Archive | November, 2009

Unexpectedly Awesome Body-Positive Images!

30 Nov

I am in love with the Fruit of the Loom “Fit for Me” commercials running right now.  Images of sexy, confident women with breasts and hips and tummies and thighs, preparing for and being on dates with gorgeous men who are obviously smitten with them, all set to a sultry song.  I love it!  Body positivity!!!

Also, we were watching some silly movie on the Hallmark Channel a couple of days ago – with Jonathon Taylor Thomas of all people – and one of the characters was about a size 24.  She was described by her husband as “one of the most beautiful women on the planet” or something similar.  He groveled at her feet, apologetic about something stupid he’d done.  It was one of the most body-positive couplings I’d seen on TV – she looked gorgeous!

YAY! for positive images of beautiful women who are not itty bitty stick figures!!!

Asian-Inspired Shrimp and Chive Dumplings

29 Nov

This recipe came about one day when I was running late from work (yup, it’s that old).  I was so hungry and we were going to be making stir fry, but I wanted something quicker.  I wanted an appetizer!  I had to pick up some of the stir fry ingredients from the store anyway, so I picked up some wonton wrappers too.  I started tossing things into the food processor, and the result was incredibly yummy!

Shrimp and Chive Dumplings

  • 1/2 pound shrimp (obviously remove tails, shells, etc., but you can either use cooked or uncooked – since these cook thoroughly before you eat them, you should be fine either way)
  • 2-4 green onions or one bunch of chives (I know they taste different, but they’re close enough in flavor that you can use either in this recipe)
  • 1/4 tsp minced fresh ginger
  • 1 large clove garlic
  • 1 egg
  • dash salt
  • dash pepper
  • 1 package of wonton or eggroll wrappers (the difference, as far as I can tell, between commercial eggroll and wonton wrappers, is like the difference between spaghetti and linguini – a slightly different shape yields slightly different results, but the flavor is basically the same; wonton wrappers tend to be round.  This recipe makes about 36 dumplings)

Toss all ingredients in the food processor and blend until smooth.  I originally added the egg because nothing was blending up, but I think it created a nice fluffy texture.  Fill wonton wrappers.  Try to not take a cue from me – I always always overfill them.  Steam and serve.

Aren't they pretty? Vibrant green from the chive!

One of the things I discovered with this recipe was that if I carefully placed each dumpling on a covered cookie sheet and put the whole thing into the freezer, I could freeze them individually for later use.  After 12 hours, they went into a baggie and straight from the baggie to the steamer.  I ate them with just a tiny drizzle of soy sauce. 

Baggie

To steamer

To plate! (sorry, I apparently don't have any steadiness in my left hand!)

Tequila-Lime White Enchilada Bake

28 Nov

Yup.  You read that right.  This is a mish-mash of two of my favorite “Mexican-inspired” recipes: a layered enchilada “pie” (similar to a lasagna) that I decided to make once a long time ago because it is genetically impossible for Flores women and their progeny to roll enchiladas without the tortillas cracking all over the place, and my tequila-lime shrimp recipe

Hubby and I were feeling a little bit creative and wanted to use up some leftover chicken I’d made earlier that week, so I whipped up a bunch of the veggies from the tequila-lime shrimp, added shredded chicken (and some ground turkey I had in the freezer) and half a can of condensed cream of mushroom soup (since hubby said he didn’t want enchilada sauce).

I started with a layer of corn tortillas, put half a can of fat-free refried beans on that layer, topped it with a small amount of cheddar cheese, and more tortillas.   Then I added the chicken and veggies mixture and a little more cheese.  I repeated the pattern and topped the whole thing off with a touch of cheese (I didn’t even use a whole small package of the shredded stuff, and this served eight – yay for leftovers! – so it’s not as deadly as it sounds!).  I baked it at 350 for about 45 minutes, until the cheese got all bubbly and golden.

It was so pretty, and unexpectedly light.  The flavors were bright and it was SO good, even after the third day in the fridge.

I know I'm not great at taking these photos... and the color is all off. but you have to admit it still looks yummy! And it tasted even better!

