheated the oven, boiled water on the stove, and heated up the deep fryer John arranged the basket ingredients into our picnic basket.


I put on my chef’s coat, and I was ready to go!

Appetizer Round! The mandatory ingredients: Cucumber, canned tuna, and gluten-free wheat flour.

What. The. Hell was I supposed to do with this? That was my first thought, anyway. One big reason being is Fun Laura Fact #612 – I hate, loathe, ABHOR canned tuna. It’s gross, it smells like ass, and it’s just unnatural. If the world ended and the only thing left was canned tuna and cockroaches, I’d pick the cockroaches.

But hey, it was there and I had to use it.

So I decided to make fish tacos. I drained the smelly, gross cans of tuna (bleh!) and put them in a sautee pan with some peanut oil and added just about every Latin flavoring component I could find in my kitchen – lime juice, cumin, coriander, chili pepper, hot smoked paprika, garlic, onion – EVERYTHING I could to cover up the acrid taste of the tuna (after all, I was going to have to eat this, too).

I then poured some of the gluten-free flour into a bowl with lime juice, milk, and an egg and beat them into a dough to roll out into flat rounds and toss into the deep fryer. The gluten-free flour was just weak, it didn’t want to hold a shape. So I tossed in some regular flour to give it some firmness, and after some gnashing of teeth I finally got a few rounds out and into the oil. I happened to notice that it was almost impossible to get the bread rounds to flex into more traditionally-shaped taco shells, so instead I rerouted the dish into being a mini taco salad. Perfect!

John came into the kitchen to tell me I had 10 minutes to go. WHAT?!? When did I step into a time warp? Crap! I had to move. I got the shells onto a plate lined with paper towels, and I finely chopped up the cucumber and some cilantro. I decided also that the tuna meat needed further disguise (because I hate it that much),  So I tossed some cucumber chunks, cilantro, 4 garlic cloves, heavy cream, and salt into the food processor and let it fly. It turned into this really flavorful and tasty froth, and after I tossed the chopped cilantro and cucumbers in with the meat I had 2 minutes remaining by the time I plated the entire dish.

For the dinner round, I made a mini tuna taco salad topped with a cucumber cilantro froth.

The taste – even containing an ingredient that I can’t stand – was pretty damn awesome. The shell was nice and crispy, the spices in the meat really gave some great savory flavor, then the cucumber froth cut through the heat of the spices with a coolness. I really wouldn’t have done anything differently, and I think if I were up in front of the judges on the show, I’d be pretty confident I’d be safe.

Dinner Round! The mandatory ingredients are Jasmine tea, hot Chinese mustard, ground chicken, and green apples.

A little easier, and I immediately know that I’m going to make a sauce involving the Jasmine tea. I grab my French press and poured my tea into it with some green apple I grated with a cheese grater. Then I poured the boiling water in and let it steep. I knew, since I don’t have bread in the house and I made a taco-like dish last round that I had to go the meatball route with the chicken. Following with the Asian theme of the green tea and hot mustard, I mixed the meatballs with some of the mustard, soy sauce, garlic, grated ginger, hoisin and sesame paste. I rolled the balls in a light coating of flour and tossed  them into the deep fryer.

Meanwhile, I grabbed some rice noodles and soaked them in a bowl of the boiling water until they were tender. While they were soaking I poured the steeped apple and jasmine tea into a sauttee pan with a little sugar and let it reduce. The I whisked in the hot mustard and let it go.

All of a sudden I had 5 minutes to go. Whaaa…?!? I sifted some corn starch into the sauce to make it thicken faster. My meat balls were pretty done, so I tossed them onto the plate lined with paper towels. The noodles weren’t quite softened yet, so I checked on my Jasmine sauce. It had reduced *fairly* well, so I whisked it and turned off the burner to let it sit and hopefully firm up even more. I then quickly chopped up some green apple and red onion and sauteed it in some butter to toss with the noodles – WHICH were FINALLY DONE!! I strained them, tossed them back into the bowl and tossed the sauce in. I threw in the onions and apples and ran over to my plates. When everything was on the plate, I sprinkled on some chopped basil with 1 minute to spare.

For the dinner round, I made Vietnamese rice noodles tossed in sauteed apples and onions and a Jasmine tea, apple, and hot mustard sauce topped with Asian chicken meatballs.

