Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Spicy black bean and orzo soup

Unlike last year, I will not be hosting Thanksgiving dinner. And while it was fun, I am more than happy to return the torch back to my sister this year. But as is what happens before any long weekend in which I am going to be away, I am on a mission to finish any perishables in my fridge. Which usually involves a little creativity and making use of some staples from the pantry, since I hate to buy more groceries just before a long weekend. So what does one do with a handful of baby carrots, a few stalks of limp celery and an onion? Make soup, of course!

Since I wanted to do something different than the classic chicken noodle soup (and since I hadn't had the foresight to defrost any chicken), I decided to add a can of black beans. When I tasted the soup, I felt it needed something more to jazz it up - so I added some cumin to bring out the smokiness of the beans, and a few dashes of chipotle tabasco sauce. I'm quite pleased with the end result, and even more pleased I didn't need to make a trip to the grocery store to buy any of the ingredients!

Spicy black bean and orzo soup


About 1 cup baby carrots, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1/2 onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
A couple tablespoons of olive oil
1 quart low-sodium chicken broth
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 tsp dried oregano, crushed
1/2 tsp dried basil, crushed
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper to taste
pinch of cayenne pepper (to taste)
a few dashes of chipotle tabasco sauce
2/3 cup orzo

Start boiling the pasta water with a generous pinch of salt. Add orzo when it comes to a boil. Cook for about a minute or two less than the time indicated on the instructions. Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, chop the vegetables. Add oil to another pot and heat on medium-high heat. Add vegetables, stirring frequently for about 7 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft. Add chicken broth, beans, bay leaf and spices and tabasco. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer. Allow it to simmer, covered, for about twenty minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings to taste.

I like to keep the orzo separate from the soup, until just before serving, since I am one person, and can't eat it all right away. My concern is that if there are leftovers the pasta will absorb all the liquid and get mushy. But go ahead and toss it in if you plan on eating it all right away.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The New York Chocolate Show

While the rest of the food blogosphere is inundated with Thanksgiving recipes, I've decided to post (although a bit belated) about my trip to the New York Chocolate Show two weekends ago with three lovely friends.

Rosann and I (Yup, the same Rosann from here), have been meaning to go to the Chocolate Show since 2007, but every year it seemed the fates would have it, something would come up, and we would not go. But this year was the magical year in which the planets were aligned and we finally were both able to go along with two other friends. And magical it certainly was. The Chocolate Show was jam packed, wall-to-wall with vendors boasting their fine chocolates, and samples. lots of samples. Also on display was the "models" from the chocolate fashion show earlier in the week. Yes, a chocolate fashion show in which the clothes are made entirely from chocolate! Some were very elaborate, like the one you see in the lead picture. Some were very detailed and intricate like this one here:

All that threading is made of chocolate!

Other models were New York themed like this Broadway girl...

And some were just funny:

We also went to a cooking demonstration in which renown pastry chef Kathryn Gordon, showed us how to make these macarons.

Did you know that macarons are very sensitive to moisture that humidity in the air while the batter is made can affect its texture? That's a little tip I learned at the demonstration. So it was an educational trip as well.

I also found some fun chocolate products like these:

Doesn't it look fun to smash a slab of chocolate with a mallet? I bet it would make a great stress reliever!

With so many vendors and samples, (there were A LOT of samples), its hard for me to choose my favorites, but I've narrowed it down to a few, in no particular order

1) Most interesting product - Chocolate enrobed bacon from Co Co Sala - They are based in DC - I just wish they had a location in New York!
2) Yummiest - Salt of the Earth Bakery - Their cookies and brownies are to die for, I can't wait to find their products in the city
3) Best alcoholic beverage - Chocolate Creme de Cocoa from Chocolate Shop Wine - it's chocolate and wine, it needs no explanation

I can't wait to go again next year! What are the chocolate shows in your area?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

New England Clam Chowder

Aside from gorging on lobster rolls, while we were in Maine, we also tasted different versions of New England Clam Chowder. As a kid, I never cared much for clam chowder because my only experience I had with it was from a can. Until I traveled through New England, I had no idea the pride New Englanders have for their chowder. (And their disdain for Manhattan-clam chowder that it is illegal to put tomatoes in clam chowder). Boyfriend, being from New England, is partial to thick and creamy clam chowder. The kind you can stick a spoon and it stands up like this:

This is a chowder we had in Agawam, Massachusetts.

But as we found out in our travels, not everywhere in New England makes chowder quite as thick and creamy. Some were thin and runny, some were somewhere in between. So I wanted to re-create thick and creamy chowder at home. What you see in the lead picture here was my first attempt using Dave Lieberman's recipe. As you can see, its not quite as thick (I tried the spoon trick - it fell right in). But the taste was spot on, better than the stuff in the can.

So it looks like I will have to try again to make the perfect thick and creamy chowder. But until then, I will be perfectly happy finishing off this batch.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Quinoa Patties

Earlier in the week, I cooked a batch of quinoa to go with some chicken. While rice is my first love when it comes to grain side dishes, quinoa is rapidly becoming a close second. It has a nice nutty flavor, and it cooks faster than rice. And I like to see how the little curly strand comes out in the quinoa. (I know, I am easily amused).