A Quick, Unanticipated Post About a Truly Awesome Restaurant

27 Nov

Dear Tao Restaurant on Adams Avenue,

I know I didn’t try you for months because I so wrongheadedly thought that you were an expensive, pretentious restaurant.  Please forgive me.  I love you.  You’re incredible.  With your complimentary salad and ice cream, your perfect boba tea, your incredible mock duck, tasty (tasty!!!) homemade tofu, and the oft-discussed-on-other-blogs-and-actually-what-drew-me-to-you-tonight red chicken, not to mention your friendly staff, huge portions, pricetags under $10, and your wafting scents of Asian goodness from the kitchen, I love you with the heat of a thousand pineapple curries.  You have overtaken Bleu Boheme on my list of local restaurants that I adore.  And that’s hard to do.  Please, don’t change.

Yours Truly, Your New Biggest Fan

Chocolate Pudding that Puts Jello to Shame

27 Nov

Soooo…  This is the first in a slew of cooking-related topics I’m planning to post.  I’ve been cooking a lot – but not a huge amount – but the real reason I’ve got so many posts coming about cooking is that I’ve been sort of saving them up.  Not really on purpose, just because I’ve been busy. So I’ve taken photos and all, just not written up what I did.   But I am going to change that…  Starting with the most recent endeavor first.  Enjoy!

Earlier this week my sister and I made a box of Organic pudding from Henry’s.  It was the kind you cook to thicken, and had a nice not-too-sweet flavor.  Sort of fresh.  I looked at the ingredients: sugar, cornstarch, cocoa, salt.  That’s it.  No unpronounceables.  No additives.  No colorings.

And I thought, “I can do that.”

Now I’ll tell you it actually took some doing to find a recipe online.  Apparently, like ice cream, most people use eggs in their pudding.  Now I’m not a fan of eggs in ice cream, so I didn’t even want to mess around with eggs in my pudding.  Plus, I knew it could be done without them.  I finally found this recipe but I can never leave well enough alone.  I had to tweak it.

Yeah I know – why tweak something you’ve never made?  I wanted a dark chocolate flavor and so I figured I’d play around with the cocoa.  The nice thing is that since there was no egg in the recipe it was really no big deal to taste it before cooking – no salmonella to worry about, Mom! – and I could make sure I liked it right from the start.

I used:

  • 1/3 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 3/4 cups milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla

First, you stir the dry ingredients together in a saucepan (you could also package this up and make a pretty little mix…  Especially if you make yourself some vanilla sugar…  Hmmm…).

Mix together dry ingredients

Then, add the milk and vanilla and stir in.  The milk foams a bit.  Turn on the heat, to medium.

Stir in the milk and vanilla

Stir vigorously.  Keep stirring.  Stir some more.

Keep stirring!!!

Finally the stuff will start to boil.  And – poof! – the cornstarch does its magic.  Test the mixture by sticking a metal spoon into it.  If it’s nice and thick, it’ll coat the spoon. 

Operation Coat the Spoon: complete!

Turn off the heat and pour into a pretty bowl (or pretty individual bowls).  Cover with plastic wrap so it doesn’t get a skin and cool in the fridge for 4 hours before serving.

Don't forget the plastic wrap!

Serve.

Dear Autofocus: Can you please stop screwing with me? This is SO much prettier than it looks in the photo! Kthxbye!

YUM!

I’ve been trying really hard to stop relying on boxed mixes – no more boxed cornbread or biscuits, cookies, pancakes, potatoes, or pastas are made in my house (okay, made by me in my house – we do have them around in case hubby is making dinner).  Now I’m so excited we can go boxless for pudding!  Okay, we don’t eat much pudding… But it’s so much fun to say I can, and tastes SO much better.  Seriously, it’s worth the extra five minutes and dirtying a pan, versus the instant Jello!  Now, what can I try unboxing next?

Homemade Butternut (and Acorn!) Squash Ravioli

25 Nov

I have to start by saying we made somewhere in the neighborhood of 125 pieces of ravioli yesterday.  I have to further say that they are in no way as beautiful as I’d like but we were literally cooking all afternoon.  I’ve given a much more manageable recipe in my post here but be advised that the seasoning of the filling is pretty much “to taste”.  There’s not a whole lot you can do wrong with this recipe as long as you let the squash be the star of the show.  Lastly, I am apologizing in advance for my lack of photos (and crappy quality).  I meant to take more pictures and better ones, but I was elbow-deep in filling and dough and just wasn’t thinking about picture-taking.  But since I promised…  Here we go!

Yesterday I spent most of the day at my parents’ house.  My sister and I cooked up a bunch of squash and made ourselves a mess of homemade ravioli.  Homemade pasta is not very hard – just incredibly time-consuming.  I’m really not sure how my grandmother managed to make it – by herself – for every holiday and every visit we’d make back home.  I found myself wishing most of the day yesterday – and even this morning as I write this – that I could call her up and ask.  I know she was in the room with us yesterday when we were cooking, but I wish she could have been in the room.