The noodles were deceiving, because while they look completely naked on the plate they were in fact infused with that tea and mustard sauce I made and were so flavorful. The meatballs were good, but while I mixed a bunch of spices into the meat and tossed them in the sauce as well, they mostly just brought texture to the party and not much else. I guess that’s the nature of ground chicken, though. :-/

I think if this dish were in front of the judges, they may ding me for a couple undercooked noodles (this is true, John and I both had them even though I thought they looked and felt done), or maybe for playing it too safe or obvious (ground meat = sliders or meatballs usually). I think that, if the two other competitors had maybe slightly more creative dishes or had executed their food perfectly I would be chopped. But that’s usually not the case on the show, so I may be safe.

Dessert Round!! We have Bailey’s Irish Creme, avocados, honey, and pine nuts!

Hrm….not a bad basket, but still a bit challenging. I knew my biggest obstacle were the avocados. I put them in the food processor with some mascarpone cheese and a generous amount of honey and hit it. While that was getting fluffy, I decided to do something different with the Bailey’s – I was going to make cookies out of it. I grabbed the ingredients for a normal batch of cookies and subbed the Bailey’s for the milk.

15 minutes! AAAAHHHHH!!!!!!!!

I grabbed a sheet pan, spooned the dough onto it lightening fast and tossed it in the oven, hoping they would have enough time to bake and cool a bit. Then I took the pine nuts, tossed them with sugar and salt, put them on the cookie sheet and threw them in with the cookies. I thought about making a brittle with them, but I do not possess a commercial grade blast chiller like the one on the show. I only have the freezer compartment in my refrigerator, and I figured that would not be enough to cool and harden the sugar in such a short amount of time.

5 minutes! I took the cookies out of the oven to cool along with the pine nuts. I then tasted the avocado honey mousse. It was good, but far too honey-tasting. So I tossed in more mascarpone and a little dash of cinnamon. I took out my little Asian bowls (I love these things) and spooned the avocado honey faux mousse into them and sprinkled them with the candied pine nuts, then finished the plating off with the cookie and a small drizzle of the Bailey’s.

For dessert, we have an avocado honey faux mousse sprinkled with candied pine nuts and topped with a Bailey’s cookie.

This was surprisingly good. The avocado at first was a little confusing, but the mascarpone and honey and Bailey’s drizzle all really sweetened the mousse and brought it to the level of being a dessert. The Bailey’s cookie came out P-E-R-F-E-C-T!!!!! It was warm where the mousse was cold, it tasted like Bailey;s, and it was soft but added enough crunch to contrast the smoothness of the mousse.

If the judges ate this, I think they would love it. I’m not being narcissistic, I really do think that this dessert might have been enough to knock it out of the park for me. But who knows, though? I’ve seen people make amazing desserts and then get Chopped.

This was a successful run, especially with my first tango with The Dreaded Clock. I did pretty well, and even when I thought I would for sure run out of time, I squeaked in with maybe a minute or two to spare.

What will happen next time? What ingredients will be thrown at me (better not be more tuna….bleh!)? Stay tuned for the next Chopped Night! :-)

Current Mood: Tired But Happy

Current Music: “Exterminate Annihilate Destroy” – Rotersand

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Chopped Night #1 – My Introduction to The Mystery Basket

I have decided while I’ve already gone ahead and applied to be on the Food Network show Chopped, that I really don’t want to wait until when or if I hear back to get some practice under my belt. After all, do UFC fighters wait until they have a fight coming up to start practicing? Nope! They train year round, always trying to be the best. Cooking to me is no different. So with John’s help, we organized last night’s first ever Chopped Night.

John went out and I think had a little too much fun picking out the Mystery Ingredients. I also went out just to stock up on things I may need (after all, the show has a fully stocked pantry). I got a good amount of dairy, starch, fruit, vegetables, and spices to prepare for whatever he had selected for me. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I now I can say that I have a totally stocked pantry.

Since this was the first night that I was really cutting my teeth on this challenge, I decided to forgo the time limit for now, yet keep it in mind for everything I was doing for future challenges.

Without further ado, I bring you CHOPPED NIGHT #1!!!!!

Appetizer Round! We have extra-firm tofu, tomato paste, and prosciutto!