Anyway, I had about two cups of leftover quinoa that I didn't know what to do with. After surfing the 'net for ideas, I was intrigued by the idea of making these quinoa patties. But I didn't have most of the ingredients, so used the recipe as a base and took some liberties with the spices. What I ended up with something of a cross between a biscuit and an Italian meatball with the basil, garlic, and parmesan cheese. It made for an unique snack when dipped with tomato-basil sauce. If I were to make these again, I would probably follow the recipe more closely and add feta cheese. What I am curious to see, though, is if theses patties would work as sort of vegetarian "meatballs" if tossed with pasta and tomato sauce.

Quinoa Patties
Loosely adapted from 101 Cookbooks

2 cups cooked quinoa
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, finely chopped
1/2 yellow onion, grated
3 garlic cloves, grated
3/4 cup seasoned breadcrumbs
5 eggs
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt

Pre-heat oven at 400 degrees. Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl. Oil a baking sheet (I used cooking spray). Form batter into roughly two-inch patties. Bake for 15-20 minutes, (until nicely golden brown on the bottom side). Flip and bake for another 5-7 minutes. Makes about a dozen patties. Best served dipped in tomato sauce.
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The Quest for the Best Lobster Roll

About two years ago, I went to Maine for the first time. And it completely changed how I eat lobster. Maine lobster is really like no other. It's sweeter, firmer, and juicier than any other lobster I've ever had. And lobster rolls, well, lobster is by far the best thing to ever be put in a hot dog bun. The last time I went to Maine, we were in New Harbor for a wedding of a good friend of Boyfriend's. I had my first lobster roll at a casual dinner the night before the wedding (I still don't know where it came from), and I have been dreaming about it since.

So when Boyfriend told me that another friend of his was having a wedding in New England, I immediately suggested if we could make a vacation of it and drive up to Maine. And so we made the trip to Portland, Maine, so I could enjoy the fall foliage find the best lobster roll. And I was determined to find it, cholesterol and high blood pressure, be damned.

But little did I realize how much variation there was in lobster rolls. Mixed with mayo, mixed with butter, bun toasted, with lettuce, you name it. The perfect lobster roll from my memory had the lobster mixed with just a little mayo, nestled in a bun grilled in butter. Lettuce optional.

Here is the first lobster roll we had on our first night in Maine at the Portland Lobster Company, which boasts that it has the best lobster roll in Portland. Now don't get me wrong, the lobster meat was tasty, sweet, and juicy and the bun was nice and toasty. But this lobster had mixed with drawn butter, which left something to be desired.

After a morning of hiking at Bradbury Mountain State Park, we tried our second lobster roll at the Lobster Cooker in Freeport, Maine. (And yes, we stop at the L.L. Bean flagship store while we were in Freeport). As you can see from the picture, this roll did not contain butter or mayo. Just lobster and lettuce. Once again, while very good lobster, it did not quite recreate the memory I had.

Here is the third lobster roll we had at the Thirsty Pig in Portland. This time we specifically asked the waitress for mayo. Unfortunately, the mayo came slathered on the bun, rather than mixed with lobster meat. Just not the same. (Though they did make a pretty mean sausage at this place).

So after my third lobster roll on this trip, none of them quite bringing the joy that I had of my very first lobster roll, I was beginning to feel disillusioned. Had I built up the memory of the lobster roll so much, that no lobster roll of the present could meet up to it? Would I have to end this trip, with my dream unrealized?

Just when I began to lose all hope, we drove to Gardiner, a small town about one hour away from Portland, in search of fall foliage. (All the rain from this summer meant that peak fall foliage was about two weeks late this year). At a service area, a nice woman at the information booth suggested that we go to Dennis's Pizza. They made lobster rolls with mayo, without mayo, any way you want it, she assured.

Dennis's Pizza turned out to be a hole in the wall pizza place that also served lobster rolls and deli sandwiches. Now, I had gone to college in Philadelphia, where I had some of the best cheesesteaks in hole-in-the-wall pizzarias, so I was not discouraged.

Turns out hole-in-the wall was the way to go. This was the best lobster roll of the trip, exactly how I wanted it - lobster mixed with mayo and the bun perfectly toasted with butter. And it didn't need any sides like french fries or coleslaw to complicate its simplicity.

So now that I am back home, I will be dreaming of this lobster roll. That is, until I make my next trip to Maine.

Note: I was not compensated by any of these establishments. 

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Homemade Vanilla Pudding and a trip to the dentist

Two nights ago, I came home with half my face numb. I was not a happy camper. It was a prescheduled trip to the dentist. I knew what I was getting myself into. I even made a crockpot full of crab and corn soup to eat when I got home. (Which by the way, I forgot that corn, even when slow-cooked for eight hours, still involves chewing!) So after I slurped as much as I could with the functional side of my mouth, I was still hungry. My sister, with whom I was chatting with online since I couldn't really talk, suggested yogurt or pudding. I wasn't in the mood for yogurt, but pudding sounded amazing. Unfortunately, I didn't plan for a pudding craving, so I didn't have any pudding packs in the fridge, or instant pudding mixes in the pantry. So I did a little searching on the internet, and it turned out that I had the makings of homemade yogurt right in my cabinet. I picked this recipe from Allrecipes, because it seemed the least complicated to make. After doing a little more digging in Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything, I learned that this recipe, which does not contain eggs, is more like a blancmange. Whatever you call it, it was tasty.