Ah well, no amount of wishing will bring her back.  The best we can do is remember.  And every time I make pasta or bread I remember her.  This actually wasn’t one of her pasta recipes – she would make tortellini (veal and pork minced with a ton of nutmeg and, I’ve heard, Italian lunch meat – but that’s never been confirmed) and tortellachi (spinach and ricotta with more nutmeg – I didn’t eat them while she was alive because I was the picky child, but I love them now), and a ton of other non-pasta things, but I don’t remember her ever making squash.  Maybe it just wasn’t in her family’s staple of dishes.  Anyway, my family fell in love with this dish at our favorite Italian place, Caffe Bella Italia in Pacific Beach.  Their food tastes like it comes from Italy, and it’s the closest thing I can find to Florence in San Diego.  A few years ago we tried their butternut squash ravioli, and we were all hooked (even my mom, who’d never eat a butternut squash if it were presented to her in any other form!).

Some time last year I decided to try replicating those babies at home.  I had some wonton wrappers and some canned pureed pumpkin.  They actually turned out surprisingly well, and I’d still reccommend that method in a pinch.  But the texture of the wonton skins was not quite pasta-like, and the canned pumpkin had that slightly acidic tang that canned foods get.  I prefer my food as fresh as possible (and can be a total snob about it) so I had to try making some totally from scratch.

The Recipe

Here’s where it gets tricky.  I didn’t weigh my squash before I started, and of course even if I had I wasn’t peeling off the skins – I was cutting them.  So everything here is a rough estimate.  Also, making pasta depends on so many factors, including the humidity – so if your dough is super-sticky, add flour.  If it’s super-crumbly, add liquid (another egg, some olive oil, or even a little splash of water will all do).

The Basic Pasta Recipe (Adapted from several sources – they pretty much all say the same thing)

  • 1 1/2 cups of flour
  • 2 large eggs (or 3 medium eggs; if you have extra-large eggs you might have to add more flour)
  • dash salt

It’s tradition to mix pasta dough on a flat surface.  But I find it a heck of a lot easier to do in a large bowl – the biggest and flattest I’ve got – because then the mess is contained.  Basically, you just take your ingredients and mix them together.  Keep mixing until the dough becomes smooth and isn’t crumbling apart.  It should be a little sticky but not so much that you can’t touch it without getting dough on your finger.  See above for tips about how to “fix” dough that isn’t quite working for you.  Form into a ball and cover tightly with plastic wrap or place inside a well-sealed baggie.  If you miss this step you’ll end up with dough the texture of leftover play-doh, which just won’t work.  Let the dough rest for 1-2 hours before rolling out.

The Yummy Filling

  • 1 winter squash (whatever kind is on sale – they pretty much taste if not exactly the same then similar enough to substitute.  If you get a large one, you’ll probably only need 1/2 for this recipe)
  • 1 medium clove garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg (to start – you may want to experiment with the nutmeg in this recipe.  I usually just sort of add shakes of it until it smells nice and spicy)
  • a dash of cracked pepper
  • a dash of salt
  • milk or cream (sorry I didn’t measure)

Yup.  That’s it.  I swear.  You could add mascarpone or ricotta, or parmesan or sage.  But you really don’t need to.  It’s a very simple but satisfying combination!

Squash!

Start by cutting the squash into manageable pieces.  I halved my acorn squashes and cut my butternut squashes into quarters.  Scoop out all the stringy bits and the seeds (save those and roast them later – YUM) and arrange the squash on a sheet pan (I like to cover mine with foil so the cleanup is easy).  I rub a tiny bit of olive oil on the tops of each squash (some people say to roast them cut-side-down and I haven’t really found much of a difference, except that cut-side up allows for a little carmelization) and bake in a 350 degree oven for 30-45 minutes, or until the flesh is tender when you poke at it with a fork.

Let the squash cool completely before you try to peel it!  Then use a knife or a vegetable peeler and remove the skin.  Roughly cut into chunks and put in a food processor.  Yes, this is pretty much a necessary step.  I suppose you could use a potato masher, but you’d probably be mashing for hours!  Start blending up your chunks of squash; you’ll need to add liquid to ensure that it blends up smoothly, which is where the milk or cream comes in (I suppose you could use water as well).  Just add a small amount, wait until it’s absorbed, and see whether it helps.  You’ll know when you’ve added enough – all the chunks just magically start blending. 