Not a bad set of ingredients, so I grabbed them and went to work cutting the tofu into rectangular chunks, sprinkling them with salt and pepper, drizzling a cookie sheet with olive oil and throwing them in the oven. I then got out my deep fryer and realized that I didn’t have nearly enough oil. So John actually went to the store to get a gallon of vegetable oil for me. Good thing we didn’t have a time limit tonight! That’s one thing I’ll definitely have to keep in mind for the next Chopped night.

In any case, by the time John got back with the oil the tofu was ready to come out of the oven, nice and firm with a bit of a caramelized crust on the bottom. While I waited for the oil to heat up in the deep fryer, I took shallots, a few garlic cloves, thyme, sour cream, coarse sea salt and the tomato paste and threw it into the food processor to make a good dipping sauce.

The oil was heated up, so I wrapped my tofu chunks up in prosciutto and submerged them into the deep fryer. Then I plated the sauce with some sriracha just to add some heat. I got my tofu chunks out of the deep fryer to finish the job.

Now, I have prepared prosciutto-wrapped tofu with a creamy tomato and garlic sauce.

These were a home run. The garlic punch of the sauce, the heat of the sriracha, and the saltiness of the prosciutto really made it great. If I were to do it again, I would have incorporated more of a sweet element into the dish, maybe dried dates in the tofu rolls. Also I would have added a tang, maybe something with vinegar or an aged cheese. Other than that, if I had served it to the regular panel of judges on the show, I would have been pretty confident that I would stay for Round 2.

Entree Round! The basket ingredients are grape jelly, ground beef, tahini paste, and navy beans!

Well, crap. A little more challenging. The grape jelly wasn’t even the curveball for me, I immediately thought of a red wine glaze with some Asian flavors. I whisked it into the pan with red wine, soy sauce, shallots, garlic, and fresh ginger and let it reduce. The meatballs, which I planned to toss with the glaze, I wanted to make with Asian flavors as well. So I mixed in the tahini paste, garlic, shallots, ginger, breadcrumbs, eggs, just a touch of parmesan cheese, and hoisin. I rolled them up, tossed them in a little flour, then plunked them into the deep fryer.

The navy beans. The goddamn navy beans. I’ll let you in on a little secret – I HATE navy beans, and most legumes for that matter. Bleh. But they were there, and I had to work with them. So I boiled them in a little salted water until they were soft, then tossed them in the food processor with a little lime juice, garlic, olive oil, coarse sea salt and a good portion of the tahini paste to make hummus.

Today I have prepared Asian meatballs tossed in a grape, red wine, and ginger glaze over a bed of tahini and garlic navy bean hummus.

This really could have been better, though the meatballs and the glazed ROCKED. My presentation sucked, and the hummus just wasn’t great, kind of meh. If I had to do the dish over again I would add more depth and flavor to the hummus, then maybe wrap it up in a pita or flatbread with some pickled ginger and onions, and maybe a small side salad tossed in the glaze (it was that good). It’s something to keep in mind for future legume attacks. ;-D

Dessert Round! We have Hostess plain doughnuts, plum tomatoes, and heavy whipping cream.

Not a terrible basket, but of course the curve ball lies in the tomatoes. Hmm….BUT, as they say, tomatoes are both a vegetable AND a fruit. So I decided to treat them as a fruit. I deseeded them and tossed them in the food processor, then put the puree in a sautee pan with butter and apple cider to let it reduce. When I tasted it, it reminded me of pumpkin a little bit, which made me think of fall. I immediately grated in some fresh nutmeg and added cinnamon to the sauce and let it do its thing.

With that, I had an idea for the doughnuts. Stale, processed gas station-quality doughnuts. The only thing I could think to do that would make them decent was bread pudding. I decided to make a Snickerdoodle bread pudding, adding walnuts, cinnamon, ground ginger, honey, and nutmeg to the egg and cream mixture and then put it in the oven. It was a good thing I wasn’t doing the time limit here, because no sooner did I throw that thing in the oven I realized “Hey Laura! Bread pudding tkaes like 35 minutes to bake!” Derp! Oh well, if confronted with the same situation in a timed environment I’ll definitely go with making small ramekins of them instead of the giant cake.

