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Lazy and crazy

13 Oct

Sorry for the dry spell. I’m currently in Los Angeles dealing with life and family, spending important moments with my father while I can. You know how it is. And if you don’t, you may be able to imagine. But here’s my way to relieve stress: talking about food.

This particular delicacy is something I used to make all the time, my go-to food while both in a hurry and being conscious of my waist line. In the last few seconds I’ve decided to call it the lazy crazy taco. I know, me and tacos, right? Can’t get enough.

The lazy crazy taco is named this because it involves smashing ingredients together that might not necessarily belong together in a lazy way. This particular taco has sauteed mushrooms and asparagus, chopped up veggie burger patty, spicy hummus, shaved parmesan cheese, avocado and lime squished together in the comfort of a warm tortilla. It was pretty darn tasty.

And it really is that simple: you chop up your veggies and saute them in olive oil with some salt and pepper until the mushrooms are soft and the asparagus is tender. You heat up your patty on the same pan. Hell, heat up the tortilla on the same pan after that. Lather on the hummus, pile on your goodies, top off with sliced avocado, parmesan and lime. Simple, vegetarian, relatively healthy unless you have six of them– be reasonable, I know they’re good, but two is enough.

I guess the picture has mustard, but I don’t think that was involved. I

 

was thinking about it.

This is such a good lunch/snack/dinner/breakfast, and it really can be prepared in under fifteen minutes, maybe even ten. So get crazy, and I’d say get lazy but that’s bad advice. Unless you’re stres

 

sed. In which case, take it easy!

I was rifling through the fridge

30 Sep

It’s the first night in a while I’ve had time to mess around in the kitchen, but the fridge held nothing particularly inspiring–that is until I saw a little wedge of sharp white cheddar leftover from a splendid macaroni and cheese I made last week. My eyes darted to the leftover third of italian crusty bread. Those two things alone would have sufficed to satisfy my craving, but I peeked into the fridge and saw an untouched pound of applewood bacon. I threw open the produce drawer and smiled when I saw avocados. And there you have it: the makings of the ultimate grilled cheese.

It’s more like a bacon, avocado and cheese sandwich, I know, but the grilled cheese part was what I came to crave most. The bacon and avocado, normally the stars of the show, became accessories to a glorious crime. A crime because it, as my roommate pointed out, is three layers of fat (bacon, fatty, avocado, fat, cheese, fatty), not counting the butter to crisp the bread. But it’s exactly what my tummy wanted, and I just can’t say no to her sometimes, not when my heart is in it too.

And this is how I went about it:

Ingredients

butter

a half narrow loaf of italian bread or any crusty bread

2 thick sliced of sharp white cheddar cheese

2 slices of thick applewood bacon

1 avocado, halved and sliced

salt and pepper

Instructions

Lightly butter a pan that is set to medium heat. Slice the loaf in half vertically and then each half horizontally. Put them in the pan and crisp the insides of the bread, around a minute.

Flip them over and add a slice of cheese to each “bottom” slice of bread. After heating two or three minutes, put the cheesy bread under the broiler for five minutes or until the cheese is completely melted.

Cook the bacon in the same pan, two minutes for each side of the bacon. Dry with paper towels and cut each slice in half.

Set the cheesy bread on a plate, add four slices of bacon and then half the avocado. Salt and pepper the avocado. Add the top piece of bread, and there you have it!

A sandwich is no joke

28 Sep

In my professional kitchen months, I prepared sandwiches and salads which, believe it or not, takes a fair amount of cooking. Prep is a bitch– you spend the whole morning scrambling around to get everything into place on time (which is so much harder than I have energy to describe) and have back ups just in case you run out. The bacon has to be a perfect crispy dark pink and brown, the chicken breasts need to be marinated and never overcooked, the cheese and veggies sliced at exact widths. You can’t prep too much or you’ll be wasteful. You can’t prep too little or you’ll scramble during the day. It’s the ultimate balancing act, and it takes a lot of thinking. Not only is it physically exhausting, cooking in a professional kitchen is mentally draining. And I wasn’t even “doing the hard stuff”. The salad is tossed with the most delicate care to not crush the leaves, arranged so that it has a full, bountiful appeal, and dressed like you would be putting on a summer skirt and not a ridiculous ball gown, in other words, dress it lightly or your salad drowns.