The mixture starting to come together

You can add your seasoning directly to the food processor if you like.  You should end up with something like a cup and a half of squash puree to every medium garlic clove.  I’m one of those touchy-feely cooks who just sort of knows when something is right – but at the very least you can feel free to taste this puree.  It won’t be exactly the same as when it’s cooked unless you roast the garlic before you add it, but you’ll have an idea of the spices and the salt.

Once the whole thing is pureed together, you can start rolling out your dough and assembling!

Rolling in the Dough

The biggest trick to rolling out dough is to START SMALL.  Seriously it’s not worth having to deal with a six-foot piece of dough.  By the time you roll it, you’ll be dragging it on the floor or you’ll have torn it.  Or at the very least, you’ll get halfway through filling it and find that it’s gone all crusty on you.  Just take a small piece (no larger than a tennis ball) and cover the rest. 

Obviously you need a pasta roller for this job.  You can get relatively inexpensive ones at the store – and sometimes you can find them secondhand, from people who swore they’d use them! – and you can even get attachments for your mixer.  You wouldn’t be able to get your pasta thin enough without a roller (and truthfully my grandmother’s pasta was about half the thickness of the stuff I can make on my thinnest roller setting).  If you’ve never rolled pasta before, there are a couple of things to know:

1) Flour everything.  The pasta dough.  The roller.  The counter or table where you’re working.  Your hands.  Be liberal about the flour.  Otherwise be sad.

2) If it’s a new roller, take a small piece of your dough and sacrifice it to clean the thing.  Put it through ten or twenty times.  You’ll clean all the icky stuff – like oil from the factory – away.  Be sure to get it in the crevices.  Then toss that piece.  Trust me, you don’t want to eat it.

3) Start on the largest setting.  For most rollers, it’s the setting corresponding to the highest number on the dial.  Always roll the dough through at least once on each setting.  It’s tempting to try to cut corners, but you’ll just end up with a mess.

4) Start by slightly flattening a disk of dough (to about 1/2 inch thickness).  Run it through the machine once on the highest setting.  Flour it again.  Fold it in half or in thirds until it’s about the same size as it was when you first ran it through.  Run it through again.  Repeat the folding and running through a third time.  This kneads the dough.  You’ll notice the first time you run it through that the dough will sort of fold up, get little tears, and be generally ugly.  But with each subsequent fold-and-roll, you’ll find that it gets smoother.  Feel free to repeat until the dough looks smooth (five or six fold-and-rolls are okay).

5) Be sure to grab the pasta dough as it comes out of the roller.  I know it sounds like a strange request, but if you let the dough pile up on itself as it comes out of the machine, it will stick to itself.  Pasta dough is incredibly prone to sticking, especially to itself.  So grab the end (lightly) and feed it out of the machine (this is where a mechanical roller -or a third hand – comes in handy, so you can have ahold of both ends and the roller at the same time).

6) Work down until the thinnest setting – especially with filled pasta, you want thin noodles – and set on a lightly-floured surface to fill.

Whew!  Okay, are you scared yet?  I swear it sounds more intimidating than it actually is!  It’s just a matter of trying to get the timing down.  And even though I helped my grandmother as a kid, the first time I made pasta I was pretty much a walking disaster, so don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t turn out exactly as you hoped the first time!

Filling!

Strips of dough with dots of filling, waiting to be cut and sealed

The next step is filling.  I have to admit, my ravioli aren’t exactly beautiful.  We went the easy route – a glop of puree in the middle, a roughly-cut piece of pasta, fold it over, and seal the edges with water.  Next time I make them I think I’m going to use a cutter and measure the filling out so it’s all perfect.  But for now, a few filling tips:

1) DON’T OVERFILL.  Seriously.  You want filling in there.  But if you overfill you end up with filling all over the cooking water and not on the plate.  Don’t overfill.  I repeat, don’t overfill.

2) How do you know if you’ve overfilled?  The filling goes spilling out the sides.  How do you know how not to overfill?  All I can say is that the surface area of the pasta should be about twice the surface area of the filling.  Maybe I can come up with a hard-and-fast measurement next time.  You might just want to experiment; you’ll know when you’ve overfilled because you can’t close the ravioli without the filling spilling out.

3) Push out all the air bubbles.  It sounds strange, but they’ll actually explode when cooking (we had a casualty last night).  Just be as careful as you can, pressing the dough on the filling and on itself.   Any air should go out the sides before you finish sealing.