I looked at the heavy cream and thought, “Snickerdoodle whipped cream!”. I tossed it into the stand mixer with some sugar, cinnamon, honey, and ground ginger and let it go. I checked on my sauce, and the apple cider went with the tomatoes really nicely and brought out the tomato’s sweetness. But it needed something, I thought. A sweet thickener. That’s when I found the cream cheese. I strained the tomato sauce into the food processor, added the cream cheese, and hit puree. Pretty soon, it was time to plate it.

For the dessert round I prepared a Snickerdoodle bread pudding with a creamy tomato and apple cider sauce and Snickerdoodle whipped cream.

The bread pudding tasted great, although I really should have backed off of the tomato sauce when plating. It added a nice acidity, but too much of it ended up overpowering the dish. I also didn’t like the color of the sauce, it was a bit too bright of an orange. The snickerdoodle whipped cream came out perfect and was a great compliment to the acidity of the tomato sauce and the warmness of the bread pudding.

If I had to do this dish over again I would: A.) Put the bread pudding into smaller individual ramekins rather than a cake pan. B.) Not bother with adding the cream cheese to the tomato sauce to avoid that really loud orange color. C.) Backed off on the tomato sauce, OR maybe incorporate it into the whipped cream. That’s something that would have to be experimented with, though.

In all, it was a great meal. Do I think I’d win Chopped with it? I may if my competitors had made some larger technical flaws. My plating definitely seems to be my area of needed improvement, so I know now to work on that. But this is also my first time doing this, and I plan on learning from my missteps and getting better and stronger.

Next Chopped Night, I plan on having a panel of judges (volunteers? ;-D), and maybe I’ll implement the time limits at that point. This was a lot of fun, and while some of the ingredients threw me they also made me excited for the challenge.

What will be the ingredients? What will I make? Find out on the next installment of Chopped Night!

Current Mood: Full

Current Music: “The Reckoning” – Godhead

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I’m Not Dead…

…despite what you might have been thinking. Okay, I know, it’s been forever since I’ve updated in here, but I’ve had some life changes. Good ones, all of them, but they didn’t leave much time for cooking, let alone writing about cooking. But I’m here now to tell you that I’m back in the saddle full swing, even with a little more inertia than I had before.

Let’s see, I moved into a single house in Lakewood that I’m simply in love with. No annoying upstairs/downstairs/across the hall neighbors! I have a backyard with a beautiful patio and plenty of space to grow things! I have my own driveway! It’s crazy how little things like these can raise your spirits. ;-)

Before throwing a huge housewarming party, I decided to hold a Bitches With Knives night to break in the kitchen and dining room. I invited my favorite Bitches, made the theme Spanish food, and plotted the menu. I decided on sancocho for the main course, which is a Dominican stew made of lots of meat, plantains, peppers, and root veggies like potatoes, yuca, yautia, and white yams. Definitely a winter dish.

We had a lot of fun making this dish, particularly laughing at how phallic all the vegetables seemed to be..

For an appetizer, I made plantain rolls (plantains rolled with prosciutto and monterey jack cheese) and Miss Batty brought kale chips, which were surprisingly delicious.

For dessert, I made chocolate mousse topped with vanilla bean whipped cream and “Galletas de Doble Chocolate” – which just means double chocolate cookies in Spanish.

In all, a great time was had and I was so happy to see my “Bitches”. :-) Batty, Dott, Freddie, and Lisa – Thank you all so much for your personal touches on making the night awesome :-)

Current Mood: Hungover But Happy

Current Music: “Legion” – VNV Nation

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A Very Vegan Bastille Day

My good friends Mike and Liz hosted their Bastille Day party down in Kent this weekend. They’re both very talented vegan chefs that can take just about any dish, make it vegan, and most importantly, make it delicious (sometimes even better than the original recipe).

This evening, over glasses of champagne and wine, we sat out on their balcony overlooking their backyard jungle (coyotes, deer, frogs, turtles, and everything else can be spotted from this point in their house) enjoying a wonderful dinner and marveling at the hot air balloons flying around their property.

No, really.

For the appetizers, Mike and Liz served up blinis with vegan “caviar” (tapioca pearls).