So the next time you find yourself craving pudding (or half your face is numb), you may have the makings of a nice homemade pudding right in your kitchen cabinets.
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Monday, October 3, 2011

Wine Tasting and Tour of Hopewell Valley Vineyards

My latest obsession has been finding awesome deals at LivingSocial, Groupon, Google Offers, and the like, which has brought me some neat stuff like $10 off at Whole Foods, 50% of at certain restaurants and museums, and even $4 admission at the Bronx Zoo! My rule is to only buy deals at places that I would normally go to or have been thinking about going to anyway. But every once in a while, I jump at a good deal, even if it is a 50 mile trek to South Jersey. This would be one of those splurges.

It started out innocently enough, I got the email from LivingSocial for $15 for a wine tasting and winery tour at Hopewell Valley Vineyards (a $30 value! and it comes with two souvenir glasses! How could I resist?) Of course, I realized it was a bit of a drive to Pennington, New Jersey, but since a couple of friends who lived nearby were having a party soon, I thought I could swing by for the wine tasting and head over to the party, thus killing two birds with one stone.

Unfortunately, the timing did not work out so well, and we ended up making a special trip for it yesterday. And I must admit, the trip was well worth it. The vineyard is family-owned and modest in size, but our tour guide (one of the owners, who actually used to be a lawyer) was very knowledgable and had a delightful sense of humor. Plus, we got to taste varieties of wines that I had never tasted before and learned about the wine-making process.

The oak barrels where the red wines are stored and aged

Here were my two favorite wines of the tasting portion of the tour:

On the left is the Spuma Rossa, a sparking red wine. I can't wait to try it with some fruit salad, or maybe a fruit pie. And on the right is Barbera, which actually is made from grapes grown right on the property, and has an earthy taste, unlike anything I've ever tasted. I'm excited to pair it with beef and other red meats.

So all and all, it was a fun trip, and at a good price too.

Note: This review is my personal views and opinions. I was not compensated by Hopewell Valley Vineyards or Livingsocial to make this review.

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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Thank you for reading my blog!

So, just for fun today, I checked out the stats of my blog on blogger. I found the results to be quite amusing and want to share them with you.

The most astonishing is the number of countries that people have viewed my blog from:

United States














United Kingdom






I thought this was very cool because I was beginning to think I only had at most three readers, my sister and maybe two other friends who also have blogs.

Most visited post: Peanut Butter and Chocolate Chip Cookies

Number of all-time page views: 2183 (though I do wonder how many of those views were me just testing out the site)

In the last week, the following search keywords led to my blog:
Andrajos stew
albondigas for crockpot
albondigas for crockpot frozen meatbalss
albondigas soup recipe for crockpot
bittman japanese eggplant
college quick and easy mac and cheese
crockpot albondigas soup recipe
crockpot albondigas
crusted chicken teriyaki
how to make a simple chicken tostada

And most interestingly enough, #3 the most frequent referring site (after google and facebook) is my blog is on the list of 10,000+ food blogs at Very Good Recipes. I did not do anything to be put on this website, and my blog is #9694!

I had no idea my blog reached out to so many people from so many different places. So I'm quite excited to know that I have more readers than just my sister, two friends, and now, at least one robot =)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

White Bean Hummus

Last night, I tried to cook dried cannellini (white) beans in the slow-cooker, using this method. I've done this before with black beans and it worked quite well for me. But this time, I ended up with falling apart, mushy white beans. I am not sure what went wrong. Maybe I soaked the beans for too long beforehand, maybe I let them sit in the crock for too long after they were done cooking. Maybe white beans just weren't meant to be cooked this way. No matter what the culprit was, though, now I have to make a lot of white bean dip.

White Bean Hummus
Adapted from the Food Network

1 2/3 cups cooked white beans or 1 can, drained and rinsed
2 Tbs tahini
2 Tbs fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp dried oregano, crushed
1/4 tsp cumin
1/8 tsp garlic powder
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
salt and pepper to taste

The original recipe calls for blending all the ingredients in a food processor. But all I have is a mini-food processor, which would have made it a huge pain to blend all the ingredients in batches. So first I mashed the beans, tahini, and lemon juice with a potato masher, which worked quite well, especially since the beans were already mushy. Then I stirred the spices in with a fork, tasted it and adjusted the spices to my taste. Blending by hand makes a more "rustic" dip, which is fine by me. But if you have a regular-sized food processor, and want a smoother dip, then by all means, pulse it in the food processor until smooth.

Serve with raw vegetables or pita bread.
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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Pork and Apples in Bulgogi sauce

This may seem like just a riff off of the last post. But there’s a moral at the end of this story, I promise.

So a few weeks ago, when Hurricane Irene was allegedly rampaging through the Northeast, Boyfriend and I and another couple decided to escape the torrential rains, flooding, the Apocalypse, etc. for drier pastures inland to State College, PA. Which actually turned out to be a very entertaining getaway, even if it turned out the world did not end when the hurricane hit New Jersey.  While our friends in New Jersey were huddled inside their homes, conserving bottled water and unperishables, we were exploring Penn State's campus, walking to bars and swimming in the hotel swimming pool.  On the last night our “hurrication” we drove to a neighboring town for Korean food at a restaurant called, “Kimchi.” Yes, we had kimchi at Kimchi, you know that just had to be said. Among the other dishes we had though, was a classic Korean dish, beef bulgogi, which I very much enjoyed. The next day, we left early in the morning to make our way home.  The trip home started out smoothly but came to a standstill shortly after we crossed the state border into New Jersey where we sat in traffic.  Apparently the storm had eroded away pieces of 287!  We eventually made it home and to find that my apartment was fortunately left unscathed by Irene.  Everything inside my apartment was as it was before; I didn't even come home to the flashing red digits on my alarm clock, a tell-tale sign of power outage.  I did, however, come home with a craving for bulgogi.  Luckily, since the power never went out, the contents of my fridge remained unspoiled,  including a bottle of bulgogi sauce. (Which I most likely purchased the last time I went out for Korean food.)