So I learned how to not burn bacon (I’ve had such horrible nightmares about this, waking up in cold sweats for a week), check for doneness of chicken breasts by touch, built up really strange muscles for slicing cheese and vegetable on the deli slicer, learned how much to pinch to get a teaspoon of salt, how you DO NOT salt the water in order to make it boil faster (that is a lie) but how you DO salt the water generously for boiling pasta and blanching the green stuff. I also learned the secrets of how to make a perfect omelette, which I will definitely post about. I learned to secure a cutting board with a wet towel, how best to “peel” and slice an avocado, what arugula is and why it shouldn’t be peppered, how to make perfect grill marks on sourdough bread, how to slice loaves as big as a large man’s thigh, and how to not make a horrendous mess in the kitchen while cooking. I still have to get better at that, my roommate can vouch for that…

Now, I go to a place called Intermezzo to get my sandwich and salad fix. Their “veggie delight” is the most colossal mound of lettuce, beans, sprouts and avocado you’ll ever encounter in one sitting. My personal favorite combination is the sandwich/salad combo– chicken salad and their tossed green topped with tomatoes, croutons, carrots and other fun stuff. Their chicken salad has apples and pecans in it, and on the crunchy, chewy ciabatta bread, it’s just scrumptious. To top it off they serve it with a slice of pineapple– a perfect, refreshingly sweet note to end a most magnificent lunch.

I forget to use a fork

21 Sep

I’ve always been very physical with my food. As a child, I would dig into my plate with my hands. My mother would always raise a disturbed eyebrow and wag a finger at me for failing to use my fork or my chopsticks. But I loved pushing my fingers into a bag of rice, my small hand surrounded by hundreds of little grains, each cool and smooth to the touch. I enjoyed feeling the rice, cooked, sticky, the ultimate comfort food, as I portioned each round bite-ful, all without the use of an intermediary utensil.

Rice.

Image via Wikipedia

Although the relationship between my fingers and my food has matured, I let myself revert back to my tendencies as I dip my finger into a freshly made batch of whipped cream, delicate, cloud-like, a trace of sweetness dissolving onto my tongue. Or run the pad of my fingertip across a wooden spoon coated with perfectly balanced homemade mayonnaise, chunky cookie dough, rich molten chocolate, a delectable complex pan sauce, tangy key lime pie filling. Exquisite. The initial taste from my fingertip is almost more enjoyable than the finished product as it is a small but significant part to my cooking process. When a satisfied mmm escapes from my pursed lips, I am pleased. My food is ready, my finger told me so.

fresh whipped cream

Image by fotomele via Flickr

Procrastination/Improvisation

16 Sep

My years of schooling have provided me with plenty of opportunities to learn material across a multitude of subjects, but the things that I’ve managed to master are procrastination and improvisation. I procrastinate on everything from homework to laundry. I had a particularly difficult time focusing on statistics, which did not have much to do with my whining stomach, but I took it as the opportunity to engage in a more enjoyable activity.

An exchange with my roommate after making the decision to cook (procrastinate):

“Baked or mashed?”

“Potatoes?”

“No, brains. Yes, potatoes… Baked or mashed?”

“Mashed.”

“Do you eat pork?”

“No, I’ve never touch the stuff, are you kidding? That’s gross.”

“Are you serious?”

“Is bacon considered pork? What kind of a stupid question is that?” I promptly forgot that he eats bacon on an absolutely disgustingly regular basis.

I paused.

“… So you can eat pork chops?”

Dinner comprised:

boiled potatoes, butter, milk, garlic and salt. Broccoli. Pork chops, salt, pepper. And for the pan sauce… apple cider vinegar, chicken broth, Pinot Noir, maple syrup, brown sugar, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, cranberry juice, red pepper flakes.

Improvisation.



Surf inspired tropical tacos

15 Sep

I am viciously sore today. My alarm clock blared at 6:30, even before the sun could rear its head and yell in my face. Reaching for the snooze button had my weak arm muscles screeching. I have a bruise on my right breast that looks like a freshly delivered black eye, red, purple and angry. My face was hot and enormously sensitive to the touch. This is what a school morning after surfing for the first time is like.

The rental guy picked out a surfboard that towered a good four feet over me; apparently the bigger the board, the easier to surf with. My arm felt incredibly stubby as I tried to tuck the behemoth under it. Walking three feet with it was hard enough, and seeing me struggle, the guy chuckled and mumbled, “not even at the water.”

The wetsuit clung to the body like a too-small latex glove and left nothing to the imagination. My food loving curves were quite visible, and I patted my tummy sympathetically as it tried to suck itself in. I was so embarrassed. My surfing companion said that if I didn’t like the experience, it would be the one time I surfed, that it was an experience that need not be repeated if so desired. I struggled with even his shorter board and waddled several blocks to the beach.

It was an unusually gorgeous day in Pacifica, which was unfortunate for my face, hands and feet because I had promptly forgotten to coat them with sunblock during the hurried packing and the stressful journey west. I strapped a velcro anklet on, which made sure that board and I would never be more than a few feet apart. After a quick tutorial, I was in the water, pushing the board forward, and after some time wiggling my way onto it. With no food in my stomach, my arms became very tired very quickly as much of my day consisted of laying on the board and paddling. I fell off constantly, got knocked over by waves frequently, and sat on the board a few times, rode waves on my stomach a few more times, and got very close to getting on my knees once. I had a group of twelve-year olds snicker at me as there was quite a bit of audible struggling on my part to get back on my board every time the ocean decided it would be cute or funny to see me fly off, or “wipe out” as the language goes. My arms were too weak and shaky to support me to a full stand up position, but despite all of it, I was still pleased with my limited progress. I had the board crash into my face twice, and I swear that a watery fist rose out of a wave and punched me in the cheek. And yet nearly the whole time I was in the water, I was laughing and flailing happily; it was the best fun I had in so very long.