These were WONDERFUL (and especially since I don’t care for actual caviar, so in my opinion this was far better). We all pretty much scarfed these, as well as their mushroom and walnut pate’, and another treat that they had discovered by accident to be a great flavor pairing:

Our hosts prompted us to brush our hands on the rosemary leaves, eat the almonds they had set on the table, and then sip our champagne. The result was an excellent mesh of flavors, the scent of the rosemary, the flavor of the almonds, and the sweet carbonation of the champagne all collided into what I can only describe as something like my old art teacher used to call a “happy accident”.

While we mingled with two very nice people that I had met at this past Christmas party, Anna and Phil, Mike and Liz were hard at work making dinner.

Seitan Roulade with Petit Pomme de Terre, Ratatouille, and Haricot Verts.

Liz rolling the roulade

This. Was. Excellent. I could have dove into a bathtub filled with the ratatouille and eaten my way out. So good. And the great company made it even better.

After dinner we carried on the usual tradition at their house of heading down to the basement bar, which is usually my favorite part of the night. Here, Liz served us the most incredible chocolate ganache torte that she had made with coconut milk and then sprinkled with sea salt.

I feel like kind of a rube for forgetting what kind of wine we were drinking with it, but it was a great pairing with the dark chocolate. And look, I have pictures!

(this gadget was dubbed “The Wine Dildo” by Anna, so that’s what I’m going to call it)

Ending the evening, we watched some of the videos Mike had made, putting various intros and soundtracks to train rides, his son Andy’s school projects, and other things. These were fabulous, and when we sort of accidentally tuned into the movie “Whip It” on TV that seemed rather anticlimactic compared to Mike’s home movies (which were great). But making fun of watching one or two once-famous movie careers die in front of us was a unique entertainment in itself.

In all, this was a terrific party with great people, and a lot of wonderful food and fun was had. :-)

Current Mood: Happy

Current Music: “Traveling” – Nitzer Ebb

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Dinner Party of Doom – Special Edition! 5.7.11

Okay, okay, this journal is REALLY neglected. I guess during this three week vacation period between my former job of three years and the start date of my brand new KICKASS AMAZING job (I’m seriously stoked about this), you’d think I’d be sitting here typing like a mad woman. Well, I intended to, believe me. I had thoughts of great entries involving all kinds of crazy recipes, and even ponderings of a podcast-like series. BUT, as life would have it, after this Chef’s Tasting that I’m writing about here came sunny days of riding my bike, going to the gym, hanging out at the coffee place RIGHT outside my gym, and making every excuse I could to be outside.

This week however started with fog (of which I got some really cool pics), and then brought the shit weather.  And the shit. So here I am, just before heading dutifully to my gym in the stick shift economy car I had to buy off of my brother because mine died (as I said, the shit came). Relearning stick shift driving has been an adventure in itself, but that’s for another journal.

Dinner Party of Doom Special Edition!!  18 dinner guests, 6 courses, and 1 chef – ME! I have to say, being the one and only person doing 100% of the workload for this many people, I’m pretty proud to say I did a bang-up job. In order to get honest feedback, I set the table for 18 giving each guest a small pad of note paper and a pen, with a box in the middle to collect their thoughts, opinions, and suggestions. This way they could stop being my friends for a minute and start being my food critics, and I could use their feedback to learn, improve, and greater hone my craft.

Here, you can see my dear friend Miss Bridget Callahan conversing with my old high school pal Josh Flagner (RailbirdJ on my blogroll), and the back of Mr. Kingtycoon’s head (also on the blogroll), which was conversing with Andrew and Jessica.

Starting at the top, two of my very best friends Carrie and Kelly, with Lori and Andrew Lent and then the lovely Miss Mindy.

A haze of Jessica, Bridget hanging out with Happy, and Josh.

Miss Freddie explaining something.

Happy hanging out with Bridget.

My friend David and his lovely wife Jen were among my dinner guests this evening. :-)

Okay, now for the reason you even come to this journal – ON TO THE FOOD!

My first course was an experimental one, the sauce for which I had totally fucked up and had to 86 (it required key limes, and I had used all of them in the botched mix, and without a vehicle at the time I was unable to get more in time to make it again). Being my answer to a potato salad, this was chayote and yucca root salad tossed in fresh-cooked bacon bits and an avocado and St. Germain mayonnaise I mixed the night before. My guests liked it, but if I hadn’t had to 86 the sauce I think they would have liked it more.