So that is the inspiration for this week’s post. After the impromptu teriyaki stir-fry from the last post, I wanted to improve upon it, because the meat turned out to be overcooked and tough. So this time, I marinated the pork in the bulgogi sauce in the morning and went off to work.

When I got home, I had to decide what to do with it. I had a green apple, which I had saved for the purpose of cooking it with pork. Boyfriend makes a pork and apple stir-fry that comes out quite nice, and Rachael Ray has her own pork and apple dish, so I knew that pork and apples go well together. So I chopped the apple up along with the other vegetables I had in the fridge.

But what to do with the meat, so it would not be so tough? This time, I cut the pork into bigger chunks. I then sprinkled about a teaspoon of corn starch and mixed it around the meat and let it sit while I chopped the vegetables.

It turned out this method worked out really well. The pork was not tough and overcooked, but plump and juicy. I will definitely stick to this method in the future. And the apples let out a little bit of sweetness to the pork and the sauce, to make a sort of East meets West all blended together into one dish.

So as promised, there is a moral to this story, in fact there is more than moral to this story:

1. Marinate your meat with cornstarch
2. When there is a hurricane, take a “hurrication” if you can, you’ll have a blast.

Pork and Apple Stir-Fry in Bulgogi Sauce

1 pork tenderloin, chopped into 1-2 inch chunks
1 green apple, chopped
1 yellow squash, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
½ onion, chopped
1 clove of garlic, minced
About 3 Tbs of bottled bulgogi sauce for marinade, and another 2 Tbs for adding at the end
1 tsp cornstarch
Toasted sesame seeds for garnish
Olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Pinch of cayenne pepper


Marinate pork in 3 Tbs of bulgogi sauce. (I did it for about 10 hours in the fridge since I did it just before I left for work. You can probably get away with 1-2 hours). Sprinkle with cornstarch and set aside while you chop the vegetables.

Heat some oil in a large skillet. Brown the meat first for about two minutes on each side. Set aside on a plate. Add some more oil to pan and heat it a little bit on medium heat. Cook the onions first. Then add pepper, apples, and squash and cook for about 3 minutes. Create a “well” for the garlic by pushing the vegetables to the rim of the pan. Add the garlic with a little more oil to center of the pan. Allow to cook for about 30 seconds before incorporating with the rest of the mixture. Season with salt and pepper. Cook the mixture for a few more minutes until you can easily pierce a fork into one of the chunks. (You may need to cover it to speed up the cooking). Add cooked pork, and stir in 2 Tbs of bulgogi sauce, heat for about another minute. Sprinkle with cayenne pepper. Garnish with some toasted sesame seeds.
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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Impromptu Pork and Vegetable Teriyaki

Growing up, we had a lot of stir-fries for dinner. Both my parents worked seven days a week, and nearly ten hours everyday. We ate out a lot as a result of that, frequently at Chinese restaurants (why do Chinese/Taiwanese families always eat out at Chinese restaurants?). But when we did eat at home, it had to be cooked fast and on the fly. Served over white rice, of course. And now that I am an adult, I find that this style has influenced my everyday cooking.

Of course, my stir-fries are a bit different from my mom's. My mom's stir-fries usually involved garlic, dried shrimp, ginger, and cabbage. A lot of cabbage. I tend to use more western vegetables, such as zucchini, summer squash, peppers and eggplant. I've also experimented more with sauces.

Here is an example of something I threw together today, using the vegetables I had in the fridge:

Impromptu Pork and Vegetable Teriyaki

1 boneless pork tenderloin
1 small eggplant, cubed
1 zucchini, cubed
1 red pepper, chopped into roughly 1 inch chunks
1/2 yellow onion, diced
1 garlic clove, minced (set some aside for the sauce)
Olive oil
Sesame seeds for garnish

For the sauce:
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup mirin
1 Tbs sugar
pinch of ground ginger
pinch of minced garlic

Heat some oil in a large skillet. Cook the pork until brown on both sides (Roughly 1-2 minutes on each side). Remove and set aside on a plate. Add a little more oil and reheat the pan on medium-high heat. Add onions first. When the onions are starting to brown, add eggplant, zucchini and pepper. Allow to cook for about a minute or two and then push the vegetables towards the rim of the pan, leaving a space in the middle for the garlic. Add garlic and little more oil, and cook until fragrant (about 30 seconds). (This method is to avoid burning the garlic.) Incorporate the garlic with the rest of the vegetables. Continue to cook until the vegetables are soft enough that a fork will easily pierce them). Stir in cooked pork.

While the vegetables are cooking, combine the ingredients for the sauce in a small saucepan and heat on low. Allow to simmer for 3-5 minutes or until the sauce is slightly thickened. When the pork and vegetables are combined, pour the sauce and mix to combine. Garnish with some sesame seeds and serve immediately over rice.
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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Crockpot Albondigas Soup

Much to my surprise, I've been using the crockpot quite a bit this summer. For the first half of this summer, I didn't want to use it because I figured making hot soups and stews in the crock would only make me feel hotter. But then I had a realization: using the crockpot means no standing over a hot stove at dinnertime.