4) Sealing is incredibly important.  I know I said that dough sticks to everything – and it does – but somehow when you want it to stick it decides not to.  Get yourself a little cup of water and “glue” the edges together (you should only need to put the water on one half of the pasta unless it’s getting crusty).  I use my fingers, but I guess you could use a brush.  Make sure all the sides are totally sealed together or the ravioli filling will seep out.

5) Proper storage is super-important!  Through trial and error, I found that the very best storage technique is to cut a piece of parchment paper the size of your cookie sheet and flour it well.  Then place each ravioli as it’s finished on the parchment paper.  Don’t let your ravioli touch!  I usually lightly flour the outside of each ravioli as it’s finished, too.  As soon as a tray of ravioli is finished, I put them in the freezer.  If you’re going to cook them tonight, you don’t need to freeze them too much.  But it’s better to freeze them separately than to leave them on floured towels and let them get all soggy (yes, I speak from experience).  And if you have extra, you’ll already be on your way to freezing them perfectly (just let them freeze overnight before putting them in a baggie together).

This recipe should make somewhere between 2 and 3 dozen ravioli.  We usually enjoy them as a side dish – about 5 per person – so plan accordingly. 

Cooking and Serving

So you got through the whole ravioli-making process!  Congratulations!  See, I told you it was more time-consuming than hard.  🙂  Now it’s time to cook and serve your ravioli.  I know you could probably do this a million different ways, but I like boiling them and serving with a simple sage-browned butter sauce.  It’s quick and easy and super-yummy.  I’ve also had them (but not made them) fried in the butter.  That’s good but probably takes more effort than it’s worth!

Butternut Squash Ravioli in Sage and Browned Butter Sauce

If you’ve gotten through the whole thing (or if you found some yummy-looking ravioli in the frozen section of the supermarket!), you’re now ready for saucing and plating.  Cooking the ravioli is simple: drop them into boiling water and cook until they’re floating on the water’s surface and they’re tender (about 8 minutes).  But the sauce?

  • 1/2 stick unsalted butter (yes, this is a lot.  no you don’t have to serve it all.  last night we only ate about half of the sauce)
  • handful fresh sage (sorry, there’s no substitution for the fresh stuff)
  • dash salt

Melt the butter in a small sauce- or frying pan.  Add the sage and the salt.  Cook on medium-high heat, stirring often, until the butter stops foaming.  The butter will turn golden brown and the sage will fry.  Turn the butter off when it gets to be the color of milk chocolate and serve immediately.  I usually pour the butter sauce over the pasta (it will pool at the bottom of the serving platter but you’ll get all the yummy carmelized solids over the top of your dish).  Eat the sage.  Trust me, it’s incredible!

So the photo won't win any awards. But the food might!

The Omnivore’s Hundred

10 Nov

I was looking through a few of my favorite blogs and found this posted a couple of times.  It’s a bit strange, but I liked the multicultural slant.  I thought it might be fun to share!

This is what you’re supposed to do:

1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ganoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh Wild Berries
23. Foie Gras
24. Rice and beans
25. Head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet/Habanero pepper
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda (OMG my grandmother used to make this; the whole house smelled HORRIBLE)
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut (ew)
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar
37. Clotted cream tea (YUMMY)
38. Vodka Jell-O
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects
43. Phaal (I guess I read too many British blogs?  I had to google this…  I would try it, but I doubt I’d like it, as it’s apparently an extremely hot curry)
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth $120
46. Fugu/Pufferfish
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel (I loooooooove unagi)
49. Krispy Kreme Original Glazed Donut
50. Sea Urchin (um, I’m scared to try it though; I saw someone eating it a couple of months back and it looked disgusting)
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi (again, had to google it; it’s a Japanese fruit.  Guess I wouldn’t mind it?)
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal (yick)
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% Alcohol Level
59. Poutine (had to google this too.  gravied fries.  looks nasty.)
60. Carob chips
61. S’mores
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin (it’s apparently an additive?)
64. Currywurst
65. Durian (I saw The Next Iron Chef and I’m so curious about this!
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho (it’s good as long as they leave out the cilantro!)
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail (it’s textural, same as the oyster)
79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum (don’t like it though)
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant. (nope; only at a two-star one)
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers (several kinds, including ones I grew in my garden)
89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate (hmmm…  guess not, after googling it…  but now I sort of want to!)
91. Spam (ew)
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa (some strange stuff on this list!)
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake

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