Second course was a surprise favorite from my Burns’ Supper I wrote about a few entries back, the turnip cheese soup. This time, I included a freshly baked pretzel stick with each cup. Of all the dishes, this was the second most raved about. Even my most diligently-critiquing friends had no “if only”‘s or “may you should..”‘s. This was definitely proven to be solid and fool-proof.

Next up, third course was my mole’ with polenta in small tortilla shells that I cut and baked. People did like this, though my mole’ was too spicy for some, not spicy enough for others, too chocolatey for some, ect. I guess it’s all in personal taste, though my mole’ for this was slightly different than my usual recipe and to my dismay came out a lot thinner than I had intended.

My fourth course hit a home run with everybody. Pulled pork mixed in a barbeque sauce that I just sort of made up on the fly (and probably couldn’t remember the exact recipe if I tried) on top of a cheddar cheese cornbread and drizzled with an apple cider reduction sauce. The best comment I received from this was from Jeremiah (Mr. Kingtycoon), which read: “This makes me wish all pigs would go extinct so I could be the only person to have this dish ever.”

I do love my friends. A lot. :-)

Then came the fifth course, which by consensus was the least favorite of the night. Charcoal-smoked tip steak served with roasted blue potatoes and a blueberry espresso sauce. By the time I was done plating the potatoes had gotten too cold for some, and some weren’t too keen on the blueberry sauce.

The sixth and final course of the evening was a bit more dessert-y, but not quite dessert. Coconut black quinoa and tea-smoked maple glazed tofu served with a peanut curry ice cream (which I made by spending about 2 hours kicking the mix around my apartment in an old pho container within an old coffee can) sprinkled with black lava salt. This was well received by most of my guests, except for someone who really didn’t dig curry.

In closing, in addition from getting lots of helpful feedback from my friends, it was also a wonderful time and a great party. :-)

Miss Batty….

Miss Batty giving my dog a tortilla yamaka.

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Rillettes

Here’s where I rewind back to mid-February, when I was prepping for my latest Dinner Party of Doom (VI). Okay, so my journal isn’t exactly in chronological order, but this is the first chance I’ve had to really sit down and write about this one.

One of the appetizers I made for DoD VI was rillettes, which is another great invention the French have given humanity – Pork meat and fat braised for hours, shredded, salted, and then put in the fridge where it only gets better. When smeared onto a baguette it’s a little slice of heaven. Now, this is one of those dishes that is stupid easy to make but takes a fair amount of time to prepare. So if you have about 6 hours when you’re going to be home anyway doing things like housework or prepping a bunch of other food (like I was when I made these), then this is the perfect low-maintenance dish to make.

First, we have here 4lbs of pork belly. I wish I had thought to take a picture of it before I started cutting into it, but this happens to me at times. I’m working on that.

So anyway, what I did was cut it into little cubes and throw the cubes into a large, heavy-bottomed stock pot.

And then here we have the 2lbs of pork shoulder. I cubed this up as well and tossed it into the pot with the pork belly. Pretty simple, pretty basic.

Next! I made my own bouquet garni, which is a classic herb bundle normally made up of sprigs of thyme, rosemary, parsley, and a bay leaf. Well, since I did not have parsley but did have a lot of cilantro, I used that instead. And because I lacked butcher’s twine to wrap it up in a neat little package, I just simply took the twist tie from the cilantro, scraped off the paper and glue, and used the bare metal to wrap up the herbs. And no, this did not effect the flavor at all.

Next, I used 4 cups of homemade chicken stock and 2 cups of water to fill the pot up to about here:

Then set the flame on very low heat  and just left it alone for 6 hours to do its thing, during which I prepped other things for the other dishes while watching episodes of Dexter on Netflix. I came around every so often to stir it and check it out, but other than that, I just left it alone.

Six hours later, I turned off the heat, grabbed a couple of forks, and went to TOWN on this bad boy, sprinkling some sea salt and grinding some pepper into the mix here and there.

Then I scrounged up all the old jars I could find and divided the mixture up into them, then sealing them with slices of pork fat and heated rendered bacon fat.

MMM.

I put these in the fridge where the flavors would settle and mingle until the party three days later. Now, since the party was “primal”, I wasn’t allowed to use bread (though I SO wanted to…). Instead, I spread the mixture onto slices of peppers, marinated mushrooms, and celery.