I chose to make this soup for two reasons: (1) I had albondigas soup at a Colombian restaurant a few weeks ago, and thought it was delicious and (2) I had a bunch of frozen meatballs in the freezer from a party I threw, oh, say about 10 months ago...

This recipe makes an excellent soup, though I was a little disappointed that I couldn't taste the mint so much, which is supposed to be what makes albondigas soup special. Maybe next time I will add more mint, or add some to garnish at the end. Update: I threw in a handful (about 1/4 cup) of finely chopped fresh mint after posting this. At first, it tasted vaguely like mint chewing gum. But after letting the flavors mellow overnight, the mint added a nice refreshing tingle that complemented the heat from the cayenne pepper.

Crockpot Albondigas Soup
Adapted (barely) from A Year of Slow Cooking

1 quart low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup prepared pasta sauce
1 cup baby carrots, sliced into quarters
1 1/2 cups tomatoes , diced (I used a combination of grape tomatoes and a regular tomato)
1 Tbs fresh mint, chopped
1/2 cup frozen corn
About 15-18 frozen meatballs (Italian flavored)
3/4 cup frozen peas
2 whole cloves garlic (I love slow-cooked garlic in soups and stews!)
Pinch of cayenne pepper

Dump all the ingredients into the crockpot, except the frozen peas. (Handy tip: chop up the vegetables the night before and store in the fridge to save time in the morning!) Stir to combine. Cook on low for 8-10 hours. About twenty minutes before serving, stir in frozen peas to retain their color. (This step isn't necessary, but I was following Stephanie O'Dea's advice on her post). Garnish with some parmesan cheese.
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Monday, August 8, 2011

Acquiring new tastes

Last weekend, my boyfriend and I went to the Hester Street Fair in New York City. Now, when you first walk into the Hester Street Fair, it looks like a rather ordinary street fair. Racks of hand-woven scarves and blouses, custom-made jewelry laid on tables, and the like. But when you venture a little further, then you will discover amazing new tastes to be acquired. Towards the rear of the fair, there were at least half a dozen food vendors serving unique artisanal foods. We sampled the meatballs from Mighty Balls, a chorizo taco and a tamale from Brooklyn Taco Company, and my personal favorite, Taiwanese shaved ice from The Shaved Ice Shop.

But this isn't a post about the foods I ate, but rather the new tastes that I took home with me. At the fair, we bought a bottle of fish sauce from The Saucey Company and salsa from ZapoSalsa. This salsa has a new taste that I acquired, and used in the quesadilla that you see above. The label boasts that it is made of fresh ingredients, such as tomatillos, onions, tomatoes, but most importantly for this post, cilantro.

I hate cilantro.

Or at least, growing up I did. And I am not alone in this averseness to the leafy herb. There are enough people out there that the New York Times ran an article on why a certain segment of the population hates cilantro. To me, it always seemed to make me want to gag. So when I tried this salsa, I had my doubts. When I sampled it at the fair, it had a nice smoky, tangy flavor, with just a bit of a kick of heat.

So for dinner last night, we made pork and bean quesadillas. I marinated the pork tenderloin in the salsa for about two hours before cooking, which made the meat wonderfully flavorful. I also used the salsa as a garnish at the end.

So there you have it. I have acquired a new taste. What new tastes have you acquired?

Pork and Bean Quesadillas

1 slice of pork tenderloin, about 1 inch thick, cut up into bite-sized pieces
1 cup canned black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 red pepper, diced
a few slices of pepper jack cheese
a few tablespoons of Zapo mild salsa
flour tortillas (burrito sized)
Olive oil

Seasonings to taste:
Salt and pepper
chile powder

sour cream
avocado slices
black beans

Marinate the pork in salsa for at least 30 minutes, the longer the better. Heat oil in a pan and cook the pork. Remove from pan, leaving as much oil as possible in the pan. Add peppers to the pan and sprinkle with seasonings. Cook until soft and have a slight char. Set aside with the pork. Wipe the pan clean.

In a separate pan or pot, heat the beans and add some cumin and chile powder. Stir in pork and peppers.

Spray some cooking oil in the pan that you cooked the pork and peppers in. Heat until hot. Add one tortilla in and lay some cheese on it. When the cheese starts to melt add some filling. When you see the tortilla is forming bubbles and the bottom is nice and brown, cover with another tortilla. Flip the quesadilla as carefully as possible. Cook for another minute, or until the tortilla is golden brown. Repeat as necessary.

Serve with garnishes.
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Monday, August 1, 2011

Loli's Gazpacho

This summer has presented many opportunities to make a cold soup.

The first time I had gazpacho andaluz was when I was studying abroad in Seville, Spain, when temperatures would easily reach over 100 in the summer. My host mother, or my "senora," Loli once said that her past American boarders either go crazy for her gazpacho or they hate it. This was probably because there was so much raw garlic in it, that it had a kick to it after eating it. To me, it was delicious, even though I would be tasting the garlic for days in a way that no amount of teethbrushing or mouthwash gargling could extinguish. But as a garlic-lover, it was worth it, and I couldn't wait for Loli to make more.