After hours of “surfing” we were both starved and trekked out south along the coast in search of a taqueria long ago once visited by my surfing companion. A half hour after departure, we were in Pescadero and sitting in a shabby Mexican place, waiting hungrily for our tacos. Although not the best fish tacos I’ve ever had, they sat in my stomach contently and served my appetite well. And who can complain about bottomless tortilla chips and pico de gallo?

The trip had me hungry for more tacos. So today, I decided to create a taco loosely based on Pescadero’s taco and my favorite EVER taco, which will be most definitely revisited in a future post. This is what is called a tropical taco– panko-crusted shrimp topped with a “tropical” pico de gallo, avocado, a sprinkle of cheese and a squeeze of spicy lime juice. My roommate calls them my specialty.

Tropical Taco Take 1

You’ll need:

Shrimp
24 medium shrimp, cleaned, deveined and uncooked
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 tablespoon brown sugar
2 tablespoons oil
1-2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 egg, beaten
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
vegetable oil

Tropical salsa
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
1 white peach, chopped
3/4 cup fresh pineapple, chopped
half of a red onion, chopped
1 jalapeño, deseeded and chopped
1/2 cup cilantro
juice of 1-2 limes
1 teaspoon sugar
salt
pepper

12 medium yellow corn tortillas
2 avocados, sliced
your choice of shredded or crumbled cheese (cotija is great)
a few slices of lime
chili powder
1-2 serrano chiles, sliced at an angle

Set up the marinade in a medium bowl by mixing the ginger, garlic, brown sugar, oil and red pepper flakes. Add the shrimp and leave for 20 to 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, chop up all of your salsa ingredients and mix them, adding more lime juice, salt and pepper by taste. Leave the salsa so the flavors can meld for the rest of the marinade time.

Pour the breadcrumbs into a wide bowl or deep plate. Put a saute pan on a burner at medium heat and add a good amount of oil, since you will be pan-frying, a little less than a fourth of the way up the pan. Pour the marinade out, leaving the shrimp. Dip each shrimp into the beaten egg, then move them to the panko to be coated. When the oil is hot, add the shrimp in batches. Flip when the panko on the fry side down is golden. This takes only a minute or two on each side. Move the cooked shrimp to a plate with some paper towels. Repeat for the rest.

Microwave the tortillas six at a time in a ziplock bag for 40 seconds. Divide them into six stacks of two tortillas. Add four shrimp to each stack. Spoon a little more than one tablespoon of the salsa onto each. Add a fourth of an avocado on top of that, then sprinkle with your choice of cheese. Take your lime slices and dip the edges into the chili powder and serve these on the side of the plate as well as the serrano chiles.

Squeeze the chili powerded lime wedges onto your tacos. Garnish with serranos, and enjoy!

Sorry for the shitty picture… we were pretty impatient and starved.

Did it again

11 Aug

I bought another cookbook, and I’m swimming in them. My next project is to get through these books, exploring recipes and cooking for an audience I usually don’t cook for or ever care to: myself. My actual practice of cooking has always been about making other people happy. Food is what makes me happy, but I owe it to myself. If I ever want a restaurant, my skills had better be honed, my passion genuinely ignited, and the only way to do that is to spend some quality time in the kitchen, alone, for me, self cooking, I am my chef. This is especially true since I am facing the fact that my housemates will be finding other places to live.

On a lighter note, my newest cookbook is Big Small Plates, by Cindy Pawlcyn. It isn’t a newly published one, but I adore the concept of small plates, and finding this book was like uncovering the secret to culinary happiness and fulfillment. Look at this gorgeous cover!:

And I discovered in this moment that it is an autographed copy. Holy. Crap.

Potato-Leek Pancakes with Sour Cream and Chives, Roasted Artichokes with Tarragon-Basil Dipping Sauce, Spiced Ahi Tuna Sticks, Dungeness Crab-Sweet Potato-Corn Fritters, Asparagus and Shiitake Spring Rolls, Smoked Duck Spring Rolls with Sweet-and-Sour sauce, Miso-Glazed Beef in Lettuce Cups, Baked Goat Cheese and Tomato Fondue, Salmon Halibut and Scallop Ceviche with Coconut, Braised Portobello and Porcini Mushrooms with Spiced Flatbread, Rabbit Tostadas with Cumin-Scented Black Beas and Lime Creme Fraiche, Mini Duck Burgers with Shiitake mushroom Ketchup and Chinese-Style Mustard, Fried Green Tomatoes with Spicy Remoulade, and that’s only the beginning.

This is too good to keep to myself. Screw cooking alone. Someone should come over and cook with me. Who wants to?

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