Voila!

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“Dare to be honest and fear no labor.” – Robert Burns


Above: The Mighty FrankenHaggis, defeated by myself and my 14 dinner guests over Scotch, wine, and poetry. Huzzah!

On March 5th 2011, I held my very first Robbie Burns’ Night in my home, serving what had been dubbed by my friends as “FrankenHaggis”.

The idea was born at my last DoD, where it was mentioned that a couple of my guests were curious to taste haggis, myself included. Being of Scottish descent – my grandmother hailing from Scotland as a matter of fact – and being the experimental cook I am I felt that I should try making it. My friends and I sat and pondered, deciding that the ingredients should consist of the traditional parts taken from much tastier animals. A few of the ingredients I found a little hard to find, namely the sheep’s stomach. So I improvised by rolling it into a butterflied turkey. More on that later.

Here the term FrankenHaggis was born, and what better way to serve haggis than during a Robbie Burns’ dinner? This is a traditional Scottish holiday honoring the famed poet that is sort of like Thanksgiving, New Year’s, and St. Patrick’s Day rolled into one. Like a FrankenHoliday. Huh, I just may have started something here.

What a terrific night! There was laughter, poetry, and toasts until we were all ready to fall over. My dear friends came bearing flowers and wine, my friend Lori baked these great butterscotch cookies and my friend Andrew had spent the entire day baking bread for the occasion, which I submit must have been sprinkled in crack, because it went like hotcakes.

Photo courtesy of Bridget Callahan

He had also made these great shortbread cookies. My wonderful mother, whom I had wished could have attended had earlier brought over THE shortbread she makes from my grandmother’s recipe. It’s delicious, and the recipe is sacred and unpostable.

As haggis is traditionally served with “neeps” and “tatties”, I made mashed potatoes and then a turnip cheese soup I thought up on the fly, which everyone seemed to love. As I served this, per Burns’ Night norm, I gave everyone The Selkirk Grace:

Some have meat and cannot eat,
Some cannot eat that want it;
But we have meat and we can eat,
So let the Lord be thankit.

Photo courtesy of Bridget Callahan

The soup kept everyone occupied until the moment of truth; when the haggis was ready to come out of the oven.

FrankHaggis, after I had cut the twine off and before I laid the garnishes of turnip greens and potatoes, courtesy of John’s iPhone

Now, this was quite THE moment of the evening, because this was after all haggis. Either everyone was going to love it, or everyone was going to HATE it. As per tradition on Burns’ Night, John cued the bagpipe music to “Scotland The Brave” and I walked the haggis into the dining room on a decorative platter as everyone applauded. Per tradition, I read off Robert Burns’ “Address to a Haggis”:

Fair full your honest, jolly face,
Great chieftain of the sausage race!
Above them all you take your place,
Stomach, tripe, or intestines:
Well are you worthy of a grace
As long as my arm.

The groaning trencher there you fill,
Your buttocks like a distant hill,
Your pin would help to mend a mill
In time of need,
While through your pores the dews distill
Like amber bead.

His knife see rustic Labour wipe,
And cut you up with ready slight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like any ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm steaming, rich!

Then spoon for spoon, the stretch and strive:
Devil take the hindmost, on they drive,
Till all their well swollen bellies by-and-by
Are bent like drums;
Then old Master of the house, most like to burst,
‘The grace!’ hums.

Is there that over his French ragout,
Or olio that would sicken a sow,
Or fricassee would make her throw-up
With perfect disgust,
Looks down with sneering, scornful view
On such a dinner?

Poor devil! see him over his trash,
As feeble as a withered rush,
His thin legs a good whip-lash,
His fist a nut;
Through bloody flood or field to dash,
O how unfit.

But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread,
Clap in his ample fist a blade,
He will make it whistle;
And legs, and arms, and heads will crop
Like tops of thistle.

You powers, who make mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill of fare,
Old Scotland want no watery ware,
That splashes in small wooden dishes;
But is you wish her grateful prayer,
Give her a Haggis!

With a few swipes of my knife, the giant meat creation was being served, and I held my breath as my company took their first bites.