I made this soup yesterday with my boyfriend, using his fancy $40.00 blender. I made a mistake when I was taste-testing the soup, that I only skimmed a spoonful off the top. So when I tasted it, I didn't get the same garlic "kick" that I had at Loli's house and kept adding more garlic. So I put seven (yes, seven!) cloves of garlic in it. It turns out that the garlic sunk to the bottom of the blender; the soup was plenty potent.

So today I made it again (the soup is that good), using my $13.99 blender from Target. I learned that the difference in price of the blenders DOES make a difference. I had to cut the vegetables into much smaller pieces and I still ended up with small chunks at the bottom. I also dialed back the garlic, to provide just enough garlic "kick."

Loli's Gazpacho (gazpacho andaluz)

1.5 lbs tomatoes
1 green pepper
1/4 c olive oil
3/4 c water
2 cloves garlic
salt to taste

Roughly chop the vegetables and drop into the blender in batches with water and oil. Puree until smooth. Add salt to taste. Chill for at least 30 minutes in the fridge or if you are short on time, add a few ice cubes. Garnish with parmesan cheese. Serves 4-6.
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Saturday, April 16, 2011

Salmon Cakes (with Sweet Chili Mayo)

You may notice that this picture is devoid of any garnishes. That's because I made this up as I went along, and took the picture before I even knew what condiments I wanted to add. And the food was getting cold.

This was my improvised lunch for today. Now sometimes when I improvise, it doesn't turn out so well. But this one actually worked out quite well. After a google search of various salmon cake recipes, I decided to just throw together whatever I had and hope for the best for the cakes.

Now the sauce was completely experimental and ended up really making the salmon cakes. After frying the cakes lightly in olive oil, I wasn't sure what condiment would be best to accompany it. So I set out mayo, sweet chili sauce, and sour cream on the table. I ended up nixing the sour cream because it just seemed weird. I first tried a bite of the salmon cakes with the sweet chili sauce, but it didn't quite do it justice. Then I tried a bite with the mayo, which was an improvement, but something was still missing. Then I thought, how about if I mix both mayo and sweet chili sauce together? I put a bit of each in a little bowl and mixed them together. I then squeezed some lime juice in for good measure. This turned out to be the perfect combination of sweet and tangy from the chili sauce and creamy from the mayo. By the end I was using the last bit of salmon to wipe up the last of the sauce.

Salmon Cakes

For the cakes:

1 6 oz can of salmon

1/2 a small onion, grated

1 garlic clove, grated

1 egg, beaten

About 1/3 cup seasoned bread crumbs

salt and pepper to taste

A pinch of cayenne pepper

Limes for garnish (thought of this after I took the picture)

Olive oil for cooking

For the sweet chili mayo:

About 1 Tbs mayo

About 1 Tbs sweet chili sauce (found in Asian grocery stores and in Asian aisle of supermarkets)

a squeeze of lime juice

Makes two patties about the size of the palm of your hand


Combine all ingredients to make the salmon cakes in a bowl until mixed evenly. Divide in half and pat into two patties about the size of your palm. Heat some olive oil in a pan. Cook the cakes for about 2-3 minutes on each side, or until golden brown. Drain on a paper towel.

To make the sauce, stir mayo, chili sauce, and lime juice until combined. Don't worry if it's a little lumpy, it will taste fine.

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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Chicken Tostadas

The first time I ever had tostadas was at a small Mexican restaurant in the Ironbound District of Newark. I haven't been there since moving to Bergen County, but I learned that they are not hard to make. The hardest part is eating them without making a mess! I learned this tip on eating tostadas from Simply Recipes... hold them with both hands and eat it like a slice of pizza. some of the toppings still might get away, but no one is perfect, right?

Chicken Tostadas
Adapted from Simply Recipes

This is a "recipe in a recipe" - meaning I am including recipes for the building blocks of the tostadas, but go ahead and used storebought stuff. I'm watching my sodium intake, so I'm avoiding as much prepared foods whenever I can.


Vegetable oil or other high-smoke point oil
Corn tortillas
Refried beans (either canned or homemade - a quick version follows below.)
1 chicken breast
Shredded cheese (recommended: cheddar, monterrey jack, or pepper jack)
Shredded iceberg lettuce
Prepared guacamole (I made my own, it's easy, and doesn't take much time.)
Sour cream
Chopped tomatoes
Freshly squeezed lime juice

1) If you are making your refried beans and guac, prep them first:

Quick Refried Beans

For this you will need:
1 2/3 cup cooked red beans (about one can),
half an onion, chopped and
one clove of minced garlic)
Some water or chicken broth
about 1 tsp cumin
About 1 Tbs chili powder
salt and pepper to taste
a few dashes of hot sauce

Heat a small amount of oil in a large skillet. When hot, cook the onion and garlic until the onion is soft. Add beans. When the beans have warmed up a bit, you should be able to mash them with a potato masher or fork. Add spices and hot sauce. Add water or chicken broth when the mixture becomes dry. Simmer for about 10 minutes or so, adding a tablespoon of water at a time if it becomes dry. Adjust the seasonings as needed.

Quick Guacamole:

garlic powder
chili powder
salt and pepper
lime juice

Peel and remove pit from guacamole and place into a bowl. Add about a teaspoon of lime juice, garlic powder, chili powder, salt and pepper to taste. Mash with fork until reaches desired consistency.

2) Prepare the chicken
(I did this step while the beans were simmering)

Sprinkle the chicken with chili powder, garlic powder, and a pinch of salt. Cook in a George Forman grill for five minutes, or in a skillet over the stove for about 5-6 minutes per side (or until cooked through). Allow to cool. Then cut into bite-sized pieces and squeeze a bit of lime juice over it.