Cries of “This is awesome!” and “I want more!” soon filled the air, MUCH to my relief as I dug in myself. My God, they were right. This haggis was brilliant, and I’m not saying this to be vain. I’m saying it because it’s true. Wow. Those that were too afraid to come were definitely missing something spectacular here. I served this with an apple cider reduction sauce as well as the traditional whiskey cream sauce.

Serving the FrankenHaggis, from John’s iPhone

The dinner table, from John’s iPhone

The dinner table, photo courtesy of Bridget Callahan


Photo courtesy of Andrew Samtoy

After dinner and a brief intermission of smoking cigarettes, cigars, and pipes on my porch. The poetry toasts began, first by the men toasting the women, then the women toasting the men, and finally by me reading the first poem to kick off things, “The Poet Tree” by Shel Silverstein. As each of my guests had their turn, I very much enjoyed listening to the varying types of poems they had chosen. They ranged from silly to ancient to Oscar Wilde to Robbie Burns (of course) to romantic to self-written and even made up on the spot, each finishing with a toast. Which made us all very toasty with 14 people. ;-)

This was a night where I not only learned a brand new and seldom served dish, but I learned so much about each of my guests and how grateful I was to have them there.

Speaking of learning, here is how I came up with the turkey idea, as well as the widely requested recipe for my turnip cheese soup.

Jacques Pepin can butterfly a turkey in roughly 1 minute and 37 seconds. Being one of my culinary inspirations, I watched him gracefully and so swiftly pull the skin off of the bird with the meat still attached, hold it up – perfectly intact – for everyone to see, then lay it down  on the counter neatly only to effortlessly wrap it around a ground meat mixture, with his fingers almost instinctively guiding the butcher’s twine around it to hold it into place. Wow!, I thought to myself. That’s a great idea for FrankenHaggis night, and it looks so simple!

It turns out, it takes me roughly 25 minutes and 37 seconds to butterfly a fucking 16lb turkey – meat and juices flying around the kitchen of my apartment as I wrestled, cut, and strong-armed the skin off of my bird. After wrangling the last of the carcass off of the coveted skin, I had…well…what looked like a hot mess plopped down on my counter. Like a horrific crime scene where something went very, very wrong. I cut the rest of the meat that mattered off of the carcass and arranged it in the more meat-bare areas of the skin, and then spread the haggis mixture I had made – ground beef heart, lamb kidney, steel cut oats, garlic, onions, and ground pork – onto said hot mess, after which I proceeded to roll it up, the meat oozing out of the gaping holes in the skin from my amateur cuts, and fumbled messily with the butcher’s twine to wrap it all up.

This whole process took me a good hour to complete, but the end result was more than rewarding. Also, Jacques Pepin is made out of magic sorcery.

The carnage of the turkey up close, taken by John’s iPhone:

The heart and the kidney getting the “bacon fat and butter” treatment in my cast iron skillet:

Who would have thought that these ghastly images could have captured something that when put together was so delicious? I didn’t even get a picture of what the ground lamb kidney looked like, but let me tell you it was not pretty. I speculated that, if my friends had watched this being prepared from beginning to end, they would have opted for take out. I was astounded at how delicious this dish came out, because as I was preparing it I was taking comfort in the fact that Angelo’s delivers.

The turnip soup, however, was not so worrisome. Actually, like the haggis, it was far more well-received than I had expected. So much that I had several requests demanding the recipe.

So here it is. :-) Remember, it was made up on the fly, so the measurements may not be exact.

Turnip Cheese Soup:

6 or 7 turnips, cut into cubes

8oz Sharp Cheddar, grated

8oz Monterey Jack, grated

8oz Colby, grated

1 quart Heavy Cream

4 Tablespoons Butter

2 Tbsp Flour

Sea Salt to taste

Fresh ground pepper to taste

Boil the turnips until soft. Then drain, mash with a masher, and put into a crock pot set on low. In a 2 quart saucepan, melt down 2 tablespoons of the butter and whisk in 1 tbsp of the flour. Then whisk in the heavy cream and let it just get to boiling. Whisk in half of the cheese and stir it continuously until all of it melts. When finished, salt and pepper it, then mix it into the crock pot with the turnips. Repeat with the remaining ingredients, and serve with homemade bacon bits if you like. Which you probably do. It’s bacon, for Christ sake.

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