3) Cook the tortillas
I cook the tortillas last so that they are still warm when I add the toppings.

Pour enough oil so that there is about 1/4 inch of oil in the pan. Heat the oil on medium high heat until hot. Cook tortillas one at a time until golden brown on both sides. (About 30 seconds per side). Lay on paper towels to drain excess oil.

4) Assemble the tostadas
I find this method works best for me: Add the cheese on the hot tortillas so that it melts from the residual heat. Spread a dollop of refried beans so that it works as a "glue" for everything else. Add the chicken, lettuce, tomatoes, guac, and sour cream. Finish with a squeeze of lime juice.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Crockpot Minestrone Soup

This is my lunch for tomorrow.

It was my lunch today too.

And my dinner.

And yesterday's dinner.

But I'm not complaining.

Because that is how good this soup is.

And my crockpot is awesome.

I used this recipe, with some tweaks, of course.

Crockpot Minestrone Soup
Adapted from A Year of Slow Cooking

Stephanie O'Dea calls this a "clean out the pantry" soup, so really use whatever you have on hand. This is what I used:

3 cups low-sodium chicken broth (I used Pacific Natural Organic Low-Sodium Chicken broth. It comes in a carton and only has 70 mg of sodium per serving - much lower than the "low-sodium" broth that comes in cans)
1 can Roma beans (rinsed and drained)
1 2/3 cup cooked red beans (I cook them in the slow-cooker using this method and freeze them. I could have used just my pre-cooked beans, rather than mixing in canned beans, but I needed to clean out my pantry of high-sodium foods)
2 cups chopped tomatoes (I forget the brand I used, but it comes in a carton and only has about 20 mg of sodium per serving.)
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
Handful of frozen corn kernels
Handful of frozen green beans
3 cloves of garlic, peeled
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper to taste

Dump everything into the crockpot. Cook on low for 8-9 hours.
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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Homemade Crockpot Chicken Stock

You may have noticed that many of my recent posts have been making a lot of things from scratch. See e.g. homemade pizza dough, this soup, and this soup, and sadly this attempt at roast chicken. For the past few months, upon the advice of my doctor, I have been watching my sodium intake. One of the ways I can control how much sodium I consume is by making foods from scratch and relying less on convenience foods. Plus it gives me a sense of accomplishment when I make something all by myself. And then there are also collateral reasons that might encourage some people to make their own food, such as being better for the environment, and the feeling of security by knowing exactly what is in your food.

So aside from my endeavor to make “grown-up” food when I attempted roast chicken, I had plans to make chicken stock from the leftover carcass. When I made the chicken, I deliberately only used a tiny pinch of salt, and relied on fresh herbs for flavor. Fresh herbs and aromatics are important when you can’t rely on salt to make food taste good. In this stock, I didn’t add any additional salt, but instead used fresh herbs, garlic cloves, and ginger. And personally, I think this stock tastes better than the stuff from the can. So all was not lost from my roast chicken disaster!

Homemade Crockpot Chicken Stock

Carcass of a roast chicken, and any leftover bones
1 onion, quartered
2 carrots, chopped into 1-2 inch pieces
2 stalks of celery, chopped into 1-2 inch pieces
1 inch of fresh ginger root, sliced into 2 half inch coins
3 peeled garlic cloves
10 peppercorns
2 bay leaves
1 Tbs of fresh poultry herbs, roughly chopped (rosemary, thyme, sage)
6 cups of filtered water (I read that it is better to use filtered water so that you don’t have chlorine and fluoride in your stock, but if that doesn't bother you, then go ahead and use tap)

Dump everything into the crockpot. Cook on low for 10-12 hours. Allow to cool. Discard solids and strain the stock. Refrigerate the stock for a few hours, (I put it in overnight). Strain again to separate the fat that has congealed on the top. Store the stock into freezer bags or ice trays. (What I do is I freeze some into an ice tray so that I have stock in neat little ice cubes, which I transferred to a freezer bag. This makes it easy to portion it out, especially when you only need a little for a sauce. )

Monday, January 17, 2011

Impatience and Roast Chicken

Roasting a whole chicken always seems like one of those “grown-up” things to do. Most of the time when I cook chicken, I use packaged, boneless, skinless chicken breasts that cook quickly and can be easily divided for a weeknight dinner for one. A whole roast chicken is more social dish, for feeding a family of four, or for dinner parties with a group of good friends. But I’ve always have been a bit intimidated by any meat with bones, since I normally do not have the patience to allow them to cook long enough and fear food poisoning. Usually past attempts to make chicken drumsticks, bone-in pork chops, or anything with bones ended up with some parts tough and overcooked and some parts still raw. But since roasting a chicken is one of those grown-up things to do, right up there with filing your own taxes, and balancing your checkbook, I endeavored to learn to roast a good chicken. A chicken that will not give my future houseguests food poisoning. After all, I made a 13 lb turkey before, how hard can roasting a 4 lb chicken be?

Sadly though, despite my previous handsome rewards of patience, this time I was not so patient. I prepared the chicken and potatoes from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything exactly from the recipe. Except for this step:

“[...] roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh reads 160 to 165 F. Total roasting time will be 50 to 70 minutes.”

I don’t have an instant-read thermometer, so I stuck my regular probe thermometer into the chicken. I had no idea where the “thickest part of the thigh” was so I stuck it somewhere in the middle of what I thought was the thigh. And since my oven door does not have a window, the only way for me to check the temperature was to keep opening and closing the oven, losing some of the precious heat. This probably slowed down the cooking time, and any ounce patience that I had left. After nearly 80 minutes of cooking time, ten minutes more than the suggested time, I saw that the thermometer hit exactly 160 degrees. Hungry and excited to take a bite of the fruits of my labor, I pulled the bird out of the oven. I let the chicken rest for a few minutes and poked it with a knife to make sure the juices ran clear. I’ve finally done it, I thought, I’ve finally made a roast chicken. I am now a grown-up.

Until I actually tried to carve the bird and found that the juices inside were still painfully red.

I put the chicken back into the oven for another fifteen minutes.

I pulled the bird out again, let it rest for a couple minutes, and attempted to cut it again. Chicken breast was plump and juicy, but the legs and thighs were still a bit raw.

So I hacked up the chicken into the pieces and nuked the legs and thighs in the microwave for two minutes, until the juices were no longer red, but the meat was rubbery and dry.

Roast chicken, you have eluded me once again.

Next time, I will roast until the temperature is a bit higher, maybe to 165 degrees to ensure doneness. But all is not lost, after I salvaged the still juicy parts of the bird, I used the carcass to make chicken stock in my crock-pot, which is now simmering away. More on that later this week.
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Sunday, January 16, 2011

Patience and Tortilla Soup

I love my crockpot. I love that I can dump vegetables and meat into the crock in the morning and have a nice tasty stew or soup for dinner. Ideally, I would go to work and forget about it all day, and then be pleasantly reminded when I get home of the meal I had waiting for me.

Except when I had a snow day last Wednesday and was working from home.

The hardest part about using a crockpot when you are home all day is resisting the temptation to eat it as it's cooking. The smells that emerged from the crockpot made my mouth water as I attempted to draft motions on my laptop. The soft gurgling of the broth simmering tantalized me, "Open me and just take a little taste." But I had read that by opening the crockpot while it is still cooking, can add as much as 20 minutes of cooking time.

So I was good, and was well rewarded at the end.

I got this recipe from A Year of Slow Cooking, with a few minor tweaks. I was very happy with the results, and hope to write about more tasty crockpot concoctions in the future.

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Quick and Easy Macaroni and Cheese

Forget the stuff from the box, here is a method takes just as a much time, and the results are way better. I first discovered this method from The College Cookbook, back when I was well, in college. And I haven’t gone back to using the stuff from the blue box since. I’ve tweaked it over the years, for a more “grown-up” taste, adding a handful of cheddar cheese and a pinch of cayenne pepper for a hint of spice. But the American cheese is still a key ingredient to get the creaminess that coats the macaroni. Using cheddar alone, I found makes it stringy and grainy.

Another advantage of this method is you can make as little or as much as you want. I found that using the box you confined to the 4-6 servings, and since I usually was cooking it for myself, I would be eating mac and cheese for several meals.

So try this method, using real cheese, and butter, and you may never go back to using the stuff from the blue box.

Quick and Easy Macaroni and Cheese
Adapted from The College Cookbook

1 cup (a handful) of macaroni (I used “Celentani” here because it’s a fun spiral shape, but any tubular pasta will do)
1-2 slices American cheese
¼ cup shredded cheddar cheese
A pat of butter
A few tablespoons of milk
Salt and pepper to taste
A pinch of cayenne pepper

Boil the pasta according to the directions. Drain the pasta and return to the pot and turn the heat to the lowest setting possible on your stove. Melt butter into the pasta and stir it so it is evenly distributed. Add cheese and milk and stir until it becomes desired consistency. (I add about a tablespoon of milk at a time and stir until it becomes nice and creamy). Season with salt and pepper and dust with a tiny pinch of cayenne pepper. Serves one person as a meal, or 3 as a side dish.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Easy Mexican-inspired Breakfast

I wasn't sure what to call this dish. It was inspired by this post from Not Eating Out in New York, after I had thrown a small party several months ago and had leftover tortilla chips. And since Cathy called them Chilaquiles, I figured then that's what I would call them. But this morning, I did a thorough study on Wikipedia, and found that chilaquiles are frequently confused for Tex-Mex migas. After after reading this recipe on chilaquiles, and this one on migas, I concluded that my version is most like chilaquiles, which what I will call them. But really what I have is nachos with eggs. But they're tasty. And an easy, unfussy breakfast to make when you haven't your morning coffee yet.

Chilaquiles (or nachos with eggs, if you are a purist)

One handful of broken tortilla chips
1 egg
Black beans
Shredded cheddar cheese
Sour cream
Fresh herbs for garnish, such as parsley, cilantro, green onions or chives

Other recommended garnishes (not pictured here)
Chopped onions
A few drops of hot sauce

Pre-heat oven at 375 degrees. Sprinkle a layer of chips in a small baking dish. Cook the egg, how ever you like to make them. I made scrambled, but you could make a fried egg over easy, medium, or hard, or even a poached egg would work. Lay the egg on top of the chips. Sprinkle salsa, black beans, and top with cheddar cheese. Bake in the oven for about 6-8 minutes, until the cheese is melted. Carefully remove the dish out of the oven and garnish with fresh herbs (I used parsley), a dollop of sour cream, and any other garnishes you like. Makes one